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Old 11-17-2013, 12:45 AM   #1
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Default The Inevitable Newbie "Is my mead dead?" thread.

I was hoping to avoid this, as the question of "Is my mead broken?" seems to be a very common one with slow starts and new mead makers, but it looks like it wasn't meant to be.

Roughly 68 hours ago, I pitched my first batch of mead. It's been sitting in a cool area (currently about 64F) since then, and the original temp of the batch upon pitching was about 70F. It slowly cooled, and I expected to see a bit of life from it. 24 hours passed, and a haze of what I assume is yeast slowly built on the surface. It's about the right color, but there aren't really any bubbles. At the same time, it doesn't clump or seem to have formed any raft, as any agitation simply causes the layer to become a bit more dispersed as if individual cells were being shifted around. There looks to be some sediment at the bottom, though not as much as I would expect to see (granted, this is based primarily in comparison to the single batch of beer I've done, and the 4 batches of cider I've got going). I assume this is probably the start of a yeast cake.

My original pitch was at a SG of 1.100, roughly 5/6ths of a packet of Wyeast 4184 (sweet mead) for a 5 gallon batch. The remaining 6th was used on a 1g batch of cider (which seems to be doing fine) and then as an experiment I sloshed a bit of remaining apple juice in the honey bucket from the mead-making, and then dumped it into the packet to see if it'd pick up enough yeast to start fermenting, in hopes that perhaps I could later use that yeast to start another batch of cider. That experiment has been sealed in a washed & sanitized empty 2L soda bottle, and I've kept it warm -- those are some very happy yeast, judging by the way they've multiplied.

Today I noticed something rather disturbing that has finally prompted me to post, though. While I was looking a bit earlier, I noticed that not only has the mead not gotten any further (visibly) or evolved any gas, it's done the opposite -- water from the airlock was actually being drawn into the fermentation vessel! Hopefully nothing has contaminated it there.

Now the question I'm left with is what could cause this, and what should I do about it? I wiggled the airlock off in an attempt to keep it from pulling more water in, and took the chance to give it a sniff while I was there (smelled like honey, nothing strange about it, but no real yeast smell either). I did boil the water before using it, but I let it cool afterwards in a sealed vessel before adding the honey. I'm wondering if my yeast are unhappy because I didn't introduce enough O2 into the depleted water while stirring in the honey and transferring it to a carboy. Would this cause what I'm seeing? If so, should I just shake the heck out of the carboy and hope for the best?

I've also since read that the strain of yeast I'm using has a bit of a history of weak starts. The packet said it was enough to inoculate 6g of must, so I assumed it was probably safe to reallocate some of it. From what I've seen, that may have been a bad idea. Should I decant the liquid off of my experimental batch and try adding the remaining cake to my mead in hopes of giving it a boost?

Are there any other possibilities I've overlooked?

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Old 11-17-2013, 12:48 AM   #2
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Are there any other possibilities I've overlooked?
Yes. Like the fact that you will need to wait several weeks or months for the ferment to finish normally. And you will need to burp it and degas it periodically during the process.

Repeat after me - "airlock activity is not a sign of fermentation". If your must started warm and then cooled, then you got some suck back due to the whole PV = nRT thing. Temperature in the headspace dropped, volume decreased, so pressure decreased.

Put the mead away someplace and check on it in a month.
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Old 11-17-2013, 12:52 AM   #3
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My big concern is that it's sucking air -- that leads me to think that something is a bit off in there. If it simply weren't bubbling, I wouldn't be too worried, but with the temp being stable for 2 days, the sudden partial vacuum has me wondering what the heck would cause it, and I can't think of anything that would that would be beneficial.

Temp had been stable for a good day and a half before it started pulling vacuum, so I don't think it's cooling-related.

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Old 11-17-2013, 12:57 AM   #4
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Leave it be. Hide it someplace and go do something else for a while. You'll drive yourself crazy trying to divine the ferment from airlock activity. If a high pressure weather front came through, that could cause your airlock to "suck in".

It might take several days for the yeast to get to work. Relax.

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Old 11-17-2013, 01:07 AM   #5
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I'd completely forgotten about that possibility for a pressure differential. Sure enough, the clouds are breaking up and the sky is becoming visible after a few days of rain, so I'm betting that a high front probably is rolling through.

So I guess the question I'm left with is should I really just tuck it away and ignore that some airlock water is probably going to get pushed into the carboy, or should I keep an eye on it and try to vent it quickly of I think it's likely to do that? Which is the lesser evil? I know honey generally isn't the most hospitable medium for bugs, and the yeast I added is probably going to provide some competitive force, but the desire to minimize possible contamination as much as possible is still there.

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Old 11-17-2013, 01:15 AM   #6
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Just leave it be. If you are worried about it, use vodka in the airlock. A little vodka suck-back won't hurt anything.

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Old 11-17-2013, 01:17 AM   #7
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I'd completely forgotten about that possibility for a pressure differential. Sure enough, the clouds are breaking up and the sky is becoming visible after a few days of rain, so I'm betting that a high front probably is rolling through.

So I guess the question I'm left with is should I really just tuck it away and ignore that some airlock water is probably going to get pushed into the carboy, or should I keep an eye on it and try to vent it quickly of I think it's likely to do that? Which is the lesser evil? I know honey generally isn't the most hospitable medium for bugs, and the yeast I added is probably going to provide some competitive force, but the desire to minimize possible contamination as much as possible is still there.
I'm more in the stir/degas camp. I'd stir it daily or twice aday, quite well, to provide an escape for co2 and allow some oxygen to come in if possible until the mead is at 1.030 or lower. I'd add nutrients on a staggered schedule (check out the mead making "sticky" threads on the FAQ). You have a high OG for such a low amount of yeast, so you really want to pamper it and encourage it along.
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Old 11-17-2013, 09:02 AM   #8
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Concur with Yooper here........

Because the yeast is a PITA, it's likely to need pampering some.

Given the lower cell count of liquid packs when compared to dry packs, its likely still in lag phase so some O2 and even a bit of GoFerm wouldnt go amiss (on the presumption that you'd be best placed not adding anything that contains DAP until you've got signs of active fermentation)........

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Old 11-19-2013, 10:45 AM   #9
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So, day 5 rolled around, with a whole lot of nothing. Went to the local brew store, picked up some nutrients and assorted odds and ends I needed. Came back, sanitized everything, popped the top...

...and the SG was 1.088, pH 3.6-ish. A whole .012 in 5 days. I'm thinking that might be a bit hung. Added around 3/4 tsp Fermaid-K and 1 tsp DAP, stirred the hell out of it to get everything in suspension and get some O2 back into the must. Going to give it 12-18 hours and see if there's signs of life. If not, I'll take my "experiment" batch of the same yeast and see if I can make a beefy starter to kick it off again.

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Old 11-19-2013, 11:45 PM   #10
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Or the yeast was in the lag phase. 12 points in 5 days isn't the end of the world when fermenting meads. It could get faster with time. Still, no harm in what you did. But I'd leave it be other than to do an occaisional rousing to get CO2 gas out of suspension.

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