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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mead and appropriate fermentation temperatures.

 © 2012 Douglas Remington

I thought I would post a quick rundown of the proper temperature protocol for the fermentation of Mead since I have gotten several emails about this lately. Note this is an advanced/professional method of Mead fermentation and will require the resources for temperature control.

Mead should be fermented and made exactly like white wine (not beer!) varieties such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc. The correct temperature depends on the honey type and the yeast used. This of course takes much experience (citrus blossom honeys can benefit from a bit more heat and the use of a Sauvignon Blanc yeast for example), but in general we are looking at: 10-18 Celsius or 50-62 Fahrenheit. I shoot for around 12-14c to start my fermentation off. These numbers are lower than most commercial Meaderies (but similar for white grape wine producers), but in my opinion it is simply because they either do not know better or they are trying to get their product out faster: time = money, warmer = faster.

The reason white wine and Mead should be fermented relatively cool is to make it more focused. Warmer temperatures such as 20-25c makes a Mead more fruity, confusing to the palate, and damages the varietal character of the honey. Honey is a product from flowers so we try to retain as much of that floral character as possible. Now when I talk about these temperatures I am talking about the initial fermentation, not the final fermentation temperature. It is most important to keep the fermentation at these cool temperatures for the first 72 hours. That is when the majority of off-flavors are developed if fermented warm. After 72 hours I raise my temp to 15c where it remains there until fermentation is nearly complete and then raise up to 18-20c until fermentation is finished. The 18-20c step permits the yeast to reabsorb any off flavors and finalizes attenuation. From there the Mead is racked off and cold conditioned for a short time at -2c, and then racked off one more time and kept at 10c until filtering and bottling.

On the home scale this can be accomplished by getting a large chest freezer and a dual temperature controller (such as a Ranco that sells) and some of heating element or ferm-wrap. What I do at home is I have a thermo-well in my fermenter(s), and I have a ferm-wrap attached to the fermenter. When the fermenter warms over the target temperature the controller kicks on the freezer until the desired temperature is reached. If it needs to warm up, the controller kicks on the heating element. You can control your temp within 1 - 2 degrees in this manner and ramp it up to whatever you wish. On the professional scale we do the same thing but with a glycol jacketed fermenter. A glycol chiller pumps cold glycol around the fermenter to control the temperature.

I recommend the following yeast strains for cool Mead fermentations: Lalvin R2, DV10, EC-1118, RHST, Cross Evolution, W15, BA11, Maurivin Elegance, Vitilevure 58W3, QA23, Quartz, CHP.