Newbie: why do people backsweeten like they do?

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berriesandmead

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Very new to all of this but I have been watching some videos and have Questions. Why do people go to such lengths to stop fermentation before adding more honey? Why don't people always oversweeten to the yeast's abc tolerance and just let them die off that way?
Does additional alcohol change the end product that much?
(Secondary question, if you were to do this, could you add honey every time you rack until fermentation ends?)
 
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Because yeast don't read, and they don't know when they are 'suppossed' to stop fermenting. So, you might get a 13% but overly sweet product, or a 20% rocket fuel out of the same honey and yeast combination. You get a much more consistent product if you start with the amount of fermentables that will yield the ABV you are looking for, let it ferment to completion, then do something to stop the yeast (chemicals, pasteurization,filtering) before adding the backsweetener to your desired taste.
Having said the above, if you do a search around here, you'll find people that do exactly what you're thinking about.
 

Yooper

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Sweet rocket fuel vs a sweet nice drinking mead is the reason. Sure, you can overwhelm the yeast- but remember a happy yeast can be pushed over 18%, which may take a couple of years to be drinkable.

Or worse, the yeast isn't fermenting well and you have a very very sweet dessert mead that is 11% ABV and 8% residual sugar.
 

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What both Yooper and JimRausch said, and I will add my own two cents. You and not the yeast are the wine maker. You and not the yeast know what balance of elements in your wine you want (alcohol content , sweetness, richness of flavor, viscosity, acidity, tannin). YOU and not the yeast need to be in the driving seat and in control. The yeast do all the fermentation but YOU are making the wine. Most seasoned wine makers do not "stop" fermentation in mid-flight. That is like the stage magician stopping a bullet between their teeth. Great trick but don't try it at home. Real bullets from real guns aren't stopped that way and yeast in the zone are unlikely to be stopped with any action you do that does not damage the integrity of your wine. What seasoned wine makers do is ensure that the must they are fermenting has PRECISELY the amount of sugar THEY want to make the wine THEY want. The yeast is our tool not our boss.
 

videojunkie1208

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a happy yeast can be pushed over 18%, which may take a couple of years to be drinkable.
A happy yeast fermenting to 18% can usually be drunk right out of the fermenter, but will be a very 'hot' or 'green' mead. It will improve vastly with some aging, but I rarely age more than 6-9 months.
 

bernardsmith

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The closer your mead or wine to spirits the longer it takes for the drink to age. Happy yeast or not, wines and mead tend to be more "in balance" when the ABV is closer to 12 -14%.
 

BWRIGHT

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The closer your mead or wine to spirits the longer it takes for the drink to age. Happy yeast or not, wines and mead tend to be more "in balance" when the ABV is closer to 12 -14%.
True.

To the OP......IMO the main reason not to let a mead ferment to dry is that you will blow off a lot of the flavor compounds of the honey, fruit, spice, etc. Not to say that you can't make a good mead that has gone dry and then backsweeten it. You certainly can. But if you want to preserve the most flavor, don't let it go dry. When you let if finish in the 1.010-1.030 area, you will preserve vastly more of the original flavors. From my experience and specifically if you are making a melomel.....you can let it go dry in an effort to backsweeten to a very specific FG you have in mind. No problem. Just make sure you are using 25%-40% more fruit than "standard." For example, if the general rule is that you use 3 lbs of fruit per gallon for something like a mixed berry melomel, use 5 lbs. If you don't want to use that much fruit, you will need to become very well versed in the intricacies of honey fermentation. It is most definitely not easy to get a mead to stop at the FG that you want it to. After much trial, error, frustration, I have familiarized myself with the dark art of blending. Keep an amount of cleanly fermented, neutral, dry mead on hand and blend that with anything that did not finish as low as you would have liked.
 

bernardsmith

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I am skeptical that fermenting brut dry is more likely to "blow off" flavors than finding a way to end fermentation early. Those who make wine from grapes ferment brut dry and the wine is flavor rich and has a perception of sweetness. You blow off flavors when you use an aggressive yeast such as a champagne yeast OR you ferment at higher temperatures.
The thing is that most fruit NEEDS some sweetness to bring the fruit flavors forward.
The other thing is I have no idea who came up with the idea that you can make a fruit wine - rich in flavor if you use 3 lbs of fruit. You make wine from grapes and you use - what 10 -15 lbs of grapes per gallon with ZERO added water. You want to make a wine from berries so you add - what? 7.5 pints of water to dilute the pint of juice you might extract from the 3 lbs of fruit? Would you drink that fruit juice at such a dilution and think : that was really tasty?
Sure some fruit is very acidic and so you may need to dilute it with water but 3 lbs of fruit??? No wonder you can't taste the fruit but don't blame the yeast when the wine maker is trying to make wine from water.
 

BWRIGHT

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I am skeptical that fermenting brut dry is more likely to "blow off" flavors than finding a way to end fermentation early.
This topic has been debated endlessly. As far as I can tell it's been settled, and from personal experience, I can tell you that this is a fact.
You blow off flavors when you use an aggressive yeast such as a champagne yeast OR you ferment at higher temperatures.
I've never used a champagne yeast to make anything. But I have made ciders with slow moving, certainly not aggressive, US05/04 (fermenting at 65-68) And when those ciders are allowed to go dry, the apple flavor is absolutely gone. Anyone who has made the infamous Apfelwine can attest to this.

The other thing is I have no idea who came up with the idea that you can make a fruit wine - rich in flavor if you use 3 lbs of fruit.
Done it. Many times. Winemaking and mead making are not the same thing. Outside of maybe some of Ken Schramm's meads, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't add water. 3 lbs is definitely a little light for my personal taste but it can and has been done many many times over. If I had to use 15lbs of fruit to make a fruit wine or a mead I'd have to take out a second mortgage.

No wonder you can't taste the fruit but don't blame the yeast when the wine maker is trying to make wine from water.
I wouldn't ever blame any inferior product I make on anything other than my personal ignorance on a range of topics. That is why I spend my time on here. This of course is only my opinion but if you want to taste the fruit in your mead/fruit wine, just don't let it go dry. OR use a lot more than 3lbs/gallon.
 

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I've never used a champagne yeast to make anything. But I have made ciders with slow moving, certainly not aggressive, US05/04 (fermenting at 65-68) And when those ciders are allowed to go dry, the apple flavor is absolutely gone. Anyone who has made the infamous Apfelwine can attest to this.
Your experience is certainly different than mine. My ciders ferment dry at about 62°F with ale yeast and there's most assuredly apple flavor and aroma when they're done.
 

BWRIGHT

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May just be my personal preference. I've never had a dry cider that I enjoyed. They all taste like gas station white wine. What kind of cider are you starting with?
 

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Personally, I've used step-feeding to reliably create a very nice, still, sweet mead. It reminded me A LOT of a white muscadel dessert wine. I literally had a fermentating mead, and every week I just added a bit of honey to the fermenting solution (not a lot, I believe it was just enough to add around 7 gravity points per week). The base mead (the one I made from the start) was a 1.080 OG mead, clocking in at 11% ABV when I started adding the honey in steps.

I did this until I noticed that fermentation stopped, due to lack of pressure in the airlock the morning after adding honey, and also due to the sediment that stopped producing bubbles. I let it sit there for a month longer before cold crashing and racking off the lees, and the result was a very, very strong mead that had a strong floral and honey note to it. It tasted way more like a grape wine than I ever expected it would, and I would hazard a guess it came in at close to 17% ABV. I also fermented this honey (the stepped additions) at room temperature, and not cool like the base mead (base mead was fermented at 18°C).

I treated it just like a dessert wine. Small amounts in a dessert wine glass after dinner, and it went down very well, and very fast. I need to do this again, actually.

As a PS, I used Lalvin 71B yeast. I'll do it again, exactly the same method and ingredients.
 

Toxxyc

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May just be my personal preference. I've never had a dry cider that I enjoyed. They all taste like gas station white wine. What kind of cider are you starting with?
I agree here. Same as with brut wines and sparkling wines. I can't enjoy it, as I dislike the sour note it presents with. To me, it tastes like the back of your throat tastes after you've thrown up. Semi-sweet is where my enjoyment lies :D
 

Dan O

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I agree here. Same as with brut wines and sparkling wines. I can't enjoy it, as I dislike the sour note it presents with. To me, it tastes like the back of your throat tastes after you've thrown up. Semi-sweet is where my enjoyment lies :D
I'm with you on the semi-sweet
 

BWRIGHT

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Your experience is certainly different than mine. My ciders ferment dry at about 62°F with ale yeast and there's most assuredly apple flavor and aroma when they're done.
When it comes to cider, fermenting completely dry to me means it is finishing around .996-.998. If you are retaining a good amount of apple flavor and aroma at that finishing gravity, i would be interested in knowing what you are doing differently than me. Your signature would suggest that we have the same goal in mind.

Another thing I have noticed when it comes to cider and melomels is that the fruit "essence" seems to return once it has some age on it. For my personal taste though, this essence comes through much stronger and in a much more rounded fashion somewhere between 1.010-1.030 depending on how much tannin and acid you are trying to balance out. I just made a cranberry mead that didn't even begin to come into balance until I brought it back up to 1.035. Black currant can be the same.
 

Toxxyc

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Even honey flavour and aroma comes back with age. I opened a bottle of dry mead the other days after letting it sit for 2 years, and it smelled like a fresh bucket of honey. Dry as bones though so I used it in cooking :D
 

Maylar

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When it comes to cider, fermenting completely dry to me means it is finishing around .996-.998. If you are retaining a good amount of apple flavor and aroma at that finishing gravity, i would be interested in knowing what you are doing differently than me. Your signature would suggest that we have the same goal in mind.
Yes, 0.996-0.998 is typical. Though S-04 will sometimes finish at 1.002-1.004 if fermented cold. I use fresh pressed cider from one of the local orchards. My preference is off-dry, about 1.008 when finished. I'm using FAJC to get there nowadays but back when I was bottle conditioning I used Xylitol as a sweetener, which adds nothing. Still had good apple flavor. Though I admit that the frozen concentrate adds more. Cider needs a bit of malic acid bite to be well balanced, which is the reason I don't use 71B yeast unless the T.A. is north of 0.6%.
 

Dan O

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When it comes to cider, fermenting completely dry to me means it is finishing around .996-.998. If you are retaining a good amount of apple flavor and aroma at that finishing gravity, i would be interested in knowing what you are doing differently than me. Your signature would suggest that we have the same goal in mind.

Another thing I have noticed when it comes to cider and melomels is that the fruit "essence" seems to return once it has some age on it. For my personal taste though, this essence comes through much stronger and in a much more rounded fashion somewhere between 1.010-1.030 depending on how much tannin and acid you are trying to balance out. I just made a cranberry mead that didn't even begin to come into balance until I brought it back up to 1.035. Black currant can be the same.
I agree that, for my palate/ taste buds, fruit essence comes back with time, moreso when some sugar is left, whether it finishes with more or is back sweetened. I had a similar experience with the cranberry that I had done, needed to be brought back to over 1.030 to be drinkable, ( mind you, I left the berries in for waaaaytoo long, couple that with a ferment that stalled twice, it was tarrrrtt!.
Just finished a Berry Death BOMM, FG 1.024, & it still could be a little sweeter to balance out the tartness/ tannic value from all the berries and black currant juice, but, is totally drinkable right now the way it is.
 

videojunkie1208

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YMMV, but I'll anecdotally throw out my house favorite mead as an example of a high gravity mead that is bone dry, but drinks semi-sweet.

I make it in 8 gallon batches, 25lbs of honey and 6 gallons of cranberry juice. Usually I use either EC-1118 or D47, although I prefer the EC-1118 as it tends to be slightly cleaner.

OG is right around 1.160, FG is .996 ABV is around 19%. I ferment to completion in less than 30 days at 65-70°F, following TOSNA protocols. I will bulk age this 6-9 months before kegging and it is tasty for at least 2 years in the keg (I've never had a batch last longer than that!)

It is drinkable at almost every stage of fermentation except right around SG 1.020 - 1.005 where the flavor gets weird. My theory is that the yeast are running on fumes in a high ABV environment, and haven't cleaned up after themselves yet. Once it gets below 1.000 all is right again, although straight from the fermenter it will have a hot alcohol flavor.

The resulting mead is amber/red in color, and when slightly chilled, you can taste the cranberry, and the honey. It has legs for days when swirled in a wine glass, and the alcohol hides behind the tartness and sweetness of the cranberry flavor and is undetectable. Dangerous stuff when drunk in quantity, as one can discover that suddenly you are unable to stand up from the firepit or walk in a straight line. It goes down so well, that this is an occasional thing.

Cheers!
 
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Dan O

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YMMV, but I'll anecdotally throw out my house favorite mead as an example of a high gravity mead that is bone dry, but drinks semi-sweet.

I make it in 8 gallon batches, 25lbs of honey and 6 gallons of cranberry juice. Usually I use either EC-1118 or D47, although I prefer the EC-1118 as it tends to be slightly cleaner.

OG is right around 1.160, FG is .996 ABV is around 19%. I ferment to completion in less than 30 days at 65-70°F, following TOSNA protocols. I will bulk age this 6-9 months before kegging and it is tasty for at least 2 years in the keg (I've never had a batch last longer than that!)

It is drinkable at almost every stage of fermentation except right around SG 1.020 - 1.005 where the flavor gets weird. My theory is that the yeast are running on fumes in a high ABV environment, and haven't cleaned up after themselves yet. Once it gets below 1.000 all is right again, although straight from the fermenter it will have a hot alcohol flavor.

The resulting mead is amber/red in color, and when slightly chilled, you can taste the cranberry, and the honey. It has legs for days when swirled in a wine glass, and the alcohol hides behind the tartness and sweetness of the cranberry flavor and is undetectable. Dangerous stuff when drunk in quantity, as one can discover that suddenly you are unable to stand up from the firepit or walk in a straight line. It goes down so well, that this is an occasional thing.

Cheers!
That sounds tasty. I may have to try a scaled down version of that🤔
Thanks for sharing.
 
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