Mead additives

Honey Handling and Mead Additives – another forum discussion


Your aim in preparing the must and in the fermentation of honey should be to retain as much of the natural flavor and aroma of the honey as possible. Honey is a dense and sticky product, which makes it quite difficult to work with. You will need to dissolve the honey in water so the must is easy to pour and stir. There are several options that a mead-maker can employ that will dissolve the honey and sterilize the must at the same time. Each of these methods have pros and cons:

Boiling: This process involves heating some water in a stainless-steel pot. Once the water is at a very warm temperature, just below the boiling point, it is removed from the heat and the honey is added. The mixture is stirred to dissolve the honey and then placed back over the heat. The must is brought to a boil and the scum that forms on top is scooped off. This scum consists of coagulated protein and beeswax. After a brief period the must is removed from the heat and allowed to cool, or more water is added to bring the temperature down more rapidly. Advantages: The must is sterilized and any bacteria or wild yeast present will be killed. In addition, protein compounds are boiled out of the honey mixture, leaving less chance of a protein haze in the finished mead. Disadvantages: The flavor and fragrances of the honey will most often be cooked out of the must, leaving your finished product with very little of either. Possible color change.

Heating: In this method, water is heated to 180¡ or to just below boiling, and the honey is diluted in the hot water. This method is similar to pasteurization. The temperature is held at this temperature for 20 to 30 minuets. Advantages: As with boiling, the must is sterilized and any bacteria or wild yeast present will be killed. Some of the protein compounds will also be removed, although some may remain. Disadvantages: As with boiling, some of the honey characteristics can be lost, as well as some of the subtle aromas. The color of the honey may change. Some of the protein compounds are heated out of the must, but not all of them, so fining may be needed to clarify. Sulfite: This method simply dilutes the honey in warm water so that it is dissolved.

Once dissolved, the rest of the water is added and the must is sulfited to around 65 to 70 parts per million (ppm). Sulfite additions are common in winemaking to sanitize the must, and this is becoming the preferred method among mead-makers, as well. Advantages: The must is sterilized. The must will retain all of the delicate flavors and aromas contained in the honey. No change in color to the honey. Disadvantages: Possible protein haze in your finished must, requiring extended aging in bulk or the use of a fining agent to remove the haze and clarify the mead. Sulfite comes in several easy-to-use forms for homebrewers and winemakers. One of the most common forms is Campden tablets. The tablets are crushed and then added to the must. Each tablet contains 0.44 grams of sodium metabisulfite and adding one crushed tablet per gallon of must is just about right (the amount of sodium metabisulfite in tablets can vary; check the label and adjust the amount if you need to.) Since these tablets contain sodium, I would err on the side of caution when using them, since you can end up with a salty flavor in your mead. An easier and much better product to use is potassium metabisulfite, which comes in powder form and is ready to measure out and use. Here is a quick guide that tells you how much potassium metabisulfite to add to various batch sizes of mead.

Sulfite Additions (potassium metabisulfite):

  • Amount of must 1 gallon Amount of sulfite 0.33 gram or 0.05 tsp Result 50 ppm
  • Amount of must 1 gallon Amount of sulfite 0.46 gram or 0.07 tsp Result 70 ppm
  • Amount of must 5 gallons Amount of sulfite 1.64 gram or 0.26 tsp Result 50 ppm
  • Amount of must 5 gallons Amount of sulfite 2.3 gram or 0.37 tsp Result 70 ppm

Which of the above sterilizing methods to use will depend mostly on your style and how quickly you want the mead to clear. Personally, I prefer to sulfite the must, preserving as much of the natural honey aroma and flavor as possible. When using this method to make a pyment (honey and grape juice) or a braggot (honey and malt) I have not noticed any significant haze, and a common fining agent such as Claro-KC clears the mead within a week. With a pure honey mead, I have experienced some residual protein hazes after fermentation when using only sulfite to sanitize, and I had to use bentonite to clear it. In addition to the methods mentioned here for sanitizing a mead must, other processes – from no sanitizing at all, to sterile filtration – are used by some mead-makers.

Nutrients Honey contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, as well as anti-oxidants. That said, honey is not abundant in available nutrients, and it is recommended that nutrients be added to the must before fermentation. The known lag time in getting yeast activity started in a mead must is partially due to the lack of available nitrogen and nutrient compounds. Mead adjuncts, such as fruit, malt, grape juice or other spices, can be used as a source of nutrition for yeasts, but yeast nutrients should be added to the must to supply adequate compounds. DAP (Diammonium Phosphate), yeast hulls, Fermaid or a combination should be added at the rate of one-half teaspoon per gallon. Additional DAP can also be added partway through the fermentation process, at about day six, to keep the yeast active.

Acid A well-balanced mead should have just enough acid to offset the sweetness. Mead has low acid levels because the honey is diluted with so much water. So I recommend that you measure and adjust the acid. Once your must is diluted with water, take an acid reading. You can take your total acidity reading with a simple acid-testing kit, available at most homebrew or winemaking supply shops. Purchase a testing kit that contains a one-percent solution of sodium hydroxide, as opposed to another strength. Measure out 7.5 milliliters (mL) of your mead must with the supplied syringe and add this to a test tube or small buy tramadol hcl no prescription container. Add 3 to 4 drops of the supplied indicator solution (phenolphthalein) and stir or swirl to mix. Rinse your syringe and draw up 10 mL of the one-percent sodium hydroxide solution and begin slowly adding it to the mead must. After each few drops you add, swirl the container and look for a color change over the entire sample. When you see the entire sample change color, record how much of the sodium hydroxide you used. This will be your total acidity in grams per liter. If you used 5.6 mL of sodium hydroxide to see an entire color change in the solution then your acidity will be 5.6 grams per liter. Adding acid to the must is controversial among some mead-makers, and some favor adding the acid after fermentation to adjust for acid-sweetness balance. Your primary concern will be pH levels in the must, because adding acid will lower pH levels. But proper acid levels promote a healthy fermentation and adjustments should, in my opinion, be made before fermentation. After adding water to your must the acid levels are going to fall dramatically, and pH levels will be approaching between 5 and 6, so I recommend that you add at least enough acid to the must to bring the pH down into the 3.5 range. After fermentation and after sweetening the finished mead, additional acid can be added if needed to balance your mead. A general rule of thumb is that if you intend a dry mead the natural organic acids formed during fermentation may be sufficient. Some mead makers, including myself, do adjust acidity before fermentation, taking into account desired residual sugar levels, with no apparent ill effects. A common acidity range to target when making a mead with 2 percent residual sugar is 6.5 g/L (0.65 percent total acidity).

For a braggot style of mead to which malt is added, and procedures are followed for a lower-alcohol brew, use simple pH papers and shoot for a range of about 5.0 pH. To add acid, simply buy a powdered acid blend at your supply shop. Most of these blends contain three natural acids ÷ citric, malic and tartaric ÷ that are found in a wide variety of fruits. The amount to add varies. Some mead-makers substitute fresh citrus juice for an acid blend.

Yeast: Most yeasts that are available for making beer or wine will also work quite well for fermenting a honey mead. Mead musts can be started with a wide range of Brix or specific gravity levels, resulting in alcohol percentages from six to 20 percent. For an ale style of mead, the starting specific gravity should be in the range of 1.050. If you’re making a wine style of mead, the specific gravity should be in the 1.080 range. As with any homebrew, the final alcohol levels, nutrient needs, oxygen consumption and sugar levels should be taken into account when selecting a yeast culture. Sweet and dry mead yeast are now available specifically for fermenting meads. Dry granulated wine yeasts seem to work very well for meads as well. Most mead-makers will recommend the following yeasts for either their clean ester properties or for the favorable qualities they lend to the mead, without the inherent harshness other yeasts might contribute.   Use the Champagne strain for dry meads.

  • Danstar Nottingham Nicely balanced, strong fermentation.
  • Lalvin 71-B Fruity characteristics; perhaps my favorite mead yeast.
  • Lalvin K1V-1116 Harsh at first, but ages wonderfully.
  • Red Star Cote Des Blanc Smooth, good flavor.
  • Red Star Pasteur Champagne Clean, neutral, vigorous.
  • White Labs WLP720 (Sweet Mead)
  • WLP715 (Champagne) Tolerant to 15 percent alcohol and accentuates the fruity characteristics of meads.
  • Wyeast 3184 (Sweet Mead) or 3632 (Dry Mead) Harder to get started, but shows good qualities in a finished mead.

Fermentation: Honey is known for its slow fermentation times; mead will take much longer to ferment than beer. However, providing that you supply a nutrient-rich environment and higher temperatures for the yeast to thrive in, fermentation times can be shortened quite a bit. Is this desirable? Well, most white wines are fermented at very cool temperatures, resulting in a long and slow fermentation. This tends to preserve fruit flavors and subtle aromas in the finished product. This type of fermentation can be applied to meads as well. Meads that are slow to ferment may show more of the flavor and aroma of the honey, as well as subtle hints of toasty or yeasty flavors. Finding a happy medium may the best approach, such as a moderate fermentation that takes only two to three weeks, or slightly longer, at about 68 to 70 F. If you are using a dry wine yeast, re-hydrate the yeast in a cup of water that has been heated to around 100 to 105 F, and stir lightly. Allow this to sit for 15 minutes and then stir once more. To the cup of warm yeast water, add 1 to 2 cups of your mead must and stir. Allow this to sit, slightly covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir your must thoroughly to aerate it and then stir your yeast starter into your must. If you used sulfite to sterilize your must, wait at least 12 hours before adding your yeast starter. Otherwise the sulfite will inhibit the yeast. After 24 hours you should see signs of activity. Give the fermenting must a good stir to supply oxygen to the growing yeast colony. Stir the must once more on day two of active fermentation, then attach a bung and airlock. Partway through fermentation, on or about day four to six, depending on how fast your gravity levels are falling, give the mead a gentle stir to bring settled yeast up from the bottom of the fermenter. Monitor your airlock for bubbles and use your hydrometer to occasionally check the remaining sugar levels. When activity seems to have stopped and your hydrometer reads below 1.000 specific gravity, or Brix, add potassium metabisulfite to 50 ppm and allow the yeast to flocculate for a couple of days. Once the yeast has settled, rack your mead off the yeast sediment to a secondary container. Keep racking the mead every four to six weeks until it is clear. This may take as long as six months. Once the mead is clear, bottle it. I like to age my mead six months in the bottle, which means a year may elapse between making the batch and popping the first cork. With a drink this tasty, waiting is harder than it sounds!