At some point during the process, something will either go wrong, or you will not know what to do next. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams – DON’T PANIC! There are two ways of dealing with the situation. First, check the answers below; second, go to the forums.
One point to make about the forums. They are huge, which means that your question has almost certainly been asked and answered. Before you start a new topic, do some research by searching through the postings. You may find the answer you are looking for. The search button is easy to use and even if you do not find the exact answer, you will read a lot of great information that will make you a better brewer. Only then should you start a new topic.
“My fermentation is stuck. How do I restart it?” – This is a tricky one as there can be many reasons why it has stopped, each requiring a different answer. The major things to check are as follows:
- Has it fermented to completion? In other words, you are done.
- Is the temperature too cold? Put it in a warmer area.
- Has your yeast reached its ABV limit? Get another one that can ferment higher.
- Did you start with too much honey (S.G. is too high)? Make a starter.
- Did it even start in the first place? Repitch new yeast, the first may have been bad.
- Did you use a juice with Sorbate? Check the answer below.
- What is the acid level in the Must? Adjust with acid or base additions.
- Etc., etc., etc.
The best thing to do at this point is to go and research the forums a little, then ask the experts.
“There is a funny Growth in the Mead. What next?” – Funny looking things either floating on top of the Mead or sitting on the bottom are not always a cause for alarm. Some yeast like to bunch together (flocculate) and they can create some very odd looking growths. There are times when something else has found its way into the Mead though, and these can be very destructive. If you see something that does not look like it belongs, sample the Mead to see if the smell or flavor is “off”. If there is nothing that seems wrong to you, then it is probably just yeast or bits of fruit (if making a Melomel). If there is an odd flavor or smell, immediately rack the Mead into a clean carboy being as careful as possible not to disturb the growth. Some sulfites can be added to the racked Mead if the fermentation has ceased, which will hopefully prevent any of the unwanted organism from growing again.
“The Mead has a strange smell” – This is a difficult one to answer since defining what a strange smell is can be very subjective. To the inexperienced brewer, the smells given off during fermentation can seem strange. If the smell is particularly pungent though, then there may be something wrong. In a situation like this, there is not much that can be done since whatever is causing the smell is already at work in the Mead. Things to try are to rack the Mead into a clean carboy (see the answer for Growths above), to throw in some sulfites to stop anything from growing (as long as fermentation has reached a point that you are happy with), putting the fermenter in a cooler area (temperatures above the yeast’s range can cause them to produce unwanted esters), or just leaving it and hoping for the best.
“How do I get the Mead to clear?” – The first thing to do, if you can, is to cold crash the Mead. This means putting it into a cold environment (around 38ºF) for a week. This usually drops it clear. If this does not work, or you cannot do this, then the next easiest thing to do is to use a Fining agent such as Polyclar, Bentonite, or Sparkolloid. Rack off of the Lees and let the Mead settle for a few weeks after clearing to make sure everything drops out before bottling. If each of these still fail, including a combination of them, then you can purchase a filter system and use a 0.5 micron filter to scrub all matter out of the Mead.
“I used Juice with Preservatives. What now?” – Using a juice that has been dosed with Sorbate or some other preservative will prevent your yeast from growing and fermenting. Chances are, you are stuck. The batch may be saved though, so do not despair. Check the forum for topics on juices with preservatives, which is full of suggestions for starting the fermentation
“How much space is too much in the top of the carboy?” – Depends on what stage it is in. You want to make sure that there is sufficient space above the fermenting Mead to allow the Krausen to grow. This is particularly important when using fruit, as the pulp can get pushed up into the airlock and you have a messy spill.
Once fermentation has completed, then you want as little space as possible to avoid oxidation. If you have more than 3 inches, try to rack into a smaller container, although it is not entirely necessary as long as you make sure that the Mead is blanketed in CO2, no matter how large the headspace is.
“Can I top the Mead of using extra Must?” – Yes. When you mix your Must, it is possible to transfer some to a sanitized jug before adding the yeast. This jug should be stored in a fridge, or frozen, until needed to help preserve it. If you need to top your Mead off when you have racked it, you can then gently pour the reserved Must in, avoiding any splashing which will add unwanted oxygen.
“Is my fermentation temp too hi/low?” – Check the temperature limits of the yeast you are using. If the area you are fermenting in falls outside of these limits, then you should make some changes. If it is too cold, move it to a warmer location, or wrap a warming blanket around it (beware not to get it to hot). If it is too warm, move it to a cooler location, or wrap some wet towels around it to help cool it off.
“How do you back sweeten?” – Once all fermentation has ceased, you may find that the Mead is too dry for your liking and you want to make it sweeter. To do this, you first need to make sure that the yeast are either all gone, or will not restart when you add the honey. Either use a filter, try the clearing methods described above, or dose the Mead with sulfites. Then, take a measured sample of the Mead, a cup should be about right, and slowly start to stir in the honey a little bit at a time, until you reach the desired sweetness. Calculate how much Mead you have, and multiply the amount of honey to reach the same sweetness for the full batch. Carefully stir it in to avoid oxidation, then let it sit for a couple of months to make sure fermentation has not restarted.
“Can I use cheap honey?” – Of course, but remember that your end product is only as good as the ingredients you use. Start with cheaper honey while you learn, then begin using some better, ‘unprocessed’ varietals to add more character to your Mead.
“How can you tell if it is still fermenting?” – First, see if there is any activity in the airlock. Very slow changes in the water level can be caused by temperature swings, so do not rely totally on this. The best method is to take gravity readings a couple of weeks to a month apart. If they do not change over this period of time, then the fermentation is probably complete.
“If the recipe is for 1 gallon, do you just multiply everything by 5 to make 5 gallons?” – For the most part, yes. In the case of the yeast, you do not usually need to increase the amount pitched by 5. The small packet of yeast is sufficient to ferment 1 gallon up to 5 gallons, although using two packets will help start things off better. Also, the amount of time spent aerating will remain the same no matter what size batch you are making.
“Should I use chemicals to stop fermentation or not?” – This one is up to you. Many people prefer not to use any chemicals, particularly since some people are allergic to them. If you are afraid that you might be making bottle bombs (bottles pressurized by continued fermentation that can explode – VERY DANGEROUS), then use them. Otherwise, you can filter with a 0.5 micron filter, cold crash, or just wait a very long time.
“When should I rack?” – Racking is dependent on what is happening to your Mead, and what you intend to achieve. Racking is usually done to slow fermentation, to get the Mead off the Lees, to remove the Mead from other ingredients, to clarify, etc. You must therefore determine when you should rack by how the Mead looks and tastes.
“How long should it be aged?” – That is up to the individual brewer. Some Meads, particularly the sweeter ones, seem to age quicker and can be enjoyed sooner than dryer ones. But, the amount of time the Mead is left to age depends on how it tastes at any given time. The average length of time Mead is aged tends to be around 1 year, although the longer it is left, the better it usually gets. Be patient, sample it every now and then, and drink it when you think it is ready. Try to keep a few bottles for long-term aging to see how good it can get.
“Can I distill the Mead?” – Yes, but do not ask GotMead for help. This is a Mead site, and we do not discuss distillation, as this is illegal in the United States for homebrewers. To do this, you must have a license and pay taxes, so it is not something the forum will get involved in.
“Can I reuse yeast from a previous batch?” – Yes, but it is not really advisable. All yeast, no matter how well they have been treated, are stressed a little during the fermentation process and can mutate slightly. This will lead to them possibly producing esters or other compounds that can make your Mead taste funny. Since yeast are usually very cheap, particularly the dried types, it is better to start fresh every batch.