Meads with very high initial gravity - a question

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Rhinofly

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I was wondering if anyone has any experience fermenting a mead at very high initial gravity...like around 1.2? A 50/50 mix of honey and water should give a specific gravity of about 1.22. Fermented down to 1.08 it would yield a port-like substance with an abv of about 19% and 200grams/litre residual sugar. Has anyone tried this? I am wondering if yeast would even take hold in a mix this sweet. If it will...any recommendations on a good yeast to try?
 
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There are a few yeast strains that will go to 20+%
The trick is getting enough nutrient and oxygen to do it. Most guys that want to do this will do staggered nutrient and honey additions. Add your honey over the course of 2 or 3 weeks (or months) that way you are constantly feeding and "culling" the yeast to the very strongest of the cells...and will reduce the possibility of producing nasty flavors....although at 20+ % I'm not sure how much you'll actually taste?
 
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Rhinofly

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ports are around 18-19% abv and quite sweet. This should be similar.
 

hightest

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In addition to the other suggestions (staggered nutrients), I would add potassium bi/carbonate, and infuse pure oxygen at 24 hr intervals for the first 3 days after the start of active fermentation.

I found this necessary with Cruz' Apple Butter Cyser recipe : OG 1.174
 

ChshreCat

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Port isn't fermented to that ABV though. It's fortified with brandy to raise it to that level. If they could get that flavor straightaway, they probably would have.

EDIT: Hightest types faster than I do...
 
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Rhinofly

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Yes you guys are correct about ports being fortified. The point I was trying to make was in regards to taste not construction.

I do have an oxygen stone to pump in pure o2 if needed. Hell I'll just give it a go with a 1gal batch. I was just hoping someone had tried this already.
 

ChshreCat

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Construction and taste are linked. I'm thinking that fermenting out that high won't give you the same taste as fermenting out to a lower ABV and then bumping it up by other means.
 
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Rhinofly

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If they could get that flavor straightaway, they probably would have.
I don't believe it is possible to get 1.22 initial gravity (over 49 brix!) with grape juice alone...at least not normally (maybe with cryoextraction). They would have to add some other source of sugar to the grapes to get it that high. And then it wouldn't be port any more.
 
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Rhinofly

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Construction and taste are linked. I'm thinking that fermenting out that high won't give you the same taste as fermenting out to a lower ABV and then bumping it up by other means.
You are undoubtedly correct. But then its not meant to taste like port. I am thinking the high abv and high sugar content will make a similar styled but very different drink. And something that might give the long aging curve like vintage ports.
 

ChshreCat

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Ok. I must have misunderstood. I thought you were wanting something that would be more like a port when it comes out. Definitely going to be a flamethrower when you put it in the bottle but could be great after a good, long aging. I was thinking about doing something similar after I have a few less ambitious batches under my belt.
 

GinKings

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This idea sounds like a Polish mead. I have had Apis Kurpiowski and Jadwiga. Both were excellant. I believe they are about five years old when they are bottled. We checked the gravity of the Jadwiga before we drank it. I don't remember exactly, but it was around 1.120! That's not a typo. The FINAL gravity was around 1.120!
 

hightest

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I was wondering if anyone has any experience fermenting a mead at very high initial gravity...like around 1.2? .... Fermented down to 1.08 ...any recommendations on a good yeast to try?
Back to the original question...

I have some experience (at least 4) with high gravity mead (above 1.150) musts, which leads me to these thoughts:
  • The higher the OG, the more difficult it will be to manage the fermentation, and it will require more of your attention (at least daily)
  • The must pH should be monitored daily, and promptly adjusted if needed
  • Daily infused pure oxygen is essential - during the first 3-4 days
  • Staggered nutrient additions are essential
  • Fermenting at elevated temperatures helps (73-75°F)
  • The up-front addition of potassium bi/carbonate is helpful
  • The use of yeast hulls is helpful
  • A larger amount of properly rehydrated dry yeast will be required (15-20 g)
  • Use one of the following yeasts: Uvaferm 43, EC-1118, Pasteur Champagne, K1V-1116
The highest SG must I fermented was 1.174. I pitched 20g of Superstart (distiller's yeast), and it took 52 days to get to 1.044 (17.9% ABV)... After 352 days this mead remains aging in a carboy at 1.044. I expect to bottle it later this year.
 
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Rhinofly

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Back to the original question...

I have some experience (at least 4) with high gravity mead (above 1.150) musts, which leads me to these thoughts:
  • The higher the OG, the more difficult it will be to manage the fermentation, and it will require more of your attention (at least daily)
  • The must pH should be monitored daily, and promptly adjusted if needed
  • Daily infused pure oxygen is essential - during the first 3-4 days
  • Staggered nutrient additions are essential
  • Fermenting at elevated temperatures helps (73-75°F)
  • The up-front addition of potassium bi/carbonate is helpful
  • The use of yeast hulls is helpful
  • A larger amount of properly rehydrated dry yeast will be required (15-20 g)
  • Use one of the following yeasts: Uvaferm 43, EC-1118, Pasteur Champagne, K1V-1116
The highest SG must I fermented was 1.174. I pitched 20g of Superstart (distiller's yeast), and it took 52 days to get to 1.044 (17.9% ABV)... After 352 days this mead remains aging in a carboy at 1.044. I expect to bottle it later this year.
Yes very good. This is exactly the sort of think I am considering. But a few questions:

Why did you use superstart and not a wine yeast? Does superstart have any weird flavors that might be bad if not distilling?

What does the Potassium BiCarb do?

Did yeast hulls go into the original must?

How much nutrient did you use? Was it DAP?

How long did you run the O2 each day?

And how does it taste:mug:


I was thinking of rehydrating the yeast and the slowing adding must to bring the sg of the yeast starter batch up to high levels so as not to shock the yeast. Did you do this or did you just rehydrate and pitch?
 

gratus fermentatio

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I was wondering if anyone has any experience fermenting a mead at very high initial gravity...like around 1.2? A 50/50 mix of honey and water should give a specific gravity of about 1.22. Fermented down to 1.08 it would yield a port-like substance with an abv of about 19% and 200grams/litre residual sugar. Has anyone tried this? I am wondering if yeast would even take hold in a mix this sweet. If it will...any recommendations on a good yeast to try?
The highest OG I've had (so far) is 1.156 and that was for a cyser. At last racking the SG was 1.018 for an ABV of 18.75% It tastes a bit hot, but the residual sugar really does a good job of lessening the burn/bite of the alcohol. I think this will need to age at least a few years to be truly good, but it gives every indication that it will be quite tasty with plenty of apple & honey flavour. I did not step any honey or nutrients, though I think if I try this again, I will. I hope you find some of this info useful. Regards, GF.
 
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Rhinofly

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The highest OG I've had (so far) is 1.156 and that was for a cyser. At last racking the SG was 1.018 for an ABV of 18.75% It tastes a bit hot, but the residual sugar really does a good job of lessening the burn/bite of the alcohol. I think this will need to age at least a few years to be truly good, but it gives every indication that it will be quite tasty with plenty of apple & honey flavour. I did not step any honey or nutrients, though I think if I try this again, I will. I hope you find some of this info useful. Regards, GF.
What yeast did you use? Did you have to babysit it or did it pitch-and-go?
 

gratus fermentatio

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On that batch, I used Lalvin K1-V116 & made a starter using a 50/50 must/water solution. There was a bit of a lag between pitching & when the fermentation took off, but when it took off, it literally blew the top off the airlock & foamed out the top. If you use the K1-V116, you might want to use a bucket style primary vessel. Bear in mind that I areated heavily (Iused a blender) I've also used Lalvin EC-1118 (prise de mousse) in a similar cyser, though it had a lower OG (1.126), at last rack, that batch had an SG of 1.004 for a current ABV of 16.58% I based my choice of yeast strains for these 2 batches of cyser on the info I got here: Winemaking: Strains of Wine Yeast I hope this info helps. Regards, GF.
 

hightest

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...Why did you use superstart and not a wine yeast? Does superstart have any weird flavors that might be bad if not distilling?
Because this recipe was attempting to reach ~20%ABV, and a distiller's yeast was recommended by the author. However, I found that Superstart can only achieve that level when the must was in the 90-95°F range. I elected not to ferment at that temperature as it would have surely resulted in creating fusel alcohols that typically produce a "solvent-like" taste.
What does the Potassium BiCarb do?
A pH buffer - Read the related Mead FAQ on this additive
Did yeast hulls go into the original must?
Yes, and they can be added during fermentation as well.
How much nutrient did you use? Was it DAP?
The amounts are noted in the Staggered Nutrient Addition FAQ, and consists of both a nutrient mix (Fermaid-K), and DAP
How long did you run the O2 each day?
3-4 min. of pure oxygen
And how does it taste...
A nice balance of smoothnes, spice, sweetness, and highly alcoholic.
I was thinking of rehydrating the yeast and the slowing adding must to bring the sg of the yeast starter batch up to high levels so as not to shock the yeast. Did you do this or did you just rehydrate and pitch?
That is similar to the process I describe in the Restarting a Stuck Fermentation FAQ. ALso note that when I say proper rehydration, I also mean the rehydration takes place in water to which a special rehydration nutrient (Go-Ferm) has been added - a word of caution: DO NOT substitute any commercial nutrient (or DAP) for Go-Ferm... ;)
 

gratus fermentatio

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a word of caution: DO NOT substitute any commercial nutrient (or DAP) for Go-Ferm... ;)
hightest: I'm curious as to just why you recommend Go-Ferm & nothing else, I know it's a fine product, never had a problem with it, but I haven't had any problems with the semi-generic yeast nutrient/energizers either. I've never tried the Servomyces capsules, so I don't know how they compare to anything, but I might try them once, just to see if they're worth the $9.95 per 6 caps pricetag, but was also curious as to your opinion(s) on them. Regards, GF.
 
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This idea sounds like a Polish mead. I have had Apis Kurpiowski and Jadwiga. Both were excellant. I believe they are about five years old when they are bottled. We checked the gravity of the Jadwiga before we drank it. I don't remember exactly, but it was around 1.120! That's not a typo. The FINAL gravity was around 1.120!
THIS has PEAKED my interest!

You guys sure do a good job of keeping me from falling into a rut.
 

hightest

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.... I've never tried the Servomyces capsules, so I don't know how they compare to anything, but I might try them once, just to see if they're worth the $9.95 per 6 caps pricetag, but was also curious as to your opinion(s) on them. Regards, GF.
Ok, I'll answer your questions in separate posts, starting with the use of "servo".

In short, I do not recommend the use of Servo for mead. The why is based on a January 2005 chat with Dr. Tobias Fischborn (Lallemand scientist) where he answered various questions about Servo. Essentially, I think there is insufficient evidence to assert it is a proven winner in making mead. For the details behind this assertion, please read my FAQ on this subject.
 

hightest

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hightest: I'm curious as to just why you recommend Go-Ferm & nothing else, I know it's a fine product, never had a problem with it, but I haven't had any problems with the semi-generic yeast nutrient/energizers either.
Hopefully, I have not confused you on this issue. Go-Ferm is designed specifically as a rehydration nutrient. Whereas nutrients like Fermaid-K, Superfood, Fermax, etc. are designed to supplement existing must nutrients. They are NOT interchangeable...

The following was transcribed from the Lallemand Go-Ferm PDF document:
GO-FERM is a 100% biological special inactive yeast, produced through a specific autolysing process on yeast biomass in order to obtain high levels of certain essential vitamins (i.e. pantothenate, biotin), minerals (i.e. magnesium, zinc and manganese) and amino acids. ...developed as a tool to avoid sluggish and stuck fermentations. GO-FERM’s effect is evident at the end of fermentation, where quality risks are greatest. It promotes a significantly higher viability of yeast cells and therefore a quicker and more complete consumption of residual sugars even in high maturity grape musts.
Do not use other nutrients (or DAP) in the rehydration water e.g., Fermax, Superfood, Fermaid-K, et.al.
 

Cascadegan

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I have a blackberry mead (12lbs honey 2lbs berries 3gal total volume) aging right now, tastes fantastic but hot at 3 months

Champagne yeast was used, very basic unrefined process used (just nutrients and 4 gals of honey added in steps no starter oxygen infusion temp control etc) so could be anywhere from 16-20%
 
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