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Old 05-08-2013, 12:13 AM   #1
SouthernGorilla
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Default Lager experiment

I'm posting this for feedback and in case somebody else wants to try it before I can get started. I'm going to lager a mead.

The plan is to take a one-gallon batch of a plain "show" mead and use lager yeast at lager temperatures with the lager period after the primary. Do it exactly the way you would if you were making a lager beer.

I don't brew beer at all, let alone lagers. So I don't have any of the necessary equipment. I plan to buy a cheap styrofoam cooler and use gel packs to maintain the proper temperature inside. I'm even going to equip my primary with a thermowell to best monitor the temperature. I'll have to practice maintaining the temperature with water or something before I start the experiment so I know I'll be able to do it.

The catch, though, is that just lagering a batch of mead won't tell me much. Ideally I'd need to also run everything at ale temperatures to compare the differences. But there's no single yeast that can operate equally well at both temperatures. The best I could hope for is to find an ale yeast with properties identical to the lager yeast just to see how they compare head-to-head.

If anybody has any thoughts on how to hone the experiment to make it more accurate please chime in. I'm especially open to yeast suggestions. Particularly how to find a matched ale/lager pair.

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Old 05-08-2013, 03:29 AM   #2
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I know a yeast that will do well at this... Lalvin K1V-1116 also the Sake #9 yeast from Wyeast would work as well. I have used both for sake which varies in temp ranges from ale temps to lager temps. I am tied up with many ferments at the moment so can't give this a try but I would suggest either yeast for your experiment.

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Old 05-08-2013, 09:28 AM   #3
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Thanks! I had no idea there was a yeast that would work under both conditions. I'm going with the Lalvin. So far I'm pleased with the performance of the EC-1118 I'm using in my two current batches. That gives me confidence in using the 1116 for this test. The only downside is that at 18% ABV it might take a while before I can do any taste test to see how the batches turned out.

Just looked at the EC-1118 info and saw that it works to 50* as well. That gives me another option depending on what I can find in stock.

The plan is to make a single starter and split it between the lager and normal batches. Since I also plan to mix the must in one large batch and split it the only variable between the two batches should be temperature.

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Old 05-08-2013, 12:39 PM   #4
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For traditional mead I would highly suggest to not use 1118. It is too aggressive and blows a lot of the subtle flavors out the airlock. Also you do not have to go to 18%abv. If you add 2lb honey per gallon you are closer to 9%-10% abv. 3lb per gallon closer to 13%-14% abv. Just depends on sugar content of your honey. If you want this to end sweet then either pasteurize the mead and then back sweeten or do my preferred method of stabilizing with Camden and sorbate so you can back sweeten.

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Old 05-08-2013, 02:04 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Arpolis View Post
For traditional mead I would highly suggest to not use 1118. It is too aggressive and blows a lot of the subtle flavors out the airlock.
I wonder if this would really be the case fermenting @ 50*F? I would suspect that most people's experience with almost any yeast is how it behaves between 65 and 75*F... I know that's the case for me, not having a really good way to reliably maintain temps cooler than that (one day I'll have a fermentation cooler!)...

Regarding the experiment itself...you will get far less yeast esters from even an ale yeast just from forcing the ferm temp down, so I agree that what you will be measuring really, is just the effect of fermentation temperature, especially if you use a single strain...

Also, with your proposed technique (cooler), I suspect you will have a lot of futzing around to do to maintain temps within a range, especially at the beginning...also, using water to practice with will be helpful, but will likely behave very differently than fermenting mead. Before fermentation becomes active, your must will probably tend to continue to cool, then once fermentation does start, you will need more cooling than before to keep it at temp, and then as it slows, it will tend to be dropping again. I just envision you doing a lot of movement of ice packs in and out... At least with the thermowell, you will be able to get good measurements of what's actually going on inside the fermentation itself, rather than just ambient temps...

I was also going to suggest that perhaps you try a hybrid or "steam" yeast such as Wyeast 2112, or a kolch yeast like Wyeast 2565...both can tolerate fermentations from the high 50's to the mid to high 60's, and retain some lager characteristics even higher up in that range... Also Wyeast 2124 Bohemian Lager has a really wide temp range (45-68*F)...this could be an excellent choice for examining just the temperature variable...

Regarding your starter...if you use a lager yeast, you will need relatively big starters...depending on whether you calculate things for a hybrid yeast or a lager yeast, you will need at least 1 liter, and perhaps up to 2 liters starter size in order to split it (assumes OG using 2 lbs honey per gallon). You could also simplify things and use a single pack of yeast for each gallon, and this would be almost the same pitch rate as a 2 liter starter split. Just eliminates another variable...
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Old 05-08-2013, 11:37 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by biochemedic View Post
I wonder if this would really be the case fermenting @ 50*F? I would suspect that most people's experience with almost any yeast is how it behaves between 65 and 75*F... I know that's the case for me, not having a really good way to reliably maintain temps cooler than that (one day I'll have a fermentation cooler!)...
I thought the exact same thing when I read Arpolis' post. It's entirely possible that whatever it is that makes 1118 so enthusiastic at normal temperatures might be exactly what a yeast needs to be effective at all at lower temperatures. So 1118 is definitely in the test.

But Arpolis' post also showed me what I consider a flaw in the design of the experiment. I don't think using a single yeast would make a valid experiment. So I'm going to double the experiment and use both 1118 and 1116 in separate batches. The idea being that any difference due to temperature will show in both yeasts. Both yeasts are similar in all the important characteristics. So I'm thinking they will react similarly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by biochemedic View Post
Regarding the experiment itself...you will get far less yeast esters from even an ale yeast just from forcing the ferm temp down, so I agree that what you will be measuring really, is just the effect of fermentation temperature, especially if you use a single strain...
I think a single strain is the only valid way to do it. So I'm glad to find there are yeast that can handle the whole range.

Quote:
Originally Posted by biochemedic View Post
Also, with your proposed technique (cooler), I suspect you will have a lot of futzing around to do to maintain temps within a range, especially at the beginning...also, using water to practice with will be helpful, but will likely behave very differently than fermenting mead. Before fermentation becomes active, your must will probably tend to continue to cool, then once fermentation does start, you will need more cooling than before to keep it at temp, and then as it slows, it will tend to be dropping again. I just envision you doing a lot of movement of ice packs in and out... At least with the thermowell, you will be able to get good measurements of what's actually going on inside the fermentation itself, rather than just ambient temps...
I've been running through all of this in my head the past few days. I do believe it's going to be a ton of hassle. But the only alternative is to invest in pricey equipment. If lagering a mead makes a real difference I'll invest in the equipment to make the process easier. There's just no sense in spending hundreds of dollars on an experiment that may not pan out.

I plan to use gel-packs for cooling. They're a bit longer lasting and more consistent than ice. Swapping them out will still be a pain.

Quote:
Originally Posted by biochemedic View Post
I was also going to suggest that perhaps you try a hybrid or "steam" yeast such as Wyeast 2112, or a kolch yeast like
I'm happy with the 1116 and 1118. I think they offer the best range.

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Regarding your starter...if you use a lager yeast, you will need relatively big starters...depending on whether you calculate things for a hybrid yeast or a lager yeast, you will need at least 1 liter, and perhaps up to 2 liters starter size in order to split it (assumes OG using 2 lbs honey per gallon). You could also simplify things and use a single pack of yeast for each gallon, and this would be almost the same pitch rate as a 2 liter starter split. Just eliminates another variable...
I thought about using a single pack per gallon and not worrying about the starter. That would be simpler and take away one potential trouble spot. But everything I've read says that a starter is critical for lagers. The yeast just have too much trouble getting started at those low temperatures. And using a starter for just the lager would invalidate the test. I figured a one liter starter should be fine for a gallon batch. That makes two liters of each yeast so I can split them between the lager and "ale" versions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arpolis
Also you do not have to go to 18%abv. If you add 2lb honey per gallon you are closer to 9%-10% abv. 3lb per gallon closer to 13%-14% abv. Just depends on sugar content of your honey.
This is another question mark on the experiment. A low ABV will limit the esters and off flavors produced. So that might mask the effects of the lagering. But there's no guarantee the lagered yeast could finish at the same level as the warm yeast. Actually, that last sentence just made up my mind. I think it's important to see if the yeast finish the same under both conditions. So I'll plan the honey content to allow the yeast to max out. If the lagered yeast finishes too low I can always add more yeast later to finish it off. And after the experiment is over I can put the batches on fruit or something in secondary to make it potable.
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Old 05-09-2013, 12:14 AM   #7
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Well I will give it to you all. 1118 may do well cold but I have never tried it and so could not say. I know 1116 does super well cold so that's why I said as I said. I think it is a terrific idea to compare the two yeasts side by side.

One way to to make sure the yeast hit it's limit; if that is what you want, is to step feed the honey. Start with a gravity of about 1.06 and watch the gravity closely and add honey at equal intervals raising it by .02 gravity points at each addition. That should make 4 separate additions of honey to have enough sugar to take the mead to about 18% dry. When I make my sake essentially that is what I do. Rice is constantly being turned into ferment able sugars while the yeast is fermenting. When using 1116 yeast, temps got as cold as the upper 30*F range but mostly in the low 50*F range and the yeast trucked along and I hit about 19% - 20% abv with it.

For temp control I do this in the winter and wait for favorable weather conditions. That may be a long wait for you so I hope your makeshift cooler works out. Keep us all updated.

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Old 05-09-2013, 01:34 AM   #8
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Step feeding is an excellent suggestion. I know yeast sometimes have difficulty with a high-gravity must. Adding a few ounces of honey wouldn't raise the temperature too much.

Here's a question. What if instead of adding honey on a schedule I added it based on an SG threshold? Start with 1.06 and add honey when it drops to 1.04 so that the must remains fairly stable as far as pH and sugar level. It's a given that the lager will not ferment as quickly as the warm mead. So adding honey on a strict schedule will impact the two musts differently. It may be a minor difference. But minor differences can be a big deal.

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Old 05-09-2013, 10:29 AM   #9
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Just ordered the stuff for the experiment. Got the yeast and some nutrients. Also got some pH test strips. Figured I might as well track the pH too. Bought some new jugs for fermenting. I like the wide-mouth style jugs for their ease of access. And the big lid will make it easy to mount a thermowell.

The plan is to do daily SG readings on all four batches. I'll also do daily pH readings at least for the first few days. If the pH doesn't change much I'll quit tracking it. I'll check the temperature twice daily so I can keep the lager in range better.

Any more ideas?

I'll wait to get the coolers til after the new fermenters arrive. That way I know I'm getting the right size. I may even shell out the extra to get a real cooler instead of the disposable one. We've talked about having one for road trips anyhow. Then I could get one big enough to fit both lager batches in the one cooler. That would assure that both lager batches are treated the same. Now that I think about it, I really have to do it that way. Wonder what a cooler big enough for two gallon jugs will cost me.

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Old 05-11-2013, 03:05 AM   #10
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My new fermenter jugs arrived today along with the gel-packs. My wife tells me she already has a big cooler in the patio closet that will easily hold two gallon jugs. So all I need now is for the yeast and other bits to arrive. Then I can find the honey and start the experiment.

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