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Home Brew Forums > Wine, Mead, Cider, Sake & Soda > Mead Forum > Contamination or Slow Yeast?
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Old 03-02-2007, 03:41 AM   #1
ria
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Default Contamination or Slow Yeast?

I've been attempting to find some solid information on when I should begin to see consistent activity in my water valve but I'm coming up short with everything from 'within a few days' to 'the next morning'. As it is, I will check the primary on one day and find the valve actually showing a greater pressure on the outside than inside of the bucket. Whilst occasionally, possibly from a bit of encouragement through rocking or tapping, it will bubble up anywhere from every 25 to 120 seconds.

The details of my particular brew, and what I've been trying to quell my impatience with, are:

  • The must was pasteurized around midnight on the 21st of February, and that makes it about a week old.
  • The yeast was pitched while it was still approximately 90 degrees Fahrenheit (this particularly worries me).
  • The primary fermenter is a 6.5 gallon food grade brew bucket with a simple air valve filled with water.
  • The must came to just over 3 gallons, which I suppose gives 3 gallons of volume for CO2 build up?
  • The yeast came from a well refrigerated but 6 month old "sweet mead" smack pack which I allowed to work its magic for about half an hour.
  • The fermenter was opened and aerated with a long sanitized spoon for the first two days and I added approximately 3 teaspoons of yeast nutrient during this time (dead yeast with other stuff, and though the brew store said they thought it had nitrogen I'm not certain from what I read on the packet).
  • The primary is resting in a fairly consistent 70 degree, not much more if not in fact cooler, and dark closet.
  • I tried to sanitize everything with a low level bleach solution wiped down well.
  • Finally, I used tap water which I personally don't mind drinking, but that says very little to the issue.

Now, this could be my impatience kicking in towards the end of week one but this is my first brew so I figure I'm allowed a bit of extra carefulness. If I press down on the plastic lid and force bubbles out there was initially a heavy honey smell which has shifted to a very strong, but not wine/liquor/beer as I know it, alcohol smell. I do not know if this is a slow onsetting contamination, maybe a slow breeding that a smack pack left to sit longer should have expedited, the fruits of an overactive imagination, or something I shouldn't even be worried about.

Listening to a basicbrewing.com podcast with the Redstone Meadery's president as a guest I heard about something he refers to as 'jet fuel' alcohol which has to mellow out for some time. Anyways, any pointers, tips, diagnoses, etc. that can be offered I'll be more than appreciative.
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Old 03-02-2007, 10:37 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ria
  • The yeast came from a well refrigerated but 6 month old "sweet mead" smack pack which I allowed to work its magic for about half an hour.
I think the rule of thumb with these is to give the pack one day to swell per month after the date on the package. With this pack, you would have needed up to a week to see the pack swell, indicating viable yeast. Pitching a 6month old pack before it swells is taking a big risk.

Even with a 1.050 beer I'll step up a smack pack to at least 1/2 gallon. With a 1.100+ mead, a one gallon starter for me would be minimum if I were to use liquid yeast.

You have pitched a small amount of old yeast into a huge must (I'm guessing your OG was over 1.100). If you do have viable yeast it may take a while to see any activity.

Next time you may want to try a dry yeast for mead.
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Old 03-02-2007, 02:46 PM   #3
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Meads are slow starters. Sweet meads are probably the most difficult to get going. The high densities make it very difficult for the yeast to grow and process sugar. I would say put it somewhere for about two months.

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Old 03-02-2007, 03:56 PM   #4
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You could try adding a gallon of warm water, stirring it well, then letting it sit for a while. That would lower your gravity, giving the yeast a better chance due to lower osmotic pressure. Once it starts fermenting vigorously, add more honey to boost your ABV/gravity.

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Old 03-03-2007, 12:28 AM   #5
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I can't express my gratitude enough because just getting some 'professional' advice after nothing but long nights poring over the internet and working myself into a fret has got me sighing in relief. As MLynchLtd just commented over on "Easy Recipe" I should probably just let it sit in the closet for six months and focus on something else. I think it probably is just a slow start because the air lock has gone down to 60 seconds from that earlier mentioned 120 and the inside piece of the lock has stayed pushed up for the past day or so. Since the 22nd was 8 days ago, and the yeast now has to contend with three gallons of diluted honey, 6 months of rest will probably catch up by mid next week I hope, especially judging by that drop in bubbling intervals (if my high school biology serves me right) which should drop exponentially as the yeast grows in turn.

So with that in mind, and after skimming throughout the forum, I think I'm going to grab myself a gallon carboy (or maybe two, heh) and brew up some of that wheat cider or something quick to take my mind off my baby in the closet. Maybe also while at the store I can grab an alcoholometer, and while on that subject does anyone have a link to someplace that will outline what I should be looking for? I never did research into that area because I staunchly meant to brew for taste and not inebriation, though I now know that the hydrometer will tell a lot more than just that.

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Old 03-06-2007, 03:52 AM   #6
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Sorry to beat a dead horse but I figure good news is worth a mention.

I picked up a bottle of Honeyrun Ragnar's Reserve from the local Wholefoods because I wanted to get a feel for mead, I'd never actually had it before. Sad to say, they didn't have one of our local brands of mead in stock but as soon as I uncorked this bottle I recognized what I've been smelling through the airlock all this time.

Suffice it to say I'm brewing mead in my primary and not a big screw up. Also, I'm happy to report that the lock is now giving a couple of bubbles every 20-25 seconds and has been for a day or two. So here's to the health of all you around here and this great forum, I hope to stick around and that the next time I raise my glass it'll be my own homebrew I get to taste.

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