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New mazer growing pains

So let me tell you a story of potential disaster.

After reading several guides on how to brew mead, I started my own batch. Went to a local brewer’s supply store, got everything I needed, picked up some Orange Blossom honey and set to work.

I sanitized as best as I was able (StarSan) after noticing that every “how-to” guide cites improper sanitation for the main cause of newbie failure. But there is a fair bit of ambiguity in most of the online guides that I’ve read, and it’s only through browsing this forum (and homebrewtalk.com) that I was able to really pin down some concrete numbers and learn some of the technicalities (meadmadecomplicated.org and Hightest’s Honey Haven are my new sources for procrastination).

But all this education came after my first batch started cooking, and I had already made some crucial errors. Maybe one of you will be able to give me some advice.

Let me tell you what I’ve done, first:

Run #1
5 gallons, 16 lbs. Orange Blossom honey, Direct Pitch Wyeast Dry Mead 4632, Fermaid-K

I pasteurized the honey at about 160 degrees, let it cool down (thank god for kegerators), and then directly pitched the yeast after activating the packet and letting it inflate for a couple of hours. So far so good. I shook the bajesus out of the carboy and then remembered that I had forgotten the Fermaid-K. So I opened the baggie and dumped it in. All of it. At the same time. I can hear the collective heads impacting desks - I realize this was both a technical and a technique error. From now on I’ll add the nutrients on a schedule and add the correct amount. Instead I dumped in…well…a hell of a lot. I don’t even want to tell you how much, but it was 80g. There I said it. My ears are red from embarrassment.

The must is fermenting nicely. It has a beautiful honey-boozy smell to it, and the color is amazing. It’s a milky yellow, and it frothed a lot at first, but has now settled to 1 pip every “so often” instead of 1 bubble every 3 seconds. There is no unusual odor.

On 19Feb12 the corrected SG was 1.149. On 26Feb12 it was 1.043. The temperature has been ranging from 72-74, but relatively steady - no sudden swings, just regular day/night changes.

If possible, I would prefer not to feed the plumbing and to soldier on with this batch. I have read that excess nutrients can cause bad bacteria build-up. Obviously I have excess nutrients. What can I do to inhibit the bad bacteria while preserving the yeast?

I’ve discovered a number of posts that sort of deal with this issue, but no others have been quite so stupid as I have been. One person mentioned that excess nutrients can impact flavor, and clearly I’m well above that threshold. Any thoughts on what I might expect?

Most “fixes” deal with solving the “rotten egg” odor by splash-racking, but that’s a fix for people who notice they have a problem well after the fermentation process has proceeded. I, on the other hand, am wondering if there is anything I can do now short of micro-filtration.

Here is a close-up of the carboy and an example of some of my concern. There seems to be a bit of a build-up. Could this be unwanted bacterial growth? Or is it normal residue?

It looks a lot grosser up close like that. When I rack it obviously I can get rid of stuff like this. But if it’s a symptom of a much larger problem…then…uh…well I don’t know.

I’m assuming there is no way of pulling some of the nutrients out without pulling the yeast out as well. Will I benefit from more frequent rackings? Or just leave it alone and don’t get overexcited?

I just started cooking my second batch today using some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned.

Run #2

I have 4 1-gallon carboys, using 2 different yeasts (71B-1122 and D47), and Goldenrod honey. EDIT: I used 5g of each yeast, so 2.5g for each 1-gallon carboy, which I prepared in a simple starter of room-temp water, a fork-full of honey, and the absolute smallest pinch of nutrient. It’s a darker fall honey but I love the flavor and aroma and the bee-man said it should impart a bit of a buttery quality to the mead. For my next batch I’ll probably go with a much lighter honey for comparison.

The other thing I did differently is that the two 71B-1122 gallons are using spring water, and the two D47s are using NYC tap water which I boiled first in hopes of removing some of the additives. I had intended to do an actual experiment and do one of each, but I wasn’t paying attention (notice a pattern?) and, well, you get the picture. Believe it or not but NYC has fantastic tap water - we get it from the Catskills I think. So aside from the additives they put in and some copepods, I’m interested to see if it works better, worse, or no difference at all. Frankly, people say that our water is what makes our pizza and bagels so awesome. So I figure mead should be on that list too, amirite?

I did not pasteurize the honey. I heated the water (boiled the tap water), turned off the heat, waiting a while, then added the honey. It took some extra work than Run #1 since the water was cooler and the honey didn’t want to dissolve as quickly, but I double-fisted the two pots of water and got them both mixed nicely.

These started out at a much lower SG (1.118). I’m going to measure them again in a couple of days to verify that this number is correct, but I don’t want to mess with them too much right now. They look so happy. The 71Bs are noticeably darker than the D47s and after 5 or 6 hours they are already “fizzing”, whereas the D47s are only barely starting to get going. I added a small amount of Fermaid-K to begin with. The store I bought my nutrients from sent me a whole bunch of Fermaid-O as well by mistake. So (once again based on forum-posts) my intent is to begin with a couple doses of K, and then finish off with O. “The internet” says that in the later stages of fermentation the yeast won’t take advantage of the DAP (the synthetic nutrients), but will happily gobble up the organic stuff.

My intent in posting this wall of text is to present to you my conundrum, my procedure, and my intention in the hopes that some of you will say “wow, yeah, don’t do that” and give me some alternatives or pointers. You guys are awesome, I’ve spent hours on this board and others like it learning as much as I can. Often things go way above my head, and sometimes people’s recommendations are frankly more work than I’m willing to put in. But it’s all extremely useful to know and I think that as I continue this process (undoubtedly with your help, whether you know it or not) I’ll start getting something delicious out of it!

Thanks!

-BConstant

Wow! No words of encouragement for the batch with massive amounts of nutrient. Bad things can happen to a mead with excessive amounts. I really like staggered nutrient feedings and use them in my meads as well.
I also recommend keeping fermentation temps low. I keep mine below 60F.

Yeah this is kinda what I gathered. There has been a substantial amount of settling on the bottom as seen in this photo:

It is very light in color - almost like the nutrient powder itself. Could it be that the bulk of the nutrients have settled to the bottom? I realize it wouldn’t solve the overload problem, but should I rack the must right now to get it off this bed of nutrients and discard as much as I am able?

EDIT: What about diluting the must? This only just occured to me. If I split the must into two halves, and then dilute each one back to the 4-5 gallon mark, would I maybe salvage this operation? Or am I grasping at honeycombs?

Ok well now that’s interesting to me. Most sources I’ve read quote a 68-74 range. Does the low temperature draw out the fermentation process significantly? May I ask what your logic is for the low temps? I ask because I moved all my must upstairs where the temperatures are reliably above 70 degrees, whereas my ground floor is never above 69 (in the winter, anyway).

I strongly agree with Baratone Brewer’s advice on keeping fermentation temps low.

My understanding of keeping the temperatures low is to prevent excessive fusel alcohols from forming during fermentation. These alcohols have a greater number of carbon atoms than ethanol, and can lead to an unpleasant solvent like taste.

Of my brief mead making experience I’ve had two batches that were fermented between 70-74 degrees. Both of these have shown a harsher alcohol presence in comparison to my batches fermented between 61-64 degrees.

Out of curiosity I saved a gallon of each batch(70-74’ fermentations) from the drain to see what time would tell. These are coming up on their two year mark now, and the harsher alcohol tastes haven’t mellowed out much.

A simple swamp cooler does wonders to maintain cool fermentation temperatures. These coolers are especially helpful when yeast are generating enough heat to raise a fermentation past ambient room temps.

Don’t think that you can dilute enough. Optimal pre-fermentation Free Amino Nitrogen levels are in the 300-500mg/l range.

Fermentation temp plays a big part in maintaining delicate aromatics. D47 and 71B are well capable of 60F fermentations without issues. If the Ph of your must is managed, nutrient levels are in the proper range, and you don’t get too excessive with sugars, fermentation should go well.

FWIW I ferment all of my meads around or below 60F and have taken a 1st, and 3rd so far in comps this year.

[quote=“Baratone Brewer”]Fermentation temp plays a big part in maintaining delicate aromatics. D47 and 71B are well capable of 60F fermentations without issues. If the Ph of your must is managed, nutrient levels are in the proper range, and you don’t get too excessive with sugars, fermentation should go well.

FWIW I ferment all of my meads around or below 60F and have taken a 1st, and 3rd so far in comps this year.[/quote]

Ok then. I’ll make the change!

Are you trying to tell me to cut my losses?

Not at all. Only you will know if its worth saving or not. I just simply don’t know of a fix for levels that high.

So my SG on the big batch that I screwed up is down to 1.003 and it’s starting to get a little less cloudy. When I fill up the graduated cylinder I can see through the liquid. I tasted a very small amount and…it tastes bad, but not horrible. In fact, it sort tastes like a young chardonnay at the top and then a strong moonshine aftertaste. Maybe it isn’t doomed after all, we’ll see.

I’ve also submerged all of my carboys in a water bath (with a little fountain installed to encourage evaporation), which keeps them in the mid to low 60s F.

Keeping my fingers crossed!

Just in case anybody ever finds this and has a similar situation…

I just kept racking the mead to remove more and more of the Fermaid-K. Just had a big tasting, and this one is…well…good! It is very dry (it’s D47 yeast) but the jet-fuel flavor is gone and there is some real complexity to it. I can’t wait to see what happens with age. So it looks like my first big blunder turned out not to be the end of the world!

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