hist-brewing: Re: Mead Yeasts

Scott Mills smills at verinet.com
Sun Jan 24 14:00:03 PST 1999

>I saw your posting on the historical-brewing list.  I am in the process of
>making some meads myself (I have 6 different one-gallon batches currently
>brewing).  I have been using the WYeast sweet mead yeast for all but one
>of these batches (I thought I would give the Wyeast Dry a try).  I know
>the one is currently going into its seventh month of fermentation.  So I
>was wondering if I could ask you a few questions:
> How long have your Wyeast Sweet Mead Yeast meads typically taken to

There are so many factors involved that this is a hard question to answer
and be specific.  Details such as original gravity, temperature, PH, etc.
all come into play.  I have had the Wyeast sweet mead yeast take 10 or 11
months to finish on a couple of occasions.  I think I now know the root
cause of these slower ferments and can overcome this.   Usually I figure at
least 6 months for any mead that I am making.  Often a fermentation will
take much less time but I like to age the mead in bulk 5gal batches.  I just
transfer it to a secondary and let it sit and be happy for a year or so.

>Due you ferment them dry, or with residual sweetness?  And do
>you use anything to "stop" fermentation, or have you let the yeasts poop
>out on their own?

Once again, it depends on what I have in mind when I begin and if I am in a
hurry or not.  I admit to having a sweet tooth so most of my meads are
semi-sweet.  I usually never do anything to stop the fermentation.  If I
want a sweeter mead then I adjust my original gravity so that when the yeast
has reached the limit of its alcohol tolerance I still have sugar left.  I
really try to keep things as natural as possible without any chemicals.  If
every batch you make you take Original Gravity readings, Final Gravity
readings, record the yeast used, and keep a log book it wont take long that
for any yeast you will be able to adjust your OG and meet your target FG 90%
of the time.  A hygrometer and test jar are cheap, invest.

> What are your impressions of the taste from the Wyeast batches?

I really like the Wyeast sweet mead yeast.  My best meads have been made
with this yeast.  It ferments exceptionally clean but exceptionally slow in
many cases.  However, over the years I believe that I have found the source
of the slow ferment and I can now speed up the action of this yeast
considerably.  I'll discuss that later.

I don't much like the Wyeast dry mead yeast.  It is not that I dislike the
yeast, I just have other yeasts that I use and like better.  The Wyeast dry
seems to ferment cleanly and quickly but I never seem to get enough honey
character in the final product when I use that yeast.  I use the Lalvin

> You mentioned the Lalvin yeasts -- I have never used them, so I was
>wondering if you could tell me what you recall about the fermentation
>times, tastes, and anything else that might be helpful to know about the
>D47, EC-1118, and K1V-1116, from your experience.

I like the Lalvin K1V-1116 because it seems to bring out a lot of honey
character in the final product particularly the floral aromas of the honey.
It is also a very strong yeast that seems to ferment quickly and I have
never had a stuck fermentation with it.

The Lalvin EC-1118 is a Saccharomyces bayanus champagne yeast.  I have used
it a couple of times and it was a very aggresive yeast with a OK finish.  It
just seemed not to leave enough honet flavor or aroma for me to really want
to use it again for a mead.

The D47 yeast made good mead with a good deal of honey character.  However
it was also a fairly slow ferment.  I have since read on the Lallemand web
site that they recommend you use a yeast nutrient with this variety that is
high is usable nitrogen.  Since I dont like to add anything artifical
perhaps there was just not enough usable nitrogen in my must for this yeast
to ferment quickly.

Lallmand has acouple of other of the Lalvin wine yeasts that I have not
used.  The Bourgovin RC 212 is a burgundy yeast that I have not used and the
71b-1112 is a yeast that they claim is able to metabolize high amounts of
Malic Acid.  I want to try the 71b-1112 in my next Cyser because of its
ability to handle the Malic Acid.

>So far I enjoy a semi-dry mead.  My standard practice is not to boil the
>must, but just to boil up some water, add to the honey, and let cool
>before I pitch the yeast.  My experience with the Wyeast is that it does a
>fairly quick primary ferment (about 1 month), then slows for a couple of
>months and seems to stop.  Given another month, it seems to go through a
>"secondary fermentation", which can be fairly active (a row of bubbles
>around the miniscus of the must) which seems to last a month or two, and
>then another slowing.  So far I haven't gotten past this part so I don't
>know when it really stops...

It seems like to are taking a good care an not doing anything obviously
wrong.  I would say that your results seem typical.  I have found that slow
ferments seem to be a product of low PH.  The seems especially true with the
Wyeast sweet mead yeast.

Honey naturally has a a low PH of about 6.  Yeast really has a hard time
when the PH falls below 4 and your fermentations wont be nearly as clean.
If  the PH falls below 3.3 forget it, the yeast just cant stand it.
Unfortunately, in a traditional mead with out any fruit or other ingredients
(spices really dont count) your must is almost completely unbuffered.  This
means that as the yeast starts to work the PH starts dropping.  Often I see
that the PH will drop to down around 4 fairly quickly and the fermentation
will slow to a crawl.  If you can keep the PH up in range that is favorable
to your yeast the fermentation will go a lot more smoothly.

You can buffer the must by adding some calcium carbonate (chalk) when you
are preparing your water.  I usually add a tablespoon or calcium carbonate
to my water.  I have not found that this has any effect on the flavor, it
just buffers the must so that PH doesn't drop so quickly.  I have also on
occasion added a little chalk disolved in a half-cup of water to stuck
fermentations  to raise the PH a bit and had them take off again.

I know that some of you out there are purists and believe that a  midieval
or rennaisance brewer would have had no idea of PH or how to correct it.
However, there are places such a Burton-on-Trent that have been  reknown for
their beers and brewing water.  Today we know that it is the strata of
gypsum below the town that gives a special quality to the waters drawn from
the wells in Burton.

Obviously these a are just my experiences and opinions.  Your results will
vary, feel free to disagree.  Diversity is the spice of life and of brewing.

Have Fun,

Ld Eadric Anstapa
mka Scott Mills

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