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MikeInStillwater

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I recently joined the St. Paul (MN) Homebrewers and learned that Steve Piatz is a member. The club has done very well, putting it mildly, in mead competitions. I have long been toying with the idea of making mead, so I bought a copy of his book and dove in. I've been brewing ale for some time now and have accumulated a fair amount of equipment. I recently added a small scale, a wine thief, and an aeration wand.
I decided to start with the second recipe in Mr. Piatz' book, The Complete Guide To Making Mead, which is Orange Blossom. One of the club members told me he got his honey at Costco and it works fine for him. Costco only had Wildflower Honey, so I decided to go with that. The recipe calls for 14 pounds. I bought 16 (seven 2-gal. jugs) because ... I like honey for eating, too.
Here's where my story gets, shall we say, interesting. I have brewed many five-gallon batches of ale and the largest container I have is a 6-gallon plastic pail! It has always been more than enough. When I saw how far the 14 pounds of honey came up in the container I began to get concerned, but I forged on. My son, who I got started in home brewing this year, just happened by and was all too glad to help out. We pulled the hydrometer and tube out of the sanitizer solution and started getting the yeast starter ready (71B-1122). I added a gallon of water to the must, stirred like crazy, and then started taking readings with small additions of water, looking for an SG of 1.115. The hydrometer bobbed but didn't even drop enough to find the scale! We wound up adding 5 gallons of bottled water (all I had on hand) and still didn't reach the hydrometer scale! We gradually got the yeast starter to match that of the must and pitched. We ended up with the must in two containers and divided up the yeast solution proportionately!
On Day 1, after aeration, I got a reading of 1.052. Day 2 I added 2 oz. of Fermaid K and hit 1.042. It's bubbling away now.
Other than my obvious error of not having a large enough fermenter, did I make any noticeable errors? Any advice for moving forward?
 

ShadesManna

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As long as it's fermenting, it sounds like you're doing great. Keep an eye on it, as you would with any batch. As per volume and two containers - I sometimes forget to leave extra room for ingredients, and have to split batches into separate fermenters. It could lead to slightly different flavors between them, but not significantly so. It also allows for one half to be "regular" and the other one to be "sweetened."
 

bernardsmith

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Can't speak to any errors, but 1 pound of honey added to water to make 1 gallon will raise the gravity of the water by 35 points. It's not immediately obvious (to me) how much honey you diluted with water and what the total volume of solution was but simple arithmetic (in advance) will give you a reasonable estimation of the SG.
Wildflower honey is OK. It's a little generic when it comes to making a mead with no other source of flavors (herbs, spices, flowers or fruit) but it is OK. Varietal honeys (and orange blossom is a varietal) can hold their own. I don't recall if Piatz discusses honey flavors but "wildflower" would be the term used by beeks where their flower source would not be large enough to allow their bees to feed almost exclusively on a particular flower (raspberries, orange blossom, heather, etc), and if the source is Costco so they are almost certainly blending batches of honey from all kinds of sources. That said, in my opinion, and others may disagree, clover and wildflower honeys are good vehicles for other flavors. Varietals can take center stage.
 
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MikeInStillwater

MikeInStillwater

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Thanks for your comments ShadesManna and bernardsmith. I've always liked Charlie Pappazian's advice, so I relaxed and had a homebrew, but I always like to hear the voice of experience, too, so thanks again
Just to answer your question, I diluted 14 pounds of honey in 5 gallons of water, bringing the volume to 7 gallons.
Piatz does discuss varietal honeys vs. wildflower. That's the only reason I mentioned it. I presume he specified orange blossom for a reason and that it would have a distinct flavor profile.
Now I have two more questions.
When fermenting ale, I would never pop the lid (filled the hydrometer through the spigot). Yet, if I'm reading it right, I need to do that twice a day during the first 8 days to aerate the must. Is that correct?
The other question has to do with carbonation. Piatz explains how to make a sparkling mead by using priming sugar, just like I normally do with ale. Is that up to my preference, or is carbonation level specific to the style of mead?
 

Brett_Bellmore

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14 lbs of honey to make up 7 gallons of must sounds about the right ratio, I generally use 2 lbs per gallon of final volume, and things work out.

I've never found it necessary to go to extra trouble to aerate the must, I get enough oxygen into it just pouring in the ingredients. I just dump everything but the yeast in the first day, including 1 campden tablet per gallon, then pitch the yeast the next day, and everything works out. I do use Fermaid yeast nutrient, though, and make a point of mixing a little in with the yeast and a bit of honey, and waiting until it's bubbling pretty good before pitching it.

Haven't tried making sparkling mead yet, perhaps I should give it a try.
 
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MikeInStillwater

MikeInStillwater

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What is the purpose of the campden tablets? I have some, but because I used bottled water I didn't think I would need those. Am I right?
Also, I am adding Fermaid K, just to set your mind at ease. lol
 

Brett_Bellmore

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The purpose of the campden tablets is just to kill off any wild yeast or bacteria that might have been present. It's just contamination insurance. There's a good chance you could get away without it if you're doing straight honey. I'm mostly doing melomels, fruit based meads, and the fruit brings in a lot of wild yeast.

As for the Fermaid, remember that about the only nutrient honey brings to the table is sugar. It's a nutritional desert for the yeast otherwise.
 

bernardsmith

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When you add Fermaid nutrients other than Go-Ferm to yeast while hydrating the yeast you are in fact killing a large portion of the colony. Fermaid O and K are made for active yeast and not yeast that are repairing cell walls and absorbing compounds to enable them to transport sugars through cell walls. Go Ferm is designed for rehydration.
 
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MikeInStillwater

MikeInStillwater

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I put half (4 0z.) of the Fermaid K in when I pitched the yeast, 2 oz. more on Day 2 and the final 2 oz. on Day 4. It seems to be working as I am seeing active fermentation, i.e. lots of bubbling in the fermentation lock. SG went from off the scale to 1.041. I'm not going to check that again for awhile as it seems to be doing fine.
Is it possible that that first dose of K is in the recipe on purpose, maybe to retain some sweetness? Or to affect the final ABV?
 
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