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Home Brew Forums > Wine, Mead, Cider, Sake & Soda > Mead Forum > starting at 1.140 gravity?
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Old 11-02-2010, 04:39 AM   #1
DougBrown
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Default starting at 1.140 gravity?

I've been trying to end up with a mead with a FG of 1.015-1.020. I've been using Lalvin D-47 yeast since it's supposed to have an alcohol tolerance of 12-14%. But, when I use an OG of 1.120 it ferments down to 1.000 which is 16% alcohol. This also means I have to sweeten my mead up to the 1.015 or 1.020 that I want. So, I'm thinking that I should start with an OG of 1.140 but such a high gravity makes me really nervous. Although I use a yeast starter I'm afraid it won't get it going. And, what if D-47 still takes it down to 1.000?!

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Old 11-02-2010, 05:10 AM   #2
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You could just stabilize your mead with sulfite and sorbate once it dries out, then bring it up to the FG that you want.

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Old 11-02-2010, 05:24 AM   #3
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That's what I've been doing but it seems like a "work-around" rather than the correct way. I also think that the flavor is different if done this way.

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Old 11-02-2010, 05:29 AM   #4
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As you've mentioned, yeast can be a bit finnicky at times, so it can be tough to figure out an exact SG and know where it will finish. If you want to use more honey, you could try adding it in stages instead of all at once up front. This might take some stress off of the yeast initially. I've never done that before though, so you might want to wait until someone more experienced says if that will work or not.

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Old 11-02-2010, 06:32 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DougBrown View Post
That's what I've been doing but it seems like a "work-around" rather than the correct way. I also think that the flavor is different if done this way.
The advantage of picking a specific starting gravity, fermenting to 1.000 (give or take), stabilizing, then backsweetening allows you to control the ABV and finished sweetness level more precisely. It is much more difficult to pick a starting gravity and hoping the yeast poops out on your desired final gravity for a given sweetness level and have a good idea on ABV.

Adding honey in stages is one way to up your ABV without starting at such a high gravity but you can still go above the yeast's alcohol tolerance level with this method and end up in the same boat as starting with too high an intial gravity.
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Old 11-02-2010, 01:12 PM   #6
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I think the risk of getting a stuck fermentation grows a bit high, and even if it wouldn't stick, the process would be much slower than expected.

My batch with an OG of 140 ended up sticking around 1.060, I got it resumed by adding a starter which brought in new yeast and water to reduce the alcohol and remaining sugar content. However I didn't get it lower than 1.040 with the restart.

Based on this I recommend starting lower, getting it dry and then carefully calculating your honey additions so that the SG doesn't get higher than 1.020 in case your yeast decides to choke on the added honey.

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Old 11-02-2010, 02:22 PM   #7
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Quote:
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That's what I've been doing but it seems like a "work-around" rather than the correct way. I also think that the flavor is different if done this way.
I wouldn't call it a "work around" as it is the most efficient way to get the exact level of sweetness you want while keeping the ABV at a level you like. It also allows you to get the benefits of using yeast that may have an ABV tolerance much higher than you'd like.

Still, if you don't want to use backsweetening, there are some other options. For one, you can "cold crash" the mead at the desired gravity (as long as you know at what point you like it best). You put the active fermentation in a fridge near 32 F and let it sit for a couple of weeks. The cold will put the yeast into hibernation and much of the yeast will precipitate out. Then rack it (while cold) onto sorbate and sulfite, and the yeast should stay dormant.

You can keep feeding the yeast honey until they quit, but this "step feeding" tends to push yeast beyond their usual alcohol tolerance, and may create some very harsh flavors.

You can try starting with a gravity that is higher, and D47 can work with a gravity of 1.140, but typically that will leave the gravity around 1.035 in most cases. I've found that D47 usually stops around 14% for me (with the exception of a few cases such as apple cysers). Perhaps if your provide the details of your recipe and process, we can understand why you are having D47 take batches dry from 1.120 - that's a little unusual.

You can also go with a yeast that has lower ABV tolerance to keep the alcohol down. A good ale yeast can typically keep it to 10-12%, but if your recipe causes consistent overshoot, it might go a bit higher (perhaps 13-14%). Another alternative may be a change to something like 71B, or another wine yeast with 13-14% ABV yeast that will be less likely to overshoot to 16%.

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Old 11-03-2010, 05:02 AM   #8
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I'm uncomfortable with back-sweetening as I think the flavor will be different (i.e. not in keeping with true mead flavor) using raw honey at the end rather than fermented honey by using a higher SG to obtain the desired sweetness. But maybe I'm concerned for naught. I have also used 71B but also end up with 16% ABV. I use Ken Schramm's method: spreading the nutrients over four days; adjusting the pH daily for the first six (or so) days; and aerating daily (for the first six or so days). I think this "Club Med" treatment of the yeast ends up squeezing that extra ABV (2%) out of it.

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Old 11-03-2010, 02:42 PM   #9
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I'm uncomfortable with back-sweetening as I think the flavor will be different (i.e. not in keeping with true mead flavor) using raw honey at the end...
The raw honey taste will be noticeable initially. After 6 months to 1 year of aging, I cannot tell the difference between a backsweetened mead, and one left with residual sugar (nor can my friends and family). Your palate may be more sensitive than mine.
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Old 11-04-2010, 04:30 AM   #10
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Well, it seems like the safest is to continue what I'm doing -- starting a 1.120 and backsweetening it later. I feel better having these various opinions. Thanks.

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