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One of the key ingredients of Mead is the yeast. It has not been included in the Ingredients chapter since this particular item has its own unique variables that require a little additional thought by the brewer. Some recipes found in books or online call for a specific yeast, but it is up to the brewer to decide what they think will work best in their Mead (or what they actually can get their hands on). The following are some of the variables to be considered in yeast selection:

Dry or Liquid:
The dry variety of yeast comes in various sized packages ranging from 5 grams – 80 grams.  The foil packages are resilient to moisture and humidity.  Each one contains a great many yeast cells as well as a small amount of nutrient to help the yeast start when rehydrated.  This form can be stored for a long period of time, but the number of viable cells decreases the longer they are kept.  The viability of the yeast can be extended if the packet is stored in the fridge, but anything over a year should really be avoided.   It may be possible to resurrect an old packet by adding the powder to a yeast starter and seeing what happens, but make sure you have a second packet of new yeast on hand in case the older one proves useless. Various manufacturers recommend that you increase the amount of out of date yeast used by a certain percentage for the number of months over the expiration date.  Each mead maker must weigh the risk of using old, out of date yeast against the investment in ingredients and decide whether to risk that investment with a product that may not work.

The liquid type also comes in two forms: Smack-packs and Vials.  The Smack-pack is a 175 ml foil pouch that contains the yeast and a small inner sack of nutrient.  The vial variety have a very large amount of yeast and are designed to be pitched directly into a 5 gallon batch unless the specific gravity is greater than 1.050, when it should be prepared in a yeast starter before pitching.  Both varieties must be refrigerated before use to keep the yeast dormant, but they should be brought up to ambient temperature (~70o F) before pitching.  For example, White Labs recommends that the yeast be removed from cold storage for 2 hours prior to inoculating your must.  The advantage of using the liquid variety over the dry is that there are a great many more strains available to the brewer.

Alcohol Tolerance:

Each strain of yeast has it’s own unique tolerances to certain conditions.  These include alcohol level, pH level, sugar level, etc.  Of most concern to a brewer is the alcohol tolerance, since it is this value that will dictate the sweet/dry characteristic of the Mead.  It is therefore important for the brewer to decide early on what level of sweetness is desired and to select the yeast based on it’s capacity to convert sugar to alcohol (known as Attenuation).  Table 1 below lists the most common yeasts used by GotMead members and the alcohol tolerance they possess.

Table 1:

Type Alc. Tol. Temp. Flocculation
Lalvin RC212 12 – 14% 59-86º F Low
Lalvin 71B-1122 14% 59-86º F Med
Lalvin ICV-D47 12 – 14% 50-86º F Med
Lalvin EC-1118 18% 45-95º F Low
Lalvin K1-V1116 18 – 20% 59-86º F Low
Red Star Pasteur Champagne 18% 59–86º F Med-Low
Red Star Cotes Des Blancs (Epernay II) 12 – 14% 64-86º F Low
Red Star Flor Sherry 18 – 20% 59–86º F Low
Red Star Montrachet Yeast 13% 59-86º F Low
Red Star Premier Cuvee 18% 45-95º F Low
Red Star Pasteur Red 16% 64-86º F Low
Danstar Nottingham 12 – 15% 57–70º F High
Danstar Windsor 12 – 15% 64–74º F High
Doric Ale Yeast 12% 62–72º F Med
White Labs WLP720- Sweet Mead/ Wine 15% 70–75º F Low
Wyeast 3632 Mead, Dry 18% 55–75º F High
Wyeast 3184 Mead, Sweet 11% 65–75º F High
Wyeast 3021 Prise de Mousse Champagne 17% 55–75º F High
Wyeast 3242 Chablis 12 – 13% 55–75º F High
Wyeast 3267 Bordeaux 14% 60-90º F Med-Low
Wyeast Eau de Vie 21% 65-80º F High
Fleishmann’s Bread Yeast 12%   High

Temperature:

Really only a factor when looking at the location the Mead will be fermented in.  Attempting to use a yeast in an environment outside of the temperature range may result in a stuck fermentation or possibly the production of unwanted compounds that could alter the flavor.

Flocculation:

This is the term used to describe the ability of the yeast to clump together and fall to the bottom of the fermentation vessel.  The higher the flocculation, the clearer will be the Mead.  It is also easier to rack off of yeast that creates a very compact Lees since the sediment will not be disturbed as easily by the siphon.

Preparation:

Dry – Follow the instruction on the packet to rehydrate the yeast.  The manufacturer has formulated the contents for optimum readiness when prepared properly and any small changes can reduce the viable yeast count.  The instructions from Scott Labs for rehydration are as follows:

If you’re just rehydrating in water with no rehydration nutrient then 50 ml is the proper amount of water to use. Stir in the yeast GRADUALLY so as not to allow clumping and overmuch adherence to the sides of the vessel you are using for rehydration. Let stand 15-20 minutes, stir again to resuspend and inoculate your must.

If you’re using GoFerm to rehydrate you’ll use 17 ml H2O per gallon of must to be inoculated, and 1.25 grams of GoFerm per gram of yeast being used to inoculate the must (You’re not going to rehydrate the yeast before you add it to the GoFerm mixture so you’re eliminating the 50 ml of rehydration water that you would be using if you’re just rehydrating and not using GoFerm).

So if you’re going to make a 12 gallon batch of mead and inoculate it with 12 grams of D47, then you’ll mix up your GoFerm as follows:

204 ml H2O (17 ml H2O X 12 gal must) at 111 F
15 grams of GoFerm (12 grams yeast X 1.25 grams GoFerm)

Heat your water to 111 F and mix in the GoFerm gradually.
Let cool to 104 F and add your yeast gradually stirring so as not to allow clumps to form.
Let stand 15 minutes, stir again and mix with an equal part of must (some people use 1/2 the amount of your rehydration suspension as well).
Let stand 15 minutes then innoculate your must with the GoFerm mixture.

Nota Bene: If there is an 18 degree or more difference in the temperature of the rehydration suspension and the must you’ll need to do an additional step or steps in order to atemperate your rehydration suspension so as to mitigate shocking the yeast by adding it to a much cooler must. Just add another 1/2 portion of your total starter suspension (the yeast rehydrated in the GoFerm + the must you added) and wait another 15 minutes then inoculate your must.

If the yeast does not start foaming a little within 1 hour, you may have a bad batch and will have to either add it to a yeast starter, or get a new packet and rehydrate again.

Smack-pack – Feel the pack until you have located the inner sack of nutrient, and then slowly work it up to one end of the pack.  Place the pack on a table and press down on the sack with you palm until you feel the inner sack break.  This is sometimes a little hard to do, but don’t be afraid of pushing hard since the outer pack is designed to take the pressure.  Shake the pack to mix up the contents, then place it somewhere warm until it has swelled to 1.5 – 2 inches thick.  Plan ahead when using this type of yeast since you may need up to 5 or 6 days for the yeast to be ready to pitch.  Add a day for each month that has passed since the pack was manufactured before it is ready to use.  Once it has swollen appropriately, sanitize the outside of the pack properly before opening it and pitching the yeast directly into the Must.  It helps to bring it to the same temperature as the Must to avoid shocking the yeast too much.

Vial – Bring the vial to the same temperature as the Must, sanitize the outside of the vial, and then pitch directly into the Must or yeast starter solution.

Go-Ferm® – This is a specific type of nutrient designed by Lallemand to provide the correct nutrients to help rehydrate their dry yeast.  It creates a less stressful environment, which reduces the chance that the yeast will make SO2, H2S, or other unwanted compounds that will require aging to get rid of.  They recommend a dosage of 1 part yeast to 1.25 parts Go-Ferm.
Note that other manufacturers of dry yeast sometimes include similar nutrients mixed in already, so the addition of Go-Ferm is not required, and can possibly be detrimental to the yeast.  Only use it when rehydrating Lallemand (Lalvin) yeast.

Yeast Starter:

A yeast starter is an extremely useful way of ensuring a strong start to the fermentation and is used when you have the following conditions:

  • You are using a Vial yeast in a Must with a specific gravity greater than 1.050.
  • You have an old yeast (dry or liquid) and you want to make sure it is still viable.
  • Your Must has a very high specific gravity (greater than 1.150)
  • Your Must is very acidic or is lacking nutrients.

To make a yeast starter, sanitize a small container and add 2 cups of either juice, prepared Must, or water with 0.5 cups of Extra Light Dry Malt Extract.  Add 0.5 tsp. of nutrient (not DAP or Fermaid K as the ammonia salts can be toxic at high levels to first generation yeast), seal the container and shake vigorously to aerate the solution.  If you are using dry yeast, rehydrate it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Bring the starter solution to 95°F, add the yeast and cover with either a sanitized cloth, some foil, or with an airlock if possible.  Let it stand in a warm location for 12 to 24 hours before pitching into the Must.  Be aware that the type of liquid used may affect the flavor of the Mead, particularly if too much is used.  Lighter juices such as white grape or apple juice will not add color or much flavor to the Must.

Basic List of Yeast:

The following yeast are recommended by Pete for the type of Mead being made.  This does not mean that changes or substitutions cannot be made, but they are a good starting point.

D47, 71B – Sweet/Semi-Sweet Traditional and Show Meads
K1-V1116, RC212 – Dry Traditional Meads
71B – berry melomels
K1-V1116 – Cysers (although EC-1118 and D47 well too)
RC-212 – dark grape pyments
DV10, EC1118 – sparkling mead base
K1-V1116, D47 – Metheglins

Additional Information:

The subject of yeast selection and preparation is a very lengthy one and can take years to learn.  The information provided above covers the basics of yeast and what the brewer needs to be aware of when making their first Mead.  Below are provided some links that will give you some additional information on yeast rehydration and nutrient addition.

NOTE: All these charts and tables are for wine. The American Meadmakers Association (AMMA) and UC Davis/Robert Mondavi Institute are working on creating mead-specific approaches for yeast, additions and corrections. If you wish to help keep this research moving, join the AMMA, they are actively working with the Robert Mondavi Institute to create mead-centric information, and donations help to move that research forward faster!

It is important to understand a little of the lifecycle of the yeast so that the brewer can understand what is happening at a particular stage, and can provide the correct nutrients for the yeast.  Understanding the impact of nutrients is key to a healthy colony of yeast that will produce a clean fermentation.  Chapter 10 explains the different types of nutrients available, how they affect the yeast, and what to watch out for.

[Return to INDEX] [Chapter 10: Nutrients]