First ever mead batch! - starthistle honey

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Tidwellc

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Just pitched my first ever batch of mead! Bought a bunch of starthistle honey for this purpose almost 2 years ago and just never got around to making it until now.

5 gallon batch
16.25 lbs of Starthistle honey
2 packets of Lalvin EC-1118 yeast
3 tsp of yeast energizer(nutrient booster)
1/4 tsp of Amylase Enzyme

OG was about 1.122


Plan is to stagger a few more additions of nutrient and enzyme once primary fermentation slows down.

I'm hoping it ends up as delicious as the OG sample was!! Wish me luck! :mug:
 

fatbloke

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To expect a finished batch that tastes like "watered down honey", is too much.

If it fermented to tolerance (18%), you'd have only 9 points of residual sugar (presuming dry at 1.000).

Champagne yeast will work, but ec1118 is know to blow a lot ofaromatics and other VoC's straight out the airlock. There are better yeasts to use........

It's a traditional so while it may seem straightforward, possible issues would be making sure there's enough nutrition to complete at the expected levels, making sure all nutrition is in before the 1/3rd sugar break, plenty of oxygenation up to at least that 1/3rd point, measurement and control of pH swings.

Don't expect it to taste good once it's finished. It'll likely need some aging (thinking IRO 12 months minimum), maybe some oak etc........
 

fatbloke

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Sorry, mis-read your gravity numbers.....

So, 1.122 (not the 1.142 I read it as - wasn't wearing my readers) and presuming that finished is 1.000, the drop of 122 points equates to 16.57% ABV.

Hence, if it ferments completely, then it'll finish dry.

You alluded to wanting it as sweet as the original must, well that's unlikely to happen without your intervention.

Dry meads are an "acquired" taste IMO (the taste being the non-sugar elements from the honey and the alcohol, but without the sweetness of the honey in the first place). They generally need back sweetening.

If you don't know how sweet you like your meads, it's best to get it fermented dry, then rack off the lees/sediment and stabilise it (especially if there's space for the yeast to restart when fermentable sugars are added).

So it's possible that if you wanted to back sweeten with honey, then you'd likely need some more (maybe a pound or two would do the job).

I routinely ferment, rack, stabilise, back sweeten and then clear it. Because honey has a habit of forming a haze when added to an already cleared mead. By sweetening to my preferred level before clearing, any hazing material (I understand it's generally proteins in the honey that cause this) that is produced by the back sweetening honey will drop out with the yeast/fermentation particles.

Not sure why you used Amylase in the mix, as most proteins do normally drop out during the ferment and clearing. Though likely not necessary, it shouldn't do any harm (same as when using Pectolase routinely - basically it has no down side).

For increasing pH from any swing you might see, Potassium carbonate is the stuff. You can actually add some before it's required and it helps buffer any swings that may occur (likely too happen - just a regularly seen issue, connected with gluconic acid in the honey).

Hopefully you'll end up with a good batch. Generally I ferment dry and back sweeten, but I find that the "dessert" mead sweetness levels are too much for me, I like my meads to have FG between 1.010 and 1.020 - you can use small amounts of acid to correct any excessive sweetness you experience (I like a mix of 2 parts malic and 1 part tartaric for "flavour" additions).

Dunno if any of that is helpful for your endeavours.........
 
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Tidwellc

Tidwellc

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Don't expect it to taste good once it's finished.
Thanks for the brutal honesty.

Maybe it was a little unclear when I said "as delicious as the hydrometer sample." It was merely a hopeful statement, I sure don't expect it to be as sweet as the original must, nor do I want it to. But as or more delicious? Of course!

I will be back sweetening when it's done, but certainly not to the level of a "dessert mead". I think I'm shooting for somewhere between semi-sweet and sweet. As I am making 5 gallons, it is something I will definitely be sharing so I don't want it to be too unapproachable.

The amylase was recommended by my LHBS and was said to increase fermentability, so I threw it in. The nutrient booster contains DAP (although not sure how much it has) which I have read is necessary. I whipped the hell out of it with my paddle when mixing the water with the honey so it had an enormous amount of oxygen when the yeast pitched, although it is now in a carboy and I don't have any other means of oxygenating, so that will have to do. I thought about shaking the carboy up, but as the C02 has likely displaced all of the oxygen in the headspace, I doubt it would make much of a difference other than disturbing the yeast/sediment.

As far as the yeast, I have read that it is not the BEST, but I have read several experiences of mead made with it that turned out very good, and it was all that I could get my hands on, so, crossing my fingers.

I didn't know about monitoring the ph level however. What is an acceptable range during fermentation? I don't have any potassium carbonate on hand, but I do have some 5.2 mash stabilizer, which with my experience, is VERY effective at zeroing in the ph at, well, 5.2. Would that be ok to use?

Thanks for the criticisms, and I'll try to keep the things you mentioned under control. I've been an AG brewer for years with good success, but this is certainly new territory for me. As with beer, always strive for excellence, but this is also my first batch, I'm not expecting to produce a world class mead on my first try.
 
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Tidwellc

Tidwellc

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Just added second addition of nutrients and so far looking good so far as I can tell.
 

noblesquirrel

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Thanks for the brutal honesty.

Maybe it was a little unclear when I said "as delicious as the hydrometer sample." It was merely a hopeful statement, I sure don't expect it to be as sweet as the original must, nor do I want it to. But as or more delicious? Of course!

I will be back sweetening when it's done, but certainly not to the level of a "dessert mead". I think I'm shooting for somewhere between semi-sweet and sweet. As I am making 5 gallons, it is something I will definitely be sharing so I don't want it to be too unapproachable.

The amylase was recommended by my LHBS and was said to increase fermentability, so I threw it in. The nutrient booster contains DAP (although not sure how much it has) which I have read is necessary. I whipped the hell out of it with my paddle when mixing the water with the honey so it had an enormous amount of oxygen when the yeast pitched, although it is now in a carboy and I don't have any other means of oxygenating, so that will have to do. I thought about shaking the carboy up, but as the C02 has likely displaced all of the oxygen in the headspace, I doubt it would make much of a difference other than disturbing the yeast/sediment.

As far as the yeast, I have read that it is not the BEST, but I have read several experiences of mead made with it that turned out very good, and it was all that I could get my hands on, so, crossing my fingers.

I didn't know about monitoring the ph level however. What is an acceptable range during fermentation? I don't have any potassium carbonate on hand, but I do have some 5.2 mash stabilizer, which with my experience, is VERY effective at zeroing in the ph at, well, 5.2. Would that be ok to use?

Thanks for the criticisms, and I'll try to keep the things you mentioned under control. I've been an AG brewer for years with good success, but this is certainly new territory for me. As with beer, always strive for excellence, but this is also my first batch, I'm not expecting to produce a world class mead on my first try.
I personally wouldn't add 5.2 to the must. It will take out what little calcium is available in order to buffer the pH. You should be fine without much more effort. I've done a number of traditionals without messing with my Potassium Hydroxide. With fruit meads, I'm more apt to work the pH. I'm curious as to the purpose of the amylase enzyme here, it seem unnecessary.
 
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Tidwellc

Tidwellc

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I personally wouldn't add 5.2 to the must. It will take out what little calcium is available in order to buffer the pH. You should be fine without much more effort. I've done a number of traditionals without messing with my Potassium Hydroxide. With fruit meads, I'm more apt to work the pH. I'm curious as to the purpose of the amylase enzyme here, it seem unnecessary.
It may not be very necessary. The LHBS said to use it. I don't think he's done a ton of meads, but he has done a TON of wine, so I figured it wouldn't hurt.

I ended up getting some calcium carbonate and threw about a teaspoon in since I was getting that H2S smell. Whipped it up real good with the end of my mash paddle to release C02 (sanitized), and checked the pH. I don't have a reader, just some of those strips which aren't super accurate, but it looked like around the neighborhood of lower 3's before I added the caustic, so it should be pretty good now. Added another 1/2 teaspoon of nutrient and whipped it up again.

Gravity is down to 1.042 now, so still has a ways to go. Ferm slowed down a bit, but it's still chugging along. sample tasted good though! Of course its not even done with primary, but no off flavors or anything.
 

noblesquirrel

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It may not be very necessary. The LHBS said to use it. I don't think he's done a ton of meads, but he has done a TON of wine, so I figured it wouldn't hurt.

I ended up getting some calcium carbonate and threw about a teaspoon in since I was getting that H2S smell. Whipped it up real good with the end of my mash paddle to release C02 (sanitized), and checked the pH. I don't have a reader, just some of those strips which aren't super accurate, but it looked like around the neighborhood of lower 3's before I added the caustic, so it should be pretty good now. Added another 1/2 teaspoon of nutrient and whipped it up again.

Gravity is down to 1.042 now, so still has a ways to go. Ferm slowed down a bit, but it's still chugging along. sample tasted good though! Of course its not even done with primary, but no off flavors or anything.

When you say caustic, do you mean Lye or KOH? I use KOH to adjust pH as it adds potassium but no hardness to it. That's the main problem with K2CO3, imo. Most folks that I know that make great mead use KOH to adjust with. I wouldn't want the sodium from the lye in the mead.
 
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Tidwellc

Tidwellc

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When you say caustic, do you mean Lye or KOH? I use KOH to adjust pH as it adds potassium but no hardness to it. That's the main problem with K2CO3, imo. Most folks that I know that make great mead use KOH to adjust with. I wouldn't want the sodium from the lye in the mead.
Thanks for the tip!
I used calcium carbonate to adjust. Haven't touched it since my last post until tonight, and the pH is sitting somewhere between 3 and 4. The fermentation has pretty much completely stopped at 1.021, putting the abv at around 13%. Took a taste and no obvious foul or off flavors, although the alcohol bite seemed to overpower much of the honey flavor. Still not bad by any means, but I'm definitely going to backsweeten.

A few questions though:
1. I am going to bulk age it in a carboy. should I rack off the lees into a new carboy and then age it? or should I just leave it where it is and wait?
2. Should I stabilize it now and age? or wait until I bottle?
3. Should I backsweeten before aging or wait?
4. I am planning to use Sparkelloid to clear. Should I use it now and rack before again? Or wait until I bottle?

Thanks for the help everyone!
 
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noblesquirrel

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Thanks for the tip!
I used calcium carbonate to adjust. Haven't touched it since my last post until tonight, and the pH is sitting somewhere between 3 and 4. The fermentation has pretty much completely stopped at 1.021, putting the abv at around 13%. Took a taste and no obvious foul or off flavors, although the alcohol bite seemed to overpower much of the honey flavor. Still not bad by any means, but I'm definitely going to backsweeten.

A few questions though:
1. I am going to bulk age it in a carboy. should I rack off the lees into a new carboy and then age it? or should I just leave it where it is and wait?
2. Should I stabilize it now and age? or wait until I bottle?
3. Should I backsweeten before aging or wait?
4. I am planning to use Sparkelloid to clear. Should I use it now and rack before again? Or wait until I bottle?

Thanks for the help everyone!
Traditionals with lighter honeys, in my experience, take a notoriously longer time to let the varietal character pop. Starthistle really needs to drop bright. I'd take it off the lees, personally. I'd also recommend adding bentonite & stabilizing at this point. I sulfite/sorbate all of my meads in order to reduce potential infections as much as to put the yeast down. Bentonite will help you to leave more crap in the original fermenter. I also wouldn't backsweeten at this point. I'm an advocate for waiting until the mead is done so that you know what you're adding the honey to. You may find out that you don't even want to backsweeten.
 
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Tidwellc

Tidwellc

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Traditionals with lighter honeys, in my experience, take a notoriously longer time to let the varietal character pop. Starthistle really needs to drop bright. I'd take it off the lees, personally. I'd also recommend adding bentonite & stabilizing at this point. I sulfite/sorbate all of my meads in order to reduce potential infections as much as to put the yeast down. Bentonite will help you to leave more crap in the original fermenter. I also wouldn't backsweeten at this point. I'm an advocate for waiting until the mead is done so that you know what you're adding the honey to. You may find out that you don't even want to backsweeten.
So, basically my next steps should be: Stabilize and add bentonite, wait for it to settle out, then rack to a new carboy and I'm good to let it age for a while?
 

noblesquirrel

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So, basically my next steps should be: Stabilize and add bentonite, wait for it to settle out, then rack to a new carboy and I'm good to let it age for a while?
Yep, that's my usually routine. People will say you have to add bentonite before fermentation, but I made a happy accident previously by just adding the bentonite to the mead and it works like a charm. I'm going to be racking one myself in the next 10 days or so.
 
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Tidwellc

Tidwellc

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Well, I went to my LHBS, which just recently became a bar as well!! (high quality brews and growlers to take home!!), and after discussion of the methods of adding bentonite, I decided to go with isinglass. No one could give me a clear description of how to go about it with bentonite.... About to add Potassium Metabisulfite and wait a bit before adding the isinglass and waiting to settle out.
 

noblesquirrel

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Well, I went to my LHBS, which just recently became a bar as well!! (high quality brews and growlers to take home!!), and after discussion of the methods of adding bentonite, I decided to go with isinglass. No one could give me a clear description of how to go about it with bentonite.... About to add Potassium Metabisulfite and wait a bit before adding the isinglass and waiting to settle out.
isinglass is a pain, imo. Superkleer is the ideal finisher, but if you're just racking, the isinglass won't do much now. It's also a finisher.
 
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