Over the last weekend, “the best kind of friend that anyone could ever hope for” started his second and third batches of mead, and so graciously has allowed me to analyze his mead recipes on the blog (hence, the quotes were his concession to allow the conversation online). His goals were to examine the differences between two very common yeasts used to ferment mead, Lalvin 71B-1122 (71B) and Lalvin ICV D-47 (D47). On top of this, he wanted to compare some spiced samples of the finished mead to the un-spiced original. To this end, he developed the following recipe:
1 gallon Traditional Mead
- 3.5 lbs honey
- water to 1 gallon
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient (1/2 at pitch, 1/2 at 20 hours after pitch)
- 1/2 tsp yeast energizer (1/2 at pitch, 1/2 at 20 hours after pitch)
- Make 2 identical musts. Rehydrate yeasts, and pitch D47 in one, 71B in the other. Ferment side by side and treat similarly.
- After primary fermentation, split batch in half. Add spices to first half, bottle second half with no spice additions.
At first glance, this is a pretty simple recipe. It is just a traditional mead, but there are some important points to make about the recipe.
3.5 lbs honey
Initially, I wanted to know why he chose 3.5 lbs honey, and if this was a conscious choice recognizing the alcohol tolerance of the two yeasts in this test. His response was that his first mead (a JAO variant) had 3.5 lbs honey. He liked the sweetness at the end of this batch, and thought this one would follow a similar sweetness level. Unfortunately, 71B and D47 both have higher alcohol tolerances (14%) than your standard bread yeast (11%). But what does this really mean? This is where your hydrometer comes in handy.
When you dissolve 3.5 lbs of honey into a one gallon must (remember, must is unfermented wine or mead), you will end up with a specific gravity around 1.124. This means the mead has a total potential alcohol of a little over 17%. Using the 71B and D47, you would only have 3% of residual sweetness left after the ferment (granted, this is still considered a sweet mead), compared to the 6% residual sweetness in a JAO. If he wants a direct comparison at the same sweetness level, he would need to backsweeten the new batches or ferment with a greater initial quantity of honey. In this case, because the starting gravity is already so high, it is best to backsweeten if he indeed does want to try this.
I would generally recommend starting with a 3 lb honey per gallon of must recipe, but my friend prefers sweeter alcohols based on cider tastings, so the 3% residual sweetness is probably a good starting point. It will also provide some extra buffer to cover any mistakes if the ferment doesn’t go as well as planned (sweetness can mask any number of flaws).
Yeast Nutrient and Energizer
I mentioned last week that meads require additional nutrients for healthy fermentation. This can come in the form of fruit additions (this was the reason you added raisins in the JAO recipe), or more commonly just from yeast nutrient and energizer available from your local homebrew shop. The amount of nutrient and energizer is up to you, but if you are not familiar with calculating the total yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN) for your must, it is best to just follow the nutrient instructions. The nutrient and energizer are a proprietary blend, depending on the company, of diammonium phosphate (DAP), food grade urea, and other minerals to promote healthy yeast. I will likely cover this in further detail in a later post, but I myself have not done a YAN calculation. I have always just followed the packet directions.
It is also important to stagger your nutrient additions. Numerous staggered nutrient addition (SNA) protocols have been developed over the years, and personal preference combined with the time to monitor your fermentation will decide what is best for you. This topic deserves a much longer explanation, but for now a 50/50 split at pitch and some time up to 48 hours after pitch is a good rule of thumb. The staggered nutrients provide just enough at the growth phases of the yeast so that you don’t end up over feeding when it is not necessary.
When adding your nutrients, it is a good idea to stir the must prior to the addition. The must will react to the addition of your nutrients, possibly resulting in your must bubbling out the top of your carboy, otherwise known as a mead eruption accident (MEA). This could be a slow lava flow, or result in the must shooting up to your ceiling and all over your walls. Just be ready in case this does happen, and don’t say you weren’t warned. For additional information about MEAs and how to avoid them, check out my post on the old blogspot site, Do MEAs a Mazer Make?
Stirring also provides oxygen that is vital to yeast in its early growth stages. I know, it is always mentioned that when you open wine you should be worried about oxidation if you are storing the open bottle for any period of time. But in this case, early in fermentation, oxygen is good. You can aerate by any number of methods, but with a 1 gallon batch, shaking the carboy will suffice. Note, you will need to remove the airlock to allow oxygen in before shaking/stirring/swirling the carboy contents.
The Yeast Choice, 71B and D47
My friend chose some great mead yeasts for his first traditional batches. That said, both 71B and D47 have some unique characteristics you will need to pay attention to for them to finish successfully.
71B. This yeast was originally cultivated in the Narbonne region of France, and isolated to accentuate fruit flavors in wine. When I toured Moonlight Meadery in 2011 the tour guide stated this was the only yeast used to create the myriad flavors available in the shop. I can’t speak to the accuracy of that statement today, but it is a testament to the variety of meads that can be created from this single strain of yeast.
71B has an alcohol tolerance of 14%, and exhibits mild flocculation tendencies. It ferments naturally over a wide range of temperatures between the upper 50s and low 80s, although I would not recommend fermenting above 75 degrees F with most wine yeasts, 71B included. This yeast is usually forgiving when it comes to nutrient additions.
Your major concern when using 71B is to worry about autolysis. Autolysis occurs when a dead yeast cells break down after completed fermentation, creating in a ‘yeasty’ flavor. This is usually seen as a fault in meads, and in the few I have had suffer from this, the flavor did not age out even after a year of aging. To avoid this, you should always rack your mead off of the gross lees within 3 weeks of notices they have dropped out of suspension. It is said that your mead may be safe for up to 6 weeks after they have dropped, but I would rather err on the side of caution and rack early. You can also use a fining or clarifying agent at the end of your primary fermentation to drop the majority of the yeast out of suspension, but in practice I have still always had lees drop after fining.
D47. This yeast was originally isolated in Côtes du Rhône for barrel fermenting Chardonnay. D47 has a 14% alcohol tolerance, and has low to medium flocculation. Unlike 71B, this yeast is great for sur lie aging, and can provide some spicy aromas with tropical and citrus notes as a result of the process. In mead, however, there are two major items of note with D47.
First, you must, must, must pay attention to the temperature of your fermentation! Above 70 degrees F, D47 will create fusel alcohols. These may age out, but it can take years. It is better to just avoid the high temperature than wait to have something drinkable. To control the temperature, your best best is to ferment in a basement or over winter. You can also drape a damp t-shirt or rag around your carboy, as the evaporation of the water will provide a cooling effect. Submerging the mead in a bucket with ice could also help, but may result in the temperature dropping too low. While you don’t want it to get above 70 degrees F, you also want to keep it above 60 degrees F, with an ideal range between 60 and 65 degrees F.
The second major issue with D47 is that it is known to be a nutrient hog, especially in mead musts. To counteract this, follow your fermentation closely, and at the first signs of sulfur odors add more nutrients. Splash racking and introducing copper are known methods to remove the sulfur odor, but again, it is always better to avoid the problem in the first place.
All in all, my friend created a good first traditional recipe, and it provided a great starting point for the two of us to discuss some important aspects of meadmaking. What do you think of the recipe? Anything I left out that should be discussed? We’d love to hear from our readers, so let us know in the comments section below.