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Oak and Vanilla Bean Questions

I’m making my second ever mead. It’s a simple dry mead, 5 gallon batch:

12# local honey
4 gallons of spring water

I added yeast nutrient over the first 3 days and oxygenated with pure O2 each day as well. It started at 1.090 and is down to 1.001 as of yesterday. The temp stayed fairly constant at around 63-64F.

This is pretty much the same process I used on my first mead which turned out great but never dropped clear. The one difference is I add WAY too much nutrient the first time by about 5x. :oops:

This time around, I want to add a little depth to the mead. I want to age it on some oak and some vanilla beans. I’ve been doing a bunch of research and I understand that a little oak goes a long way and that a lot of it is personal preference. With that said, I don’t want a lumberyard in a bottle. Here is my plan:

Rack to carboy with 2 scraped vanilla beans and 1 or 2oz of medium toast French oak cubes. I would leave this combination for about 4-6 weeks. Then I would rack to another carboy and let it just age and clear for the rest of the year, bottling around Dec. In the end, I’m hoping for some subtle oak and vanilla flavors that add to but do not dominate the mead. I use the no heat method so there’s a really nice honey aroma and flavor already.

How does this sound? Are my quantities and times going to get me roughly what I’m looking for? Since it’s a dry mead, do I need to add any tannins and/or acid?

Thanks for the help

In the end, I went with just under 2oz of medium toast French oak and 2 cut and scraped Madagascar vanilla beans. Wow. What an amazing smell! It reminded me a bit of chardonnay which is what I’m really shooting for.

I’m not sure how long to leave this all in the carboy before racking for extended aging but I’m thinking 4-6 weeks.

2 beans might be a little weak. I used 5 split Burbon beans in my falls bounty Cyser that I just racked to the secondary last week. Even I think I’ll barley notice the vanilla in 5 gals. You don’t need to scrape the beans, the alcohol will pull all the goodness out of the beans. I just split in half and leave the bean barley conected at the stem end and drop into the carboy.
To clear, I use sparkolloid, works great. Here’s a really helpful link for you.

I never oaked so I can’t help you there.

Vanilla can easily be lost in the complexity of a good mead and the flavor will fade quickly. I would start checking it at 2 weeks and leave it on the oak for no more than 4 weeks. Oaking can easily be over done, I would check it regularly.

Thanks for the comments guys. I’m hoping it will all be very subtle by the time I bottle it. I’ll post back with my results.

I made a vanilla stout that lost the vanilla fairly quickly. It was gone , but left behind a not quite sweet taste that smoothed the roasted edge a bit.
Next time I think I’ll use a bit of home made vanilla extract instead.

I think one thing about vanilla is how fresh & large the beans are. I make both a vanilla stout and Denny’s VBP using these beans:
(the Madagascar). In my last batch of VBP, which I brewed in the beginning of Oct and currently have on tap, I used about 3/4 of a bean in about 4 gallons and it is still VERY strong after almost 5 months. Actually a little too strong, thinking of cutting back next time, though the girlfriend loves it so…

I found that the flavor and aroma of the cheap supermarket beans drop off fairly quickly.

Anyway, I made a Vanilla/Oaked mead last year. Used 1/2 a vanilla pod and 2 oz of med toast oak in 5 gallons. Only left them in for about 2 weeks. I am planning on opening one this weekend. I will try to remember to report back on the flavor intensity.

Good luck!


I’m lucky enough to have 2 Penzey’s stores nearby and the Madagascar are the ones I used. They come in 3 packs and I used 2 of the three. Seemed quite strong to me.

I only use beans from Beanilla. Even with quality beans the favor will fade with the extended aging involved with most meads.

You need to be careful with vanilla beans, they are variable and you never know what you are going to get.

I made a holiday ale in October that I planned to put one bean in, but the beans available in the supermarket looked so thin and dry that I decided to use two. Didn’t smell particularly strong when I scraped them out, but when I checked the beer a few days later it was overpowering vanilla. Ended up not tapping the keg this late January, when it was still too strong, and it doesn’t seem to be fading any more.

I tasted the mead this past weekend and it was very good. The oak dominated the vanilla but neither were overpoweringly strong. I was pleasantly surprised.

Since I will be aging this until the end of the year, my assumption is that both flavors and aromas will fade over time. Actually, that’s what I’m hoping for. I don’t want either to stand out. In your experiences with oak and vanilla, is there a substantial change over time?

I guess what it really boils down to is do I let it get over the top a bit so it has time to mellow back into something really nice or do I stop it when I like it and then let it drop back into something completely different?

Thanks for the help

You are correct in both will fade a bit. The vanilla more than the oak, but they both will soften. I would rack off the oak when you have reached your desired level.

I bottled this in late 2013 when the flavors were where I wanted them. I just opened a bottle last weekend for a party and both the oak and vanilla were there but much more subtle. At this stage, it’s really tasting like the “chardonnay” I was originally targeting. I’m very happy with this one.

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