hist-brewing: Re: hist-brewing-digest V1 #759

Chuck meadmakr at enteract.com
Wed Jan 17 11:05:15 PST 2001

In Hist-brewing digest #759 I wrote, and Matt Maples replied:

> >I do not use any yeast  nutrients/energizers.
> Well, I have been makeing mead for going on 10 years now and I can tell you
> that some honeys just do not have what it takes to do a good ferment to 12%
> +. I'm no bee keeper but some varieties are just more tempermental when it
> comes to fermentation. Now I have made my share of mead without it but if
It has been well noted in mead literature that lighter honeys do not
ferment out as well as darker honeys, perhaps because, as the National
Honey Board analysis (NHB.ORG) shows, darker honeys have more minerals,
enzymes and ash. Since I rarely make a mead that is all light-colored
honey (although I have) this has not been a problem. However, *I* have
found that slow fermentations are generally more attributable to using a
slow fermenting yeast, or due to premature racking which reduced the 
yeast population at exactly the wrong time. Of course, in contradiction
to this, I have found, and verified with several other mead makers, of
which I believe you (Matt) were one, that tupelo honey (a medium-dark
honey) naturally ferments slow.

> you do not know why not toss in a teaspoon or so just in case. Now one thing
> I am sure we can agree on is that if you are adding fruit or spices there is
> absolutly no need for it as they provide good food for the yeasties.
I used to just "toss in a teaspoon or so just in case", then I learned
better. :?>)

> >I also do not heat my honey musts. I buy my honey only from
> > beekeepers/companies who minimially handle their honey so
> > that the natural enzymes and other goodies remain intact.
> > Through all this I have never had an infected mead
> Kudos!! It sounds like you are really good at making a large volume starter
> which makes all the diference in the world.
No, generally I use dried yeasts, but two packs rehydrated certainly
adds some certanty to the exercise.

> >or one of those "mead takes two years before it tastes good"
> > fermentations. Most of my meads are finished fermenting
> > in three weeks, and are bottled and ready to drink soon
> > after that. And they've won the occasional ribbon or two.
> If this is true (and I'm not doubting you) you must have really good control
> over the fermentation temp.  becasue too hot can cause higher alcohols that
> need to age out and too cool and you can get a lag.
I ferment year-round in my basement. Sixty-five in winter; seventy in
Summer. I have to admit, I did make one listerine-like mead, the second
one I made. It still tastes bad. I remember adding a bunch of yeast
nutrient and energizer to it. :?>) I also use a carboy-cozy in the
winter to equalize temperatures (we have a set-back theremostat).

> > But, historically speaking, I have wondered just how did 
> > theydo it back there in the mists of time? Where did they
> > get their yeast?  Did their mead spontaneously ferment, like
> > a lambic? so I did a couple of experiments.
> From the stuff I have read it happened in a few ways. 1) Spontaneous, some
> places (like Lambeek Belgium and the bordux region of France) have more (and
> better) yeast floating about naturally. 2)  Know yeast harborers. Many recip
> es back when called for things like a handfull of rasins or mustard seeds or
> something else that they knew would bring on fermentation. 3) Yeast sticks.
> Some used the same stick to stir each batch and was handed down though the
> generations. The stick collected yeast in the pores and passed it from batch
> to batch.
Yes well I propose it may have been #2, as #1 probably is the same as #2
(the container, added fruit or spices) except that the "yeast
harborer" wasn't known, and #3 depends on first having a #1 or #2
first happen.
> > > First, I have read all the 'net tales of "you've gotta heat,
> > or boil your honey must and skim off the scum that rises to
> > the top." Baloney!
> This was handed down from the really old recipes were it was important to
> skim off the wax, antena, and bee heads that came with the honey as well as
> purifying bad water. I have seen some recipes from the 1500s that called for
The last mead I made used honey from a brand new beekeeper (who *gave*
me 80 pounds of honey!) who didn't filter his honey. I didn't see any
heads, but there certainly was enough wax floating on the top. This is
one of the best meads I ever made. Oh, and yes, it was a very
light-colored honey. :) The mead is almost water clear. OG 1.1100, 
FG 1.013, but only because I stopped it in the refrigerator so that I
could bottle it in time to give him a case for Xmass.

> rain water that ommited any kind of boiling. You are right that the heat can
> damage and remove nutrient from the mead. With the macro filtering that they
> do with most all of comercially available honey, there is no need to skim.
Yes, but your local beekeeper has better, cheaper, and more interesting
honey. :?>) And if you ask them, they'll make some that is totally
unheated, but with all those bee parts strained out. The only problem I
have seen so far is they want to sell sixty pound pails, which may be a
problem for some apartment dwellers.

> As for heating, like I said earlier, the fact you do a large starter has a
> lot to do with the fact you have not got infections also whare you live has
> a lot to do with it. I have read posts from people who live in warm climates
> or live near certain agriculteral product that state they need to be very
> careful about makeing sure this a very sanitized to begin with as the mold
> and bacteria grow fast or there is a lot of naturally occuring yeast in the
> air.
I agree that when your water supply is uncertain, you certainly need to
take measures to insure sanitation. But that was then, this is now, and
I don't believe there is any need to heat or boil the must. As far as
people in warm climates, etc. I would be more likely to question their
sanitation than worrying about airborne yeasts. But I also have found
that a large starter, or a couple of packs of dry yeast will eliminate
just about any bacterial problems. Or, for that matter, yeast. As I said
in my original post, I make mead and cider from the juice from my local
cider mill. That juice is laden with yeast and bacteria, as I have
already demonstrated. When I make cyser, I don't heat that must. Into
five gallons of fresh-pressed juice goes honey to get to about 1.1100,
and yeast (plus pectic enzyme). No bacteria problem, no wild yeast
problems.  So, if that yeast/bacteria-laden stuff is not a problem, how
could a show mead, with just honey, water, and (added) yeast be a

> As for meads that ferment in 3 weeks and is drinkable, well my only guess is
> that you are not pushing the mead envelope very much. High grav meads 16+
> take longer than that, certain flavors take longer to develop (like sherry
> type notes). Mead is a patient art, not mater how you slice it most meads do
> better with proper aging. I don't like my mead to be drinkable too early
> because I might just drink them before they reach there peak.
Oh I've made high gravity meads, but I've gotten off the alcohol
kick. :) They are marginally longer to ferment, but not appreciably
so. And there's no question that aging improves the flavor of mead. But
why would I want to make a mead that tastes bad, so that I have to age
it so that it tastes good? I'd rather make one that tastes good to begin
with, and tastes great! after aging. :?>)

> All of these things are just steps to insure a good mead. Just because you
> are good (diligent) at making starters and live in an area that does not
> have a lot of airborne yeasts (and other things) does not mean the rest of
> us are that lucky. Then again if a person (unlike yourself) is just blindly
Luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. Patiently applied scientific
reasoning, coupled with strict observation produces methods which allow
you (and me) to produce consistently good, sometimes great, meads,
without the use of added chemicals, acids, or heating.
> following theses recipes without thinking about their situation and
> experimenting with that they have to do (and what they can get away with) to
> get good mead then they are not enjoying the ART of mead making and just
> following some cooking recipe.
I wholeheartedly agree. And since mead receipes are almost impossible
for someone *else* to duplicate (because honey in two places is *never*
the same), there's no point in following recipes unless it's to get an
idea of a starting point.

> Just as you can ride a bike without a helmet and go boating without a
> life-preserver, you can also make good mead without taking the precautions
> of nutrient or pasteurization. But until you REALLY know what you are doing
> you are taking your chances if you do not.
You know, I've discussed my methods with several meadmakers, some who
contribute here, and they have used them and produced consistently good,
infection-free, quick fermenting, very delicious meads. And no failures,
and no infections. Isn't life on the edge great! :?>) 

> I have made meads without sulfites or pasteurization that have turned out
> great. I have also done meads that fermented wild that turned out pretty
> good (one that fermented 16.5% DOWN TO .992) But if I am using some
> expensive honey or fruit or spice that is hard for me to get I will take the
> necessary precautions to make sure it turns out the way I want. People who
> are just beginning should follow the rules until they are comfortable enough
> to break one or two and not get discouraged if it doesn't work out.
You must have made some real nasties to be so worried about having a
spoiled mead. :?>) :?>) Never have (except ol' number two), and don't
plan on having one again. :) But seriously, maybe I have been incredibly
lucky, but I would rather think of it as skilled. If I have a mead which
absolutely refuses to budge, is stuck, stuck, stuck, then I'll add a
teaspoon of yeast nutrient. But thus far, in probably close to a hundred
five gallon batches with no nutrients, no heating, no infections, no
listerines, and no stuck ferments, I haven't had to. So why should I

> I am glad your way works out for you but I would not encourage people to
> just give up taking precautions without some serious thought.
I agree completely, if the precautions you are talking about are being
fanatically scrupulous about sanitation; precise in measurement of
honey, liquids and spices; planning the recipe to take advantage of the
individual characteristics of the yeast; and not taking actions that
will cause slow fermentations (like impossibly high original
gravities, extremely high fermentation temps, premature racking,
additions of acids which drop Ph and prolong fermentation, and
excessive additions of mouth-numbing spices like cloves.)


Chuck (in digest mode)

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