hist-brewing: mead ferment times, temperature, nutrients, pH, and more (long)

Mills, Scott Scott.Mills at COMPAQ.com
Thu Jul 8 14:09:28 PDT 1999

I got a few days behind on my email but I just couldn't resist jumping in on
this one.  Please excuse this long message and I try and catch-up on these
related threads all at once.

I agree completely with Al that generally speaking I prefer a mead produced
with a slow and gentle fermentation.  Al and I have discussed this in the
past and I still waiting on him to trade some of his gold medal meads for
mine.  Let me summarize my beliefs.

1.  Slower cooler ferments seem to retain more honey character in both taste
and aroma in the finished product.  Additionally it produces a much cleaner,
smooth, products.  What is cool?  I prefer cellar temps in the 50F to 60F

2.  Warmer and therefore usually faster ferments in addition to appearing to
have less honey character produce more of the higher alcohol's that give the
mead a more harsh quality.  Warmer temps also seems to encourage yeast
autolysis.  I consider anything above 70F warm.

3.  Fermentation temperatures that vary widely or quickly don't seem to be
any good.  Swings in temperature seem to shock the yeast and cause stuck
fermentations.  This might just be tricking myself but I firmly believe it.
I now ferment and age in a chest-type deep freeze with an external
thermostat regulating the temp to around 55F.

4.  I expect a primary ferment to go 60 to 90 days.  Once the initial rush
of fermentation has subsided and things slow down I will rack to a secondary
for continued work.  What I mean by "slow down" is less that two or three
bubbles from my airlock in the period of a minute.  

I like to get the mead off of the yeast bed to prevent autolysis as I don't
find those aromas or flavors attractive.  To me the byproducts of autolysis
tend to overwhelm the honey aroma and flavors.  However, there are those
that enjoy what they describe as the "toasty/yeasty" flavors associated with
autolysis.  To avoid autolysis I will often rack into a secondary while the
mead is still vigorously fermenting if I think too large a yeast bed is
forming and I get worried about autolysis.  This is probably just me being

During transfer to the secondary is when I will usually add fruit if I am
making a fruit mead which will start a vigorous ferment all over once again.

There are two factors that lead me to determine that my mead is done

First, I want the mead to clear naturally on its own.  Sometimes this seems
to happen almost spontaneously overnight while the mead is still fermenting,
other times it happened well after the fermentation has ended.

Second, I wait for the fermentation to complete.  I will continue to allow
the mead to work until it is still.  If I can sit and watch the airlock and
see a bubble within a 5 minute period then I will let it work some more.

After all fermentation as ended, and the mead is clear I will consider it
done and ready to bottle.  However, more likely than not, I will leave the
mead in a large container to age for another several months before bottling
to be absolutely sure that fermentation is done and to allow the product to
mature/age some and mellow out. 

5.  Nutrients are important.  Lots of sugar in honey but few of the other
nutrients that yeast requires to be good and healthy.  However, I don't like
to use any of the chemical nutrients available.  I add the nutrients in the
form of my starter (see below)

6.  A big active starter is good.  Reduce the lag time before start of
primary ferment to reduce the chance of secondary beasties going to work on
your must.  To my recollection almost every mead I have made that was slow
to start turned out to be somewhat less pleasing with some off flavors and
aromas.  I always pitch a 1 quart starter of my desired yeast grown in a
standard 1.040 malt wort.  I make up 5 gallons of wort at a time from pale
dme and can it in quart jars for use in making starters.  I prepare the
starters in Pyrex flasks.  This quart of malt wort seems to give all of
nutrients needed for a healthy ferment.  I equate this addition of malt akin
to the traditional method of floating your yeast cake on a crust of bread.

7.  Excessively slow fermentations, slow starts, and stuck fermentations
seems to directly linked to low pH.  Honey starts off slightly acidic and
since a mixture of honey and water is completely unbuffered, once
fermentation starts the pH starts to plummet.  I have used pH test strips to
test the pH of meads and have found that if the pH falls much below 4 then
the fermentation starts to slow down, if it falls below 3.5pH then I start
seeing stuck fermentations.  Below about 3.3pH forget it.  

I buffer my must by adding calcium carbonate to my brewing water.  It
doesn't take much just a big heaping tablespoon.  It doesn't raise the pH,
only buffers the solution and it seems to have a side effect of causing the
mead to clear more quickly.

Sorry for being so long winded


Scott Mills	 
Engineering Problem Management	 
Industry Standard Server Division	 
Scott.Mills at Compaq.Com <mailto:Scott.Mills at Compaq.Com> 	 
AKA Ld Eadric Anstapa

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