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What's with my honey?

Last month, I bought a bucket (20 kg) of honey from a local hobby beekeeper. Honey had just been harvested, and with only one honey harvest per year here, the bees had gathered necter from everything that blooms in the area, including wildflowers, wild berries and anything grown at the surounding farms (mostly grain, but some vegis).

The beekeeper told me it is totally natural, with no additives, and he is very careful to not heat the honey at all when processing it.

The questions is: why won’t it ferment? I’ve started two batches of dry mead with it, OG = 1.080, and used 1 kg in a strong belgian inspired beer that I planned to drink at Xmas. All three batches have stalled. I’ve done these recipes before without problems. Definately enough healthy yeast, nutrients, aeration. pH levels are not too low, and temperature has been kept in the optimal range.

Has anyone else had an experience like this? What could be the issue?

Why don’t you give us the details of these batches and see if we can help to identify the problem?

Yes, more info please.

Did they start ok or real slow? Did they all stop at the same place? etc.

Is there something in honey (when it is very fresh) that could prevent it from fermenting?

Bee keepers please chime in.

dob

The two meads are starting exactly the same. The plan is to rack onto different fruits after I get SG < 1.010. For both:

27 liters using 6.5 kg honey and cold tap water to get an OG = 1.078. My tap water only contains 5 ppm Cl and no other anti-bacterial or anti-fungal chemicals. Must was NOT heated, but 25 ppm K-sulfite was added (12 ml of 10% solution), along with lysozyme to prevent ML and 60g citric acid to bring the pH to 3.7 and the TA to 2.6. Must was allowed to sit overnight, then 13 g yeast nutrient and 7 g yeast energizer were added, the must was aerated, and two packets of rehydrated K1 yeast were pitched.

Fermentation was very slow to start. After two weeks, SG = 1.048. I then added an additional 7 g yeast energizer, and saw some renewed activity but it quickly faded. As of last night (two days after the energizer) SG = 1.043.

Both batches are tracking each other exactly.

This one has me stumped.

I have a couple of thoughts which I’ll share, but it will also help if you can tell us what temperature you are maintaining, and if you have aerated these batches. Also, is the energizer you are using one that looks like tan colored powder?

If you did not aerate, that really prevents the yeast from multiplying enough to have smooth fermentation. If you have not aerated, I would do so now (carefully, you don’t want a MEA - mead eruption accident).

Secondly, your yeast are under nourished (even though K1V is not a nutrient hog by any means). You have given them less than 150 ppm nitrogen, and they will do better as a general rule if you give them 200+. At this point, I would use a tan-powder energizer and I’d add 2 grams per gallon along with the aeration.

Thirdly, and I suspect most importantly, the pH of you mead may have dropped too low. When you add a bunch of citric acid to bring the must pH down, it often allows the pH to drop even lower when the yeast start secreting organic acids. I would suggest checking the pH with a calibrated meter. If you find it is below 3.2 it is probably contributing to the slow down. The tan-colored yeast energizers often raise the pH a little, and adding it might get this fermentation going again, but if the pH remains low after the energizer is added, you may need some potassium bicarbonate (calcium carbonate will work, but not as well) to bring the pH back up to around 3.4 or so.

By the way, for future batches, you may want to hold off on acid additions until after the fermentation is complete, and then add to taste. Measuring TA is problematic in meads because the principal acid is gluconic and a large portion is in the form of gluconolactone which is not acidic in flavor, but which will convert to acid and throw off you TA measurement as you add NaOH. Meads to need to be driven to a TA number, and trying often leads to overly acidic meads that are not nearly as good. Going by taste works much much better.

Also, if you use sulfites, you don’t need lysozyme as the sulfites can suppress bacteria. However, your mead is in not danger of MLF since meads don’t contain malic acid in any appreciable amounts (unless you are adding acid blend, or fruit with malic acid)

Endeavor to persevere!

Medsen

Medsen, thanks for the tips. Yes, I aerated quite a lot just prior to pitching. Used the pour back and forth between buckets method. I can aerate more to see if that will help. I usually try not to expose the must to O2 after it is more than 1/2 way through fermentation, but I don’t usually get sluggish yeast either.

The yeast nutrient I used is just DAP, the enegizer is a mix of DAP, yeast hulls and presumably other ingredients. And yes, it is tan colored.

I’ll check the pH to see if that’s the culprit. As for adding acid after fermentation, I have to admit I’ve read that before, but coming to mead after some years of making wine that just feels wrong. With wine you want to make all your adjustments prior to the fermentation because the flavors meld better that way. But mead is a different beast, so I can adjust.

Just to let everyone know, medsen was right, it was the pH. Had dropped all the way to 2.8 or 2.9. Added some chalk to bring the pH up a few tenths, and the fermentation took off again. Finished at 0.997, and today I racked to carboy and set it to cold stabilize.

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