Author Topic: New to homebrew, many mead questions! First batch finished fermenting!  (Read 3003 times)

Offline nuclear_brew

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Hey guys,

I'm completely new to homebrewing. Decided to get into brewing mead. I have a few friends who do beer, and started talked with them, they pointed me here! I have done a bit of reading (mostly the mead tutorials and other related stuff on this site) and have some (very foggy) idea what to do. I still have a lot of questions though! Will try to keep this as short as possible but I have a feeling it will be a bit on the long side.

So far, I've decided to try a gallon batch (due to the fact a 1 gallon carboy is 4 bucks) to see if I like it, upgrade later. Picked up 2 1 gal carboys, syphon and tubing, stoppers, airlock, cleaner, and sanitizer.

1. After reading http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/mead/making-mead/ I felt like it would be pretty straightforward. After speaking to my friend, I started the journey down the rabbit's hole. First thing I realized was keeping the fermenter at 70F or below in an apartment would be very difficult. How adversely will fermenting at say, 73-75F affect the mead? I've seen a few references online to people fermenting at around room temp, but many referring to cool fermentations.

2. SNA. I know (or think I know 8)) old school wisdom is that mead has to age a long time (1+ years), but SNA can be used to reduce this to a few months. Read about it here: http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/how-to-brew/mead/mead-making-tips/ but there is not a lot of information. I've read some thread where guys add the nutrients in several phases based on the gravity. Is there a typical schedule people use? Any information about this would be great because waiting a year for 1 gal of mead would be pretty disappointing, and I don't have the space/$ to brew in big enough batches to make the 1 year wait pay off.

3. For a first time mead making, how important is pH balancing?

4. Yeast/recipes: The recipe (http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/homebrew-recipe/tradition-dry-varietal-mead/, just figured this is as good a place as any to start, other recommedations welcome) calls for Lalvin 71B. The shop near my only carries Lalvin E1118 (was the only suitable yeast they had that I saw). I understand that different strains behave differently, but is it possible to just more or less substitute one yeast for another in terms of dosage? Of course I could just order some 71B online (I assume the dry stuff ships pretty well, I know it does for bread yeast anyway).

5. Finally, I like meads to be a little sweat (for reference, I think Vikings Blod is about the perfect sweetness for me), so I think back sweetening is going to be in order. I'm just a little confused when this is done. Do you do it right before bottling, or do you do it before aging it.

Thanks for reading my huge post and answering my questions! items 2 and 4 show a pretty clear lack of in depth knowledge about mead making in general, sorry about that! Also general tips, gotchas and things you wish you did the first time would be appreciated!
« Last Edit: September 22, 2014, 10:30:01 PM by nuclear_brew »

Offline erockrph

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2014, 12:31:17 PM »
First and foremost, welcome! If you haven't read Curt stock's article on melomels, I highly recommend it. Even if you aren't making fruit meads, there is still a lot of excellent information on meadmaking and SNA in there. If you're making a straight mead, then I'd double the amounts he's using for SNA (since you wouldn't be getting any additional nutrients from fruit).

Here's Curt's article: http://www.bjcp.org/mead/melomel.pdf

One gallon batches are a good start, but you'll still want a larger fermenter for your primary. Mead tens to foam up a lot when making your SNA additions and degassing.

1) You will get more fusel alcohols at warmer fermentation temperatures, which make your mead taste like rocket fuel and can lead to headaches in large amounts. This is why so many people believe mead takes years to age. Try keeping your fermenter in a water bath with some frozen water bottles that you swap out a few times a day. It's a PITA to keep up on, but it will make a big difference in the finished product. You can probably take it out of the ice bath once you get to the point where you don't need to degas anymore (i.e., when you stop getting a lot of foaming when you degas)

2) Read the article I linked above for good info on SNA. There are about a dozen different schedules out there. I take the total amount need for the full batch and divide it by four. The first addition goes in with the must. I usually get my meads started at night, so my second addition goes in with my first degassing the next morning (about 12 hours later), then my final 2 go in on days 2 & 3 with my morning degassing. But tere's a lot of different ways to do it, and all of them give good results. Moonlight Meadery does it on days 1, 2, and 3 like I do, IIRC.

3) I don't worry about pH, but I use acid to adjust to taste in the end (after backsweetening) if needed

4) Dry yeast ships well online. I use 71B, but I think the key is just to pick one yeast and stick with it long enough to learn how it works. It takes a few batches to dial in what OG to start with in order to get your mead to finish at the sweetness level of your liking. If you have easy access to 1118, then I say go with that yeast and stick with it for a while. Don't make any adjustments to the recipe you choose - regardless of your yeast choice you will likely be adjusting post-fermentation for many of your batches.

5) I generally try to adjust for back sweetening after I've racked to secondary. Backsweetening with honey does leave a bit of a raw honey flavor (as opposed to a fermented honey flavor), and I try to let that age out a bit. But as long as your mead is stable (either stabilized with sulfite/sorbate, or the yeast has finished completely because it has hit it's ABV limit), then you can backsweeten at any point, really.

Good luck and welcome to the hobby!
Eric B.

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Offline dkfick

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2014, 01:52:07 PM »
Well it certainly looks like you have done some research. 

1) The temp will place a pretty large role in your mead.  You'll generate more fusel alcohols and produce a harsher product.  On the bright side I see you want to produce sweet meads... The sweetness will hide some of the harsh alcohols produced from fermenting warm.  Still I would ferment high 50's if you can (water bath swapping out frozen 2 liters etc...)  A slow cold ferment is best.

2) I generally follow Hightest's staggered nutrient schedule found here: http://home.comcast.net/~mzapx1/

3) The pH will drop considerably during the first day or so of fermentation.  This will stress the yeast so make sure you're giving them their nutrients and used a large healthy pitch of yeast.  If you have a pH meter and want to check I would try and keep the pH around 3.4 or a little higher... if you don't... Don't worry about it too much.  Just adjust to taste at the end (acid to lower pH if needed for taste, or potassium carbonate to raise it - but be careful raising it... the lower pH in mead is one of the things that fights off a lot of spoilage bacteria)

4) I'm not going to lie... 71B is my go to yeast.  I would avoid any champagne yeasts like EC1118 as they ferment very quickly and aggressively and typically leave a mead without much character. D47 isn't a bad yeast for a traditional mead.  71B is good for fruit meads (melomels)

5) Sweetness... I generally feel the best practice for sweetness is to avoid back-sweetening.  Doing so is easier said that done though.  If you plan on making high alcohol meads it's fairly easy.  You just start with an OG that is higher than the alcohol tolorance of the yeast you're using.. Eventually the yeast will just peter out and you'll be left with sweetness since it couldn't get through all the sugars in the mead.  If doing a lower alcohol mead it's generally easier to back-sweeten vs trying to stop the fermentation without off flavors.  If you're going to back sweeten you'll need a mead that is done fermenting (either naturally or forced to stop fermenting).  Then you'll need to stabilize the mead (I use 0.5-0.75 grams per gallon of potassium sorbate and 0.33 grams per gallon of KMETA - The higher end of that range if the pH is getting closer to 3.5 or higher.)  Once stabilized you can add your sugar source (be it honey or whatever).  You may want to then age the mead out for awhile or use a clarifer in it as honey will cloudy up your mead. 
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Offline nuclear_brew

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2014, 07:28:30 PM »
Thanks for reading and replying guys! I'll go through the points and address things in both replies.

1. So it seems like keeping it cool is very important. Today I realized i have an older Whirlpool minifridge that I co-own with my roommate. It sits at work and is used 2x per year. I think we paid $40 total for it, and she said I could buy her out and use it for fermentation. I'm not sure if it will fit a 6.5 gal carboy or bucket, but I think I could probably work a few 3 gal carboys in there or something if I want to do bulk at some point. It will definitely fit my 1 gal carboy Most fridge can probably do 40F (I can supplement with some ice bags if needed) so that should be good enough for a grad student setup.

2. SNA looks mostly straightforward wrt dosage (split your nutrients up by however many days your schedule has and go forward). Hightest's SNA says to add the second dosage right active fermentation (Brix drops 2 deg). Since I don't own a refractometer, is it okay to just assume that this is 24 hours later? Likewise, Curt's SNA method says to add the final dose when 30% of the sugar has been depleted. Can you calculate this using gravity or do you need more advanced tools? Naively I would assume it is when you are 30% of the way to your final gravity. I would Only the AHA SNA schedule (link in OP) says how often to degas. I'm assuming this is pretty important, so how often should this be done on other schedules (actually on second glance Curt's method has you doing it when you mix the nutrients in)?

3. What does mead that is not acidic (or too basic for that matter) enough taste like? I think for now I will pass on the pH meter, but will keep it in mind.

4. I see a lot of guys loving 71B, so maybe I'd be better off buying some online. I also noticed E1118 survives up to 18% ABV :o.

5. I do plan on letting the yeast burn though as much sugar as it can. This is assuming there is no disadvantage to doing so (at least with regard to flavor). How much extra OG should you add on for something somewhat (but not super) sweet? Another way to ask this is are there guidelines on how much extra gravity to give your must to produce a final sweetness?

Thanks again for reading and replying with some really great information! I'm really excited to get my first batch going. I should mention that I am a pretty technical person, and sometimes I end up getting too caught up in the details, but I'm trying to start off 'simple'.

Offline dkfick

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2014, 07:53:22 PM »
1) You'll actually want the temp to be in the upper 50's (like 58F) - 64F for most meads (unless you're using a lot of dark fruits and you decide to use a red wine yeast).  So for your fridge you'll need to get a simple temp controller to keep it from going too cold most likely (you could try the warmest setting and throw a thermometer in there and see where it settles)

2) All those additions are done off of gravity.  You don't need a refractometer you could use a hydrometer. They cost like $1-$2. That 2nd addition in hightest's method can be added if you see the mead has activity in it.

3) If the mead is not acidic enough it will be more suseptible to spoilage bacteria and it will taste 'flabby'.  Basically the mead will have no zip to it and it will just sort of sit there on your tongue.

4) There are lots of good yeasts out there.  I would just steer clear of the champagne yeasts as they really don't let the honey express itself much.  Which brings up another good point... Use the highest quality honey as you can get.

5) Everyone perceives balance differently.  Here is what the BJCP states:
FG:   
dry   0.990 - 1.010
semi-sweet   1.010 - 1.025
sweet   1.025 - 1.050

If I were you I would shoot for 1.025 for your first batch and then adjust to taste from there... alternatively if you have a commercial still mead you really like the sweetness level on you could take a hydrometer reading of it (drink the sample afterwards) and use that as a starting point.  Of course you would have to remember that alcohol, acidity, and tannins can be used to offset sweetness in the balance of the mead so their 1.050 FG mead might not be as sweet as yours if they are balancing it with something else.
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Offline nuclear_brew

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2014, 08:25:56 PM »
1. Yeah, that was my plan.

2. Okay, cool. I already picked one up, forgot to put it on my list of goodies.

4. Understood. I feel like 71B is a good one to start with, though if my shop has D47 I may try that one.

5. This is perfect (I just need a ballpark). I also think 1.025 is a good place to shoot for. I've seen a few references to 14% ABV is where 71B starts to die off, but I have also read accounts of much higher ABV's from it too. Assuming 14%, I should start with a OG of 1.132. I guess I could measure the gravity every few days and just stop it when it gets to a level I like using stabilizers.

Offline morticaixavier

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2014, 08:42:59 PM »
1. Yeah, that was my plan.

2. Okay, cool. I already picked one up, forgot to put it on my list of goodies.

4. Understood. I feel like 71B is a good one to start with, though if my shop has D47 I may try that one.

5. This is perfect (I just need a ballpark). I also think 1.025 is a good place to shoot for. I've seen a few references to 14% ABV is where 71B starts to die off, but I have also read accounts of much higher ABV's from it too. Assuming 14%, I should start with a OG of 1.132. I guess I could measure the gravity every few days and just stop it when it gets to a level I like using stabilizers.

stabilizers are unlikely to actually stop an active fermentation. They will effectively prevent a restart but are not meant to stop fermentation as it is going on.
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Offline dkfick

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2014, 09:19:54 PM »
Jonathan is correct.  You wouldn't add those stabilizers to halt the fermentation.  If it were me I would let it just keep going and then possibly backsweeten a little if I felt it was nessisary.  If you wanted to stop it would could crash the temp down really quick to the coldest setting on the fridge... that should do it.. but sometimes I feel like i get stressed yeast flavors when attempting to halt fermentation... so I usually let them do their thing.
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Offline erockrph

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #8 on: September 04, 2014, 01:33:14 AM »
I use 71B for my meads, and I will tell you that with proper care it can get in the 16% range or higher with no problem. I made the same exact assumption as you with my first mead and had the exact same OG (1.132) that you are planning. It finished at 1.006. The next time I went with 1.152 for my OG and it stalled out too sweet at 1.050. I'd say 1.140 is a good starting ballpark to get you a little under your target.
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Offline nuclear_brew

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2014, 04:54:37 AM »
I use 71B for my meads, and I will tell you that with proper care it can get in the 16% range or higher with no problem. I made the same exact assumption as you with my first mead and had the exact same OG (1.132) that you are planning. It finished at 1.006. The next time I went with 1.152 for my OG and it stalled out too sweet at 1.050. I'd say 1.140 is a good starting ballpark to get you a little under your target.

https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=20266.0 Here's yet another guy using pretty much the exact same math we did and overshooting by a lot. According to this online calculator hes at around 17% ABV. I think 1.140 sounds about right, maybe just a touch higher. Seems like its better to undershoot than overshoot.

One final question about yeast. When rehydrating it, I've heard everything from 'just dump the packet in' to 'follow instructions and add GO-Ferm'. Thoughts on this? I was honestly just planning on following the instructions on the packet and just pitching it.

Also what should I expect with regard to age time? After primary fermentation and racking off, how long should I bulk age before bottling? I know this depends on a lot of things but I'll looking for a rough estimate. Finally, do you have to cool it while it ages?
« Last Edit: September 04, 2014, 05:02:49 AM by nuclear_brew »

Offline erockrph

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #10 on: September 04, 2014, 12:30:37 PM »
While I rarely rehydrate dry yeast for beer, I always do for mead since it's going into a pretty high stress environment. I usually use Go Ferm, but the times I haven't it hasn't made a noticeable difference.

As far as aging time goes, you could probably bottle after 6 weeks or so if you took good care of your fermentation and your mead was as clear as you'd like. I make meads in between batches of beer, so I tend to forget about them for a while. That's probably better, but if mead is your primary brew, then you can always bottle early then age in the bottle. Just like beer, it's probably a good idea to get a few batches going in the pipeline to start. Once you get a small stockpile going then you won't be as concerned with how long a batch takes.
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Offline dkfick

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2014, 01:01:30 PM »
I always re-hydrate with Go-Ferm.  It is meant to give the yeast all the micronutrients they need to begin a healthy active fermentation.  While not always necessary (as water has lots of micronutrients as well) it's a good practice to get into.
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Offline nuclear_brew

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions!
« Reply #12 on: September 07, 2014, 10:01:44 PM »
Thanks for the advice guys. I picked up some GO-Ferm when I got my Fermaid-K/DAP etc. I'm just cleaning and sterilizing my equipment, and will make the must tonight. Once I hit around 62F I will pitch my yeast (hopefully tomorrow night). I'm setting my Ranco ETC to cool to 60 with a differential of 4 (I'd like to not short cycle my minifridge). That seems to be the general range people go for. Since I didn't get a bung/plug with a thermowell, I will just tape my probe to the side of the carboy with some foam/insulation to keep the air off it. If you guys have any recommendations about the above, please let me know!

Thanks again for the great advice and warm welcome!

Offline nuclear_brew

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions! First batch finished fermenting!
« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2014, 11:40:40 PM »
Alright guys, I just racked my first gallon (okay its probably down to .75 gallons) off the yeast after two weeks of fermentation. I started with an OG of 1.142 and ended up around 1.012, which puts it at a whopping 17% ABV, 91% attenuation.

I guess I have three questions...

1. Should I back sweeten it, and if so, when? I did drink a sample and it tastes pretty good with a very strong yeast finish, so its kinda hard to tell.

2. Should I change the temp on my fridge for aging it? I ran it at between 60F and 63F.

3. How long *usually* does it take for a mead with SNA to clear and/or be drinkable?

Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: New to homebrew, many mead questions! First batch finished fermenting!
« Reply #14 on: September 22, 2014, 11:44:41 PM »
Alright guys, I just racked my first gallon (okay its probably down to .75 gallons) off the yeast after two weeks of fermentation. I started with an OG of 1.142 and ended up around 1.012, which puts it at a whopping 17% ABV, 91% attenuation.

I guess I have three questions...

1. Should I back sweeten it, and if so, when? I did drink a sample and it tastes pretty good with a very strong yeast finish, so its kinda hard to tell.

2. Should I change the temp on my fridge for aging it? I ran it at between 60F and 63F.

3. How long *usually* does it take for a mead with SNA to clear and/or be drinkable?

#3- Kurt stock says his are usually consumed at around 3 months, so he has a good pipeline going. His meads are excellent.
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