Planning first batch of mead - anything I should know?

Discussion in 'Meads' started by Toonster, Jan 9, 2018.

  1. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    I've made a few batches of fruit wine, and am planning on making mead next. My husband has requested a ginger mead, as we really like the local commercial version.

    From the meadmaking book I've got, it doesn't seem to be too spectacularly different from making wine - is there anything that I should know before embarking on this adventure? Are there any equipment items that I need to have over and above the standard winemaking ones?
     
  2. BernardSmith

    BernardSmith Senior Member

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    Hi Toonster. No need for any special equipment but you should understand that honey has no nutrients so you will need to provide enough nutrients for the yeast and despite what you might see on youtube - raisins have effectively no nutrients. You also want to degas the mead a couple of times a day during active fermentation. Again, many videos suggest that you want to aerate the mead but you don't. Degassing is about stirring not whipping air into the mead.
    You need to remember that there is a straight line curve that maps the intensity of the honey flavor with the amount of honey but that straight line also maps to the potential ABV - In other words, the more honey , the higher the ABV and the higher the ABV the longer a mead takes to age.

    Many mead makers immediately start thinking about 3 lbs/gallon of honey BUT you can make a low ABV mead by using 1 - 1.5 lbs of honey /gallon. If you choose to use less honey you may want to ferment at higher temperature (and so produce more esters to provide more complexity). Lower ABVs are nicely complemented with CO2 .That is to say, you might consider priming your mead.

    Always better to use a larger rather than a smaller colony of yeast. You cannot really over-pitch but you can under-pitch. One meadery - Groennfell (Vt) argues that you want to use a package of yeast for every gallon of mead you ferment. In my opinion you don't want to use a champagne yeast but D47 and 71B are both great workhorses and DV10 is also a good yeast for producing good mouthfeel.

    You can warm honey in hot water to make the honey more viscous and flow better but you do not want to heat honey (often suggested in youtube videos). Heating honey will destroy flavor and aroma molecules.

    Last point: IMO, wildflower and clover honey are great vehicles for other flavors but many varietals can take and hold center stage alone. Meadowfoam, orange blossom, raspberry, Tupelo are amongst the more common. But if you are going to be adding ginger you may be able to use wildflower. You want, I think , to use honey from a local beekeeper and not look for the least expensive honey you can find. Many imported honeys (particularly from China) appear to be adulterated with corn syrup.
     
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  3. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Wow - thank you so much! This is such great advice :)

    So - for degassing, that would be a flat stir to knock the CO2 out, rather than whipping it up to add O2 in?

    I've been very lucky to get to (IMO) one of the best producers in NZ (my friends live round the corner from their main production area), and tried a number of varietals to see what would appear to complement the ginger. I've gone with Tawari, which is an NZ specific plant :)

    Thanks for the warning about not heating honey - would you suggest standing the bottle in a basin of warm water before pouring?

    Good advice on the yeast - with the winemaking I've done so far, I've found that one sachet (8g) is fine for a 23l batch. I'll pick up a couple more this time round :)

    I'm in luck with the higher temperatures - the house is consistently hitting 27 / 28 C at the moment (yay summer :))

    Thanks again!
     
  4. BernardSmith

    BernardSmith Senior Member

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    To degas I tend to use a long handled (about 70 cc) plastic spoon that my LHBS sells for about $5. US. It is easy to clean and easy to sanitize but if you have a drill mounted paint mixing tool (looks a bit like an egg beater) you could use that too (just set the drill to a slower speed) .
    As for the honey what I do is heat a pot of water to near boiling and then stand the unopened jars of honey in the hot water for a few minutes. The mass of the honey will mean that the honey will not heat up very quickly and every few minutes I check to see if the liquid is as "runny" as I want. when it is I remove the jars from the pot and pour them.

    What I also do is use a blender to aerate the must. By that I mean I pour a small amount of of the water that I am going to use to mix with the honey to make the must into a blender. I then pour some of the honey and whip the honey and water for a few seconds. I then pour that frothy mixture into the fermenter and repeat until all the honey has been blended. This way I am certain that all the honey is fully mixed and fairly confident that there is enough air in the must for the first few minutes of the yeast's needs.

    If you are going to be aiming for a relatively high starting gravity (say, above 1.090) You may want to watch the high temperature. IMO, higher temps are good when you aim for lower ABV meads (so lower starting gravities - mine are typically around 1.050 - I like to make "session" meads - meads you can drink , not just sip). If the temperature is too high you can find that all other things being equal that this stresses the yeast (by using 1 pack of yeast per gallon you are in fact reducing the stress on the yeast (all other things being equal) and so in return the yeast produce all kinds of off flavors (you stress the yeast - the yeast will give you stress in return ) so you may want to think about a cold water bath to stand the fermenter in and perhaps a wet towel to cover the fermenter (the evaporation of the water from the towel creates a cooling effect which lowers the temperature in the vicinity of the surface evaporating.
     
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  5. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Awesome - thanks :) I also have one of those long handled spoons, so will use that.

    Great tip on using the blender - I would never have considered that.

    I'll definitely try for the lower ABV. I'm more of a fan of the flavour than the actual alcohol (I like not waking up with a headache...), particularly as this is stuff that I'd want to drink at our board gaming sessions.

    Picking up on the nutrients comment in your first post - I've got a pack of wine nutrients, which suggests 24-30g per 23 l (quick conversion says that that is about 6 US gallons, so 4-5g per gallon) for low fruit wines. Would you suggest a higher ratio for mead?
     
  6. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Wow - I see what you mean about needing to degas...

    Day 2 of fermentation, and I got 8 litres of foam from once round the barrel. I had 23 litres of mead in the 30 litre fermenting barrel.

    Guess who didn't follow other hints about standing in a plastic bag and has just had to clear up a whole load of spilled foam...? :slp
     
  7. BernardSmith

    BernardSmith Senior Member

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    The irony is that the degassing is to help the yeast - so much "gas" puts real pressure on the cell bodies of the yeast and that creates stress - and when yeast experience stress you experience stress because they produce all kinds of compounds that will spoil your mead
     
  8. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Hey - I'm happy to do a little clearing up if I'm helping my yeast buddies. They are making me a pretty good drink, after all :D

    Fortunately, after that one massive bloof, the rest of the degassing has been far less dramatic.

    Hoping to rack into a carboy this weekend and fit an airlock - is this the right timing? It's still fizzing now, but much less than earlier in the week.
     
  9. Bodenski

    Bodenski Junior Member

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    I don't know about others, but I tend to not put it into secondary until it's finished fermenting. You only know that by following the SG. I tend to make melomels more than anything else, and when I transfer too early I always end up with too much junk at the bottom of the carboy. I've started waiting until the SG is stable for several days and then being a bit more careful about siphoning out the good stuff.

    Most of my recipes also don't ferment dry, as I start with more honey than the yeast can deal with. So it really is looking for a stable couple of days at the same SG before I think about transferring. I am a lot better about waiting these days than I was at the beginning of my wine/mead making journey. There are very few steps that need to be rushed. (Degassing during the initial ferment being probably the main one.) Nearly everything else does better by leaving it alone!
     
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  10. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    So it shouldn't be under airlock at all until fermentation has finished? What about oxidation? I was under the impression that that was why the airlock was fitted - to allow the CO2 out but not the O2 in?
    Or is it different for mead?
    Thanks
     
  11. BernardSmith

    BernardSmith Senior Member

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    I think oxidation is a consideration but not a real concern during active fermentation. The amount of CO2 being produced and so the pressure to out-gas is far, far greater than the pressure being exerted by the air pushing down. So the gas will form a blanket above the mead (or wine) . Honey is apparently not as subject to oxidation as fruit - one example being an apple: cut an apple in half and how long do you have to wait before the apple starts to turn brown? Leave your must open to the elements and you might wait until hell freezes over before you can detect any change in flavor ... (OK I exaggerate but only a little). And the stress from CO2 in the mead during fermentation (typically, meads are made at higher starting gravities than wines) outweighs any problems with possible oxidation. But that is not quite the same thing as saying that you should actively oxygenate your mead after the yeast has taken off and is busy chewing its way through the sugars. Adding O2 after the initial burst of activity has begun may create off flavors in the mead (you will encourage budding - reproduction but there may not be enough nutrients for those daughter's daughter's daughter cells and you may encourage respiration rather than fermentation. And you want fermentation and not respiration.
     
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  12. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Cool - thanks for the explanation. That makes perfect sense. I shall be patient and just keep degassing my little yeastie babies :h It's down to between 1.02 and 1.00 now (the CO2 pushing the hydrometer up made it a big difficult to take a reading, but it consistently stopped at either one of those two...)
     
  13. seth8530

    seth8530 The Atomic Wine Maker

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    Toonster, what area are you in? Nectar Creek has an excellent ginger mead.
     
  14. seth8530

    seth8530 The Atomic Wine Maker

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  15. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    I'm in Upper Hutt, near Wellington, New Zealand (bottom end of North Island). So probably a little bit too far to get to Nectar Creek *grin*

    (Also means that I don't have access to the same products and brand names as most of the people on the forum...)

    Thanks for the link - I'll go and have a read.
     
  16. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    As a quick example of the differences - I have access to one type of nutrient (Vintner's Harvest Diammonium Phosphate) - so no GoFerm / FermAid etc. It means that unfortunately, whilst the thread is really interesting (and my head is spinning a little bit...), I have access to the DAP bit, but no A / O / K etc.

    Second one, which is nice, is that the yeasts I have (lucky here - access to a whole two different brands ;-) - Vintner's Harvest and Mangrove Jacks) get pitched straight into the must - no need to rehydrate.
     
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  17. Bodenski

    Bodenski Junior Member

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    I meant to get back sooner. I haven't seen that for my creations to date that putting it under an airlock later rather than earlier has had any negative impact. It's not that you can't put it under airlock when you get down to the end of fermentation. I for one hate pulling the lid off of the bucket to check to see how it's doing! So to date I've just let it go to completion, racked it, and then put it under airlock.

    I will have to admit that I don't have a refined pallet, and maybe someone else could taste a difference if there was a touch of oxidation for the few days when it isn't bubbling quite as much at the end of fermentation, but for my tastes it's OK. I do think I need to start another batch of mead, as I haven't had anything in primary for a while.
     
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  18. BernardSmith

    BernardSmith Senior Member

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    Here's the thing: during active fermentation the yeast is producing a great deal of CO2. That CO2 will blanket the top of any fermenter and prevent air and other contaminants from entering (assuming that you have the fermenter loosely covered with a towel or a lid. The small risk of oxidation at this point is far outweighed by the benefit of degassing (this to remove CO2 that will lower the pH of the mead and act to exert a great deal of physical stress on the yeast cells - enough to force the yeast to produce all kinds of chemicals and compounds that can spoil your mead). Additionally, during the earlier part of active fermentation many mead makers have adopted a nutrition feeding regime that means they need to open the fermenter to apply nutrition. Sealing the bucket with a lid or a carboy with a bung will create enough reluctance and resistance to engage in those two acts. So... there is not a great deal of benefit to banging home a bung and airlock (or snapping a lid tightly in place) but there is potentially a very significant cost in failing to degas or feed the yeast. Me? I choose the route of least resistance and loosely cover my buckets. If you are comfortable struggling to remove a lid or unbung a carboy a couple of times a day over two or three weeks, more strength to you. :br
     
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  19. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Awesome - thanks both. It looks like active fermentation has stopped now (been at a consistent SG for three days).
    Patience is definitely a virtue in this game! :D
     
  20. Toonster

    Toonster Member

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    Welp - into the carboy now (fermentation ceased and barely getting any bubbles when degassing) - hubby did ask why I was making custard (unavoidable mixing up as I moved it across), but it is settling out really nicely now.
     

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