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Brewing mead or "honey beer"

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fsinger

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I need some help. I've been brewing for a year now with great success using the partial mash method. Good beer, everyone loves it.

I wanted to make some holiday brew that was mildly sweet and raspberry flavored. I figured I could make it just like homebrew, but instead of grains and DME, I would just use honey for the base. I got 12 lbs of orange blossom honey, raspberry flavoring, and White Labs Sweet Mead yeast. No hops, of course.

I thought I would boil water/honey for an hour, cool and pitch the yeast and raspberry flavoring and seal in my fermenter as I would my ale. I figure 2 weeks and the bubbles slow, I rack, then later prime and bottle. Won't I get a light, semi-sweet flavored ale like drink???? The more I read the more worried I get.

What am I missing? (I know I won't make it for Xmas, but what else??)
 

Mindflux

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Mead is a honey wine, certainly not a beer.

Keep in mind, boiling honey will take out a lot of the aroma and flavor compounds. If you are truly interseted in making a mead I suggest you pick up Ken Schramm's "The Compleat Mead maker" (yes that's how the title is spelt).

Meads are going to take about a year to mellow, honestly. The typical mead gravity is 1.100 and up. They ferment down to as low as .990 (yes, below 1.000).

Good luck.. also you might want to read about staggered nutrient additions on brewboard.com (ken schramm talks about them in a recent issue of Zymurgy, but his book makes no mention of SNAs)
 

Caplan

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No need to boil the honey and water for that long. You only need to bring it to the boil for a minute maxium. That'll kill any potentially nasty bacteria present in the honey. Let it cool and skim off any wax deposits. Boil it any longer and i think you'll drive off the subtle flavours of your honey and risk creating off flavours with the wax still in it.

Pitching the yeast when it's cool enough will work, but bear in mind that some acidity will help the ferment - Either the juice of a few of lemons (or a little citric acid powder from your HBS).

I'd personally wait until it's finished in primary before adding the flavoring. Before bottling i'd taste it and then add your raspberry to suit your own palate and then prime.
 
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fsinger

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So it sounds like I won't be making true mead, but will be making a type of hop-free ale with honey as the base sugar. At least that's what I want to do.

Very good advice, I won't boil more than a minute or so to kill the baddies, cool and pitch. I like the idea of adding the flavoring at the end of the ferment, that way I can taste it a see if it is overpowering or not. 4oz of flavoring in 5 gal of honey beer seems safe, but I'd better check.

Thanks again - I'll post the results in a month or two.
 

homebrewer_99

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If you are adding fruit to a mead it is called a melomel.

Skip the flavoring for meads and use real fruit.

You don't want to boil your honey for a long period, but you do want to skim the crap off of the top during the boil.
 

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What you propose to make is mead. Without any grain, it isn't beer. Using an ale yeast won't make it taste like an ale, since honey doesn't have much in it except fructose and glucose (there are small amounts of maltose and sucrose). No grainy goodness at all.

The only way to get a sweet mead is the kill the yeast, either by chilling them or chemically, at the exact point of sweetness you want OR let the fermentation proceed to completion, kill the yeast and add sweetness. The Oregon Brew Crew did a comparison of yeasts Great mead experiment in 2002.
 

homebrewer_99

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david_42 said:
The only way to get a sweet mead is the kill the yeast, either by chilling them or chemically, at the exact point of sweetness you want OR let the fermentation proceed to completion, kill the yeast and add sweetness.
Respectfully, what the hell are you talking about? Kill the yeast and add sweetness? What is that all about?

I've made at least 6 batches of mead and I've NEVER added sweetness. WTF?

The sweetness versus dryness of the mead depends on the yeast used. You pitch either a sweet or dry mead yeast. You don't add sweetness.

If I am wrong, please educate me. :confused: I am always willing to learn something new. :D :drunk:
 

ScottT

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david_42 said:
What you propose to make is mead. Without any grain, it isn't beer. Using an ale yeast won't make it taste like an ale, since honey doesn't have much in it except fructose and glucose (there are small amounts of maltose and sucrose). No grainy goodness at all.

The only way to get a sweet mead is the kill the yeast, either by chilling them or chemically, at the exact point of sweetness you want OR let the fermentation proceed to completion, kill the yeast and add sweetness. The Oregon Brew Crew did a comparison of yeasts Great mead experiment in 2002.

Sorry bro but your are really confused here. The way to make a sweet mead is to add enough honey for the yeast to fully ferment to alcohol tollerance and still leave residual sugar. Ale yeast has lower tolerence than wine yeast.

Also, any time you are fermenting a mead using honey as your only fermentable sugar you need to add nutrients or your yeast won't make it to completion.
 

david_42

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Both methods mentioned work, but neither gives precise control of sweetness.

Returning to the OP: if you would like to make a mead-like ale, look for recipes for bracket or braggot Other meads . Basically, you brew an ale and then when the primary fermentation is done, start adding honey, a few pounds at a time, until it stops fermenting. This can take a long time, like 12-18 months. I've seen recipes for braggot that dump everything in at the beginning and use high-gravity ales yeast with big starters.
 

homebrewer_99

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Re-reading the original post he is describing a melomel, no grains or hops, just honey, fruit and sweet mead yeast.

Warm a pot of water. Just prior to boiling turn the heat off. Add your honey and stir until it is ALL dissolved.

After you are sure it's dissolved then turn the heat back on. Boil for 15 mins. During that time you will have a whitish scum floating on top. Remove as much of this as you can with a slotted spoon (that works best for me) and pour it into a cup. You'll also want to add any yeast nutrients and/or acsorbic acid/potassium, or whatever you decide to put into your mead. At the end of the 15 mins remove it from the heat.

What raspberry flavoring are you talking about? The fruit extract flavoring from the HBS? Personally, I don't care for them. They tast like soap water to me. If you want a fruit flavor then I would recommend buying some frozen fruit.

There are ways to add your fruit at different times, this is just one of them - after you turn your heat off add the fruit to the boil pot and left sit for 15. The color and flavoring will come from that time.

Other people may tell you to soak the fruit in vodka overnight and such. The choice is yours. Do some more reading on the subject and decide what's right for you.

Be sure to take an OG reading.

Good luck.
 

david_42

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I second using fruit, extracts are nasty. Somehow I'd gotten the inpression he was trying for a bracket.
 
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fsinger

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Well my "sweet mead" yeast is working today, ready for the brew day tomorrow. I appreciate all the lively contributions, it was fun - and educational. I have committed to the HBS raspberry extract flavoring, all I want is the hint of raspberry. I got it in a 4 oz bottle from Beer Beer & More Beer along with 12 lbs of orange blossom honey. Nobody mentioned nutrients for the yeast, but I'm going to make a trip to the HBS and get some help there.

I'm interested in the sweetness discussion. I understand that yeast will work making alcohol to a certain tolerance, and then stop, leaving some residual sweetness. That doesn't make sense to me, because if I prime with sugar or DME, I expect the yeast to work enought to create the co2 for the fizz, etc. What am I missing?

All this fussing - my dad made homebrew when I was a kid in the 50's like this: Take one 5-gallon pickle crock, add water, 6 lbs of corn sugar, a can of malt syrup, two cakes of bread yeast. It sat covered with a towel (no air lock) on the hot water heater for a week. It was then siphoned into "stubbies" with a 1/4 tsp of corn sugar, capped and stored for a week. I worked every time, even though it tasted like ****.
 

homebrewer_99

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fsinger said:
I'm interested in the sweetness discussion. I understand that yeast will work making alcohol to a certain tolerance, and then stop, leaving some residual sweetness. That doesn't make sense to me, because if I prime with sugar or DME, I expect the yeast to work enought to create the co2 for the fizz, etc. What am I missing?

All this fussing - my dad made homebrew when I was a kid in the 50's like this: Take one 5-gallon pickle crock, add water, 6 lbs of corn sugar, a can of malt syrup, two cakes of bread yeast. It sat covered with a towel (no air lock) on the hot water heater for a week. It was then siphoned into "stubbies" with a 1/4 tsp of corn sugar, capped and stored for a week. I worked every time, even though it tasted like ****.
I'm glad you appreciate the banter and opinions.

Did you use Champagne yeast? There will be enough yeast left in your mead for bottle conditioning (it's called "carbonation" if you use gas).

As far as you don't understand our fussing...re-read what you wrote about your dad's HB...especially the last sentence..."it tasted like ****". Enough said? Don't repeat your dad's mistakes! :D
 

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homebrewer_99 said:
I guess we don't need to send you a Valentine's Day card then, huh? :drunk:
No need Old Bean! The Three-tier system i know you're all sending me for Crimbo will suffice! ;)
 
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fsinger

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homebrewer_99 said:
"it tasted like ****". Enough said? Don't repeat your dad's mistakes! :D
I won't repeat his mistakes, but for 5 cents per quart or less (his cost) he didn't care what it tasted like. Me, I want good beer!
 
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fsinger

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Sorry, I checked the White Labs yeast bottle, it was Sweet Mead/Champagne yeast, so I guess it is champagne yeast after all.

It's been brewing for 3-4 days now, no active head on top, and modest bubble activity in the airlock. Odd, all my ales have a huge head by the 2nd day. This stuff is interesting.

Try this out - I stop it at the sweetness I like and KILL the yeast remaining - then mini-keg it with co2 for carbonation. Actually I may split the batch and try both methods, mini-keg 2 gallons and prime/bottle 3 gallons.

And I may end up dumping the whole batch. . .
 

Caplan

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fsinger said:
Sorry, I checked the White Labs yeast bottle, it was Sweet Mead/Champagne yeast
Eh? :confused: I assume you mean DRY Mead/Champagne yeast

If you DID use a champagne yeast it'll ferment to dry in good conditions. How do you plan to kill the yeast before this happens?
 

homebrewer_99

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fsinger said:
Sorry, I checked the White Labs yeast bottle, it was Sweet Mead/Champagne yeast, so I guess it is champagne yeast after all.

It's been brewing for 3-4 days now, no active head on top, and modest bubble activity in the airlock. Odd, all my ales have a huge head by the 2nd day. This stuff is interesting.

Try this out - I stop it at the sweetness I like and KILL the yeast remaining - then mini-keg it with co2 for carbonation. Actually I may split the batch and try both methods, mini-keg 2 gallons and prime/bottle 3 gallons.

And I may end up dumping the whole batch. . .
What? Mead does not get a head as beer does. There's nothing wrong with your mead.

Don't try to stop the sweetness. You used a vial of Sweet Mead/Champagne yeast. Your mead will be like sweet champagne, not dry. I have used this one too.

To make a "dry" champagne you have to use another yeast that makes it dry (tasting). A "dry (liquid) champagne" ferments out most of the sugar, and does not mean "dry" as in a dry yeast.

On the other hand, if you're going to do some crazy experimenting them I would fill 1 keg and let the rest of it ferment out. Be sure you check the gravity beforehand...IMHO I think it will explode.

If you're planning on dumping the batch I am certain you'll get takers...maybe me...where are you? AAAARGH! Seattle...too far. :mad:
 
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fsinger

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Caplan said:
Eh? :confused: I assume you mean DRY Mead/Champagne yeast
I'm confused too. The yeast is WLP720, called "Sweet Mead/Wine" yeast, but the bottle says Sweet Mead/Champagne yeast.

We'll see what happens, right now not much!
 
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fsinger

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homebrewer_99 said:
If you're planning on dumping the batch I am certain you'll get takers...maybe me...where are you? AAAARGH! Seattle...too far. :mad:
No sweat, I'll drain the carboy into a priorty mail envelope and send it anywhere you like.

On second thought, I think I'll follow your advice and see this one to the bitter (or sweet, I hope) end!
 

Caplan

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fsinger said:
I'm confused too. The yeast is WLP720, called "Sweet Mead/Wine" yeast, but the bottle says Sweet Mead/Champagne yeast.

We'll see what happens, right now not much!
From the White Labs web site -

Sweet Mead/Wine(WLP720)

A wine yeast strain that is less attenuative than WLP715, leaving some residual sweetness. Slightly fruity and will tolerate alcohol concentrations up to 15%. A good choice for sweet mead and cider, as well as Blush wines, Gewürztraminer, Sauternes, Riesl
Attenuation: 75; Flocculation: Low; Optimum Ferm. Temp: 70-75

Edit - I've bolded the bits that make sense to this thread

Sounds an ideal yeast to have used for what you want! Let it do it's thing and enjoy!
 

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You will want to verify that the yeast culture you are using can handle high sugar. You might consider some spices to add like nutmeg and cinnimon.
 
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fsinger

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Genghis77 said:
You might consider some spices to add like nutmeg and cinnimon.
I'm planning on adding 4 oz of raspberry flavoring at the end with the priming sugar. I agree with the spices, and if this works out I will change from raspberry to some good spices as you suggest on the next batch. I can't think of a good spice with raspberry, which is the flavor I want.

To Dave (Caplan): Thanks for the input again. I'll report how this comes out. I am afraid of exploding bottles, so I am going to mini-draft part of it. That stays in the fridge so it should be safe. Darn, this stuff might be good!
 

Genghis77

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Three or 4 days is pretty early on for a meade. You need to give plenty more time for the yeast to convert the sugars from honey.
 
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fsinger

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I started this thread with my concerns about the making of a sweet "beer" type drink with honey. I got some good advice and struck out to see what would happen.

Here is an update at 12/20/05: The brew was made of 12 lbs honey, water and Sweet Mead/Champaign yeast. It worked very slowly for 2 weeks, at which time I racked to another carboy. The yeast picked up its activity once more a couple of days after racking, and then slowed to a stop a few days ago. About 3+ weeks total frementation.

So I added raspberry flavoring (sorry, I have tons of frozen raspberry jam, but it's too good to risk on an experiment). I primed with a little over 1/2 cup of corn sugar (4-1/2 gallons of brew). I bottled 12 quarts for primed/secondary fermentation and put 5 liters into my mini-draft system.

The brew was pretty clear at bottle time, but VERY sweet. I'm worried about that, and have covered the bottles in case they explode. The mini-draft will be done this week-end, so I'll be able to try it with proper carbonation.

I'll update on the results after a week or so. I'll either have something great, or basic soda pop that I can't give to my grandkids.

I'm brewing a batch of my good stuff today - enough of the "honey brew" experiment.
 
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