hist-brewing: slow mead ferment and period nutrients

BrewInfo brewinfo at xnet.com
Wed Jul 7 13:43:15 PDT 1999

Mel writes:
>What do you consider fast & what slow ?

I've never really tried to quantify it.  All my batches of mead (10 or 12
now) have been made with one package of rehydrated wine yeast (Premier
Cuvee has worked best, IMO) per 3 to 4 gallons of mead.  They were all
fermented somewhere between 60 and 65F.

I chose to do so because in the Homebrew Digest about 8 or 10 years
ago, someone posted that they split a batch of mead must and the only
variable was temperature.  I think it was 65F and 75F.  The 75F one
finished sooner, but was rough longer.  The 65F one took longer to
stop bubbling, but was ready to drink much sooner (6 months, I believe).

Nathi writes:
>packet of yeast per 4 gallons and yeast nutrients.  Al's philosophy is
>"cool and slow", note the SLOW part.  So what my post is questioning, is
>if the long held philosophy many of us have of more yeast and fast
>fermentation rate equals better mead, is actually FALSE (gasp).  (notice
>that I am questioning the common knowledge here, gasp-gasp!)  One
>factor is definitely temperature since a vigourous ferment will raise the
>temperature of the mead, but this is probably not the only one since you
>can have a fast ferment AND a cool temperature by simply dropping the
>ambient temperature as I do with my meads.  So what my post (included
>at the bottom of the page) is questioning, is if we should be pitching
>smaller quantities of yeast and not trying to promote the quick ferment
>that we usually do with beer when we make mead.  An example of this
>is, which mead would turn out better, one that you pitch a huge starter in
>that has an explosive fermentation and bubbles once per second (my
>usual method) or a mead with only 1 packet of rehydrated yeast per 4
>gallons that bubbles once per 3 seconds?  Before I would jump up and
>say, with out a doubt it would be #1, but what if I was wrong and I never
>realized I could make better mead with #2.  That is what Al claims.  I am
>sure  both methods make excellent meads, but I am interested in making
>the best mead I can.  So, I hope that is more clear and again I ask, does
>anyone else have information to support this?  And Al, let me know if I am
>misunderstanding your process at all.

Another datapoint is some personal email I have from Dick Dunn, a name
you may recognise if you read the Cider Lover's Digest or the Mead
Lover's Digest (I don't know the subscription info, but you can check
around at www.hbd.org).  Dick responded to my suggestion that I add a big
starter to my ciders and meads by saying that we don't really want to
do that... big, volcanic ferments are a beer thing and it's not what we
seek in mead and ciders.

>I personally am planning an experiment to test some of these ideas as
>soon as I get some empty 1 gallon fermenters and a couple of gallons of
>honey.  One thing that I would like to do though is try this with a more
>period kind of nutrient than Fermax.  What kind of yeast nutrients were
>used pre 1600?  I feel reasonably period using malt as a nutrient
>(although I use extract in my meads to save doing a mash, I feel
>comfortable with this since it is the same ingredient, just using a modern
>time saver), but what else can people suggest so I can add more
>variables to my experement?

I don't think anyone would have used malt as a nutrient for meads,
but that is just my guess.  On the other hand, I do know that for hundreds
of years, brewers were aware of the fact that if they skimmed the foam
off one batch of beer and added it to another, they would get a quicker
and more reliable ferment in the second batch.  We now know that they
were pitching yeast, but they didn't know that back then.  In a video
called "The Brewers of Helston" they show a small brewpub called the
Blue Anchor in England.  In this video, they show the brewmaster taking
a bucket out of the refrigerator and scooping out a few cups of yeast.
Okay, besides not being sanitary, this also has other implications to
our current discussion.

Based upon my knowledge of brewing, I know that if you were to store
a thick paste of yeast in a bucket in the fridge, LOTS of them would
die.  A major ingredient in Fermax and other commercial yeast nutrients
is *DEAD YEAST*.  Now... we know that we are adding yeast, but it
really isn't that different from what the ancient brewers were doing,
it's just that we're pitching something that is mostly one strain,
while theirs was a melange of yeasts and bacteria that they happened
to like.  I suppose that if you wanted to, you could make a starter
from some Cantillon or Cuvee Rene Lambics (the first batch) and just
pitch that into your second batch (another thing they used to do is
to go next door (or to the brewery down the street) and get a pint of
yeast when they ran out or had a bad batch).  You could also set aside
some of this yeast to dry out and die and use that as a nutrient.  I think
this would be about as period as one would like to get unless you have
the guts to make five gallons of wort and simply allow it to spontaneously
ferment.  What you may want to do is split that into many small fermenters
and leave them open in various parts of the house.  Toss the ones that
smell and taste bad and reuse the ones that taste/smell good.  This
is *exactly* what brewers did hundreds of years ago.

Mongo writes:
>Lagering, cold fermentation, was considered quite an innovation in beer
>because it produces smoother beer at least in part through a slower
>fermentation.  This should work for mead, no?  Seeing that the different
>regions have different climes you could divide a batch into different 1gal
>jugs and ferment at different temperatures, say 55F, 65F, and 75F to
>simulate the different regions.

You could also vary the pitching rate as Nathi suggested.


Al Korzonas, Lockport, IL
korz at brewinfo.org

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