When should I rack my mead for secondary?

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cscala

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I am making my first mead according to Ken Schramm's Compleat Meadmaker book. We substituted the yeast with something my local brew shop recommended, which I regret (and in fact once I clean out my fermenter I will be making a batch with the proper yeast). The instructions in the book are somewhat vague as to when to transfer the mead to a new container - at least to someone like myself who is a bit nervous about getting it right...

We started this batch on Sept 12, so it's been just a bit over two weeks. At it's most active, the airlock was bubbling more than 1x per second, now it's slowed to roughly 1x per 2-3 seconds... Should I wait longer or let it keep going until it slows down more?

I have tons and tons more questions but for now I'll just leave it at this...

Thanks in advance for your assistance!
 

MedsenFey

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As a general rule, I suggest racking when the mead is finished (or nearly so). The best way to judge this is by taking a gravity measurement. You can't really determine it by watching bubble rates because that is quite unreliable, and even fermentations which are just stuck stop bubbling.

It may also be helpful to know what the starting gravity was, and which yeast you used.

Medsen
 
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cscala

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I looked up the yeast, and I believe it is the red star premier cuvee yeast. In hindsight, I really regret not being patient and ordering the Lalvin 71b-1122 recommended by the recipe... but as I said I plan another batch almost immediately so I will have two batches to compare soon enough!

As for the specific gravity, I didn't have a hydrometer when I started the process (although I do now). If it helps, the recipe called for 15 # honey + 5 Gallons of water, plus nutrient and energizer. I believe the expected value is in the book, and I try to be as conservative and exact as possible whenever I do something from the first time, so I shouldn't be too far off provided the honey and other ingredients fall in line with the expected values. I'll see if I can find that and post itlater.

It's still slowing down, I timed it last evening at around 1 x per 4 seconds now.

Schramm's recipe says "after a couple weeks" and mentions something about after vigorous fermentation has ended. As I said, it's pretty vague. My inclination is to wait until this coming weekend, and transfer it then - but I'd certainly like a second or third opinion!

Is there any way to test the SG without losing product? I don't have a test flask, just the hydrometer.
 
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cscala

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After reading some more, I used the calculator spreadsheet & came up with 1.085 OG if that helps.
 

WheresOurFish

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Is there any way to test the SG without losing product? I don't have a test flask, just the hydrometer.

I use a bucket as my primary fermenter, and just float my sanitized hydrometer in it directly. You do have to make sure to be very careful not to break the hydrometer, of course. Also, if you use this method, make sure there aren't a lot of bubbles or yeast on the hydrometer, as this can slightly change the reading. I just use the tip of the hydrometer to gently clear a spot on the surface to insert through, and then give it a spin once it's in the must to help remove any bubbles.

If you're using a carboy as your primary, I wouldn't recommend floating the hydrometer in it. If I need to take a reading from a carboy, I bought a special test tube that can be inserted to take a sample, and it has a release valve on the bottom to easily drain the sample back into the carboy when I'm done. Some people don't recommend returning the sample, because of the possibility of contamination, but the way I see it, I have to put something in there to pull the sample, and it's just as likely to contaminate the entire batch when you dip it in. If you're strict with your sanitation, the risks can be minimalized.
 
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cscala

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Hmm. My fermenter is a beer carboy (6+ gallons to leave plenty of headroom for foam and whatnot), my intended secondary is 5 Gallon glass carboy (18.9 liters I believe) so dropping the hydrometer in sounds kind of chancy...

I just realized that I have some glass tubing that I can make into a makeshift test jar (Another hobby is glassblowing) so I don't end up wasting a lot of product... which is a relief.

From what I'm reading, the only downside to racking twice or more is the possibility of contamination, which can be minimized by appropriate sanitation...so if I rack too early and get lots of junk precipitating out I can rack again and it should be ok, right?

Sadly, despite the fact that I live in a very well-populated area, home brewing does not seem very popular here. Getting a second opinion is well-nigh impossible, and even a first opinion can be a hassle! The "local" brew shop is an hour's drive away. There's another one about the same distance in the other direction but given a choice I'll avoid Miami traffic, thank you.

Ahh well.

So where can I find good information about back-sweetening without additional fermentation? I think this batch is going to turn out a bit dry!
 

biochemedic

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Here's my theory...the reason I like brewing mead is I can largely forget about it. If the primary is 13 weeks, so be it. I had a cyser that I kept in primary for 7 months...it had cleared so well I bottled straight from there, and it was great.

That being said, the wisdom that I live by is that "primary is for fermenting, and secondary is for aging." I second Medsen in that you should not rack until your fermentation is complete...I would go further and add that you should wait at least a week or two after that. This may hold true more for beer, but probably has some bearing in mead also, but even once the sugar fermentation is done, the yeast are still active, and during that period after the main ferment completes, the yeast "clean up" after themselves, and end up metabolizing a lot of the compounds that can cause off flavors. As can be attested to by my cyser experience, no harm will come to your mead from an extended primary...
 

MedsenFey

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From what I'm reading, the only downside to racking twice or more is the possibility of contamination, which can be minimized by appropriate sanitation...so if I rack too early and get lots of junk precipitating out I can rack again and it should be ok, right?
The biggest problem with racking too early is that you may leave behind a lot of active yeast, and can sometimes have a fermentation stall as a result. Generally speaking, I try to let it finish, then rack. I'll then rack every time it accumulates a layer of lees more than 1/4 to 1/2 inch, until it is clear. That may be 2-4 times in most cases. If you rack carefully, and sanitize properly the risks of contamination or oxidation are minimal.

Sadly, despite the fact that I live in a very well-populated area, home brewing does not seem very popular here. Getting a second opinion is well-nigh impossible, and even a first opinion can be a hassle! The "local" brew shop is an hour's drive away. There's another one about the same distance in the other direction but given a choice I'll avoid Miami traffic, thank you.
Tell me about it. :( Since Brewmasters closed, the options are few and far between.
You might try the Fort Lauderdale Area Brewers (FLAB) meetings.
 
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cscala

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Ok Update time:

Measured the SG, it's dead on 1.000, so I think it's done... Schramm's book said that it should be anywhere from 1.03 to 1.01, I'm guessing that the low SG is due to the yeast attenuation. I racked to my glass carboy. I have a sample in the fridge to taste in a bit...

edit: Missed something when taking SG reading. The temperature was 75, so SG reading should have been 1.002.
 

roadymi

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Not to Hijack but my question is very relevant. Does how long you wait to rack from primary make a difference if using open bucket rather than a carboy? I am about a week into using a bucket with the lid just sitting loosely on top....not sealed down. My SG has dropped steadily and is probably nearly complete in it's decline. OSG was 1.09 CSG is 1.01 used Fermentis us-05 yeast.
 
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cscala

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Tasted my results by the way. Not unreasonably dry, and delicious if a bit strong :)

One thing I was wondering however, there is some unused space in the 5 gallon glass carboy (probably due to the amount I reserved for SG readings and taste-testing). Should I be concerned? There IS still some fermentation activity going on, so my inclination is not to worry, but better ask than be wrong... and find out some months down the line that I was wrong.
 

Nurmey

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I don't think your mead is finished if you used Redstar Curvee. It is good up to 18% (4% more than the specified yeast) and could easily get down several more points.
 

virginiawolf

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My understanding with beer is that you still want a slight bit of activity of fermentation going on... just a hair like a bubble hear or there when you transfer the beer or mead into your secondary. The reason is that the slight bit of fermentation that is happening still in the secondary will create a c02 barrier and prevent the beer or wine from getting oxygen exposed to it. I do my transfer sooner rather than later. If you waited till the primary was long overdue and put the wort or must into a secondary you would be allowing oxygen get to it so I transfer into my secondary when I start to see a slow down. If there is no activity at all I blow some c02 from my tank into the head space of the secondary to make a barrier myself. So far so good. When to transfer will vary depending on your recipe.

With Mead you want to transfer it a few times leaving behind the layer in the bottom until what you end up with is clear and pure. I am a novice with mead but I will still apply what I learned with the beer. Keep the oxygen out by keeping the siphon hose in the bottom the secondary and I'll purge the carboy with co2 etc.

This is a subject that I was trying to wrap my head around a while back. When I did some longer fermentations where the primary would last a month I was like huhh? :)

I'm always learning more as I go along.

Relaxing and having a homebrew is one of those things that stands out in life.
 

Descender

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You want the smallest amount of headspace possible for secondary. Put some marbles in there till it gets almost to the tube. Then leave it alone for at least a month. Just my 2¢…
 
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I just made my first batch of strawberry mead,when I tested before I pitched it was to come out at 18% and I racked today for the first time at 2 months and tested again but it said 5% nav.I don't know If I ruined 5 gallons of mead or is it still fixable.I use 4.5 lbs of honey per gallon,3 lbs of strawberry per gallon and when I rack the airlock was bubbling once every 12 to 15 seconds.PLEASE HELP
 

Maylar

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The alcohol scale on your hydrometer is the "potential" alcohol if you were starting at that gravity. As the sugar gets converted to alcohol the potential goes down. So it means if you started at 18 and now it's 5 then 13% has already been made and there's 5% left to go. The scale that you're really interested in is the one with numbers from 0.990 to 1.160, that's your specific gravity. It'll go down (towards 1.000) as the ferment continues.
 
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