Alternative priming sugars: table, honey and corn sugar are evaluated for their aroma and taste contributions in bottle conditioned short meads. The meads are evaluated in a 8 % ABV Canadian golden wildflower traditional short mead.
For meads, I either bottle condition or stabilize and force carbonate using a soda stream for comps. I have noticed that bottle priming sugar affects the flavor and aroma in dry short meads. During the Great Canadian Short Mead Yeast Experiment, for some of the samples more than a few participants noted a sweetness that was not coming from honey.
I started off bottle conditioning meads using table sugar but eventually switched to dextrose (corn sugar) for a more neutral taste Also, when I used honey in the past I found it hard to dissolve and get the right proportions in the bottles. However, when using corn sugar I always wonder – should I be using honey? – it’s a mead after all!
Why would it matter? Well as mentioned the sugar used may impart detectable differences in flavors and aromas. When bottle conditioning bone dry meads, I find that the final gravity usually finishes 0.001-0.002 higher (say 0.998 depending on ABV), whereas the FG may go even lower in the primary (say 0.996-0.997). This means that some of the sugar stays around. In competitions too, if the mead finished out below 0.998 and I bottle conditioned with priming sugar, it under-carbonates and the judge will note sweetness from a source other than honey!
That is why when I was experimenting with traditional short meads, fermenting with D-47 at high temperatures, and had a traditional mead crap out at 0.996, I decided to give a priming sugar experiment a shot. The base mead is a 8% traditional short mead bottle conditioned to 2.0 volume. I didn’t have enough mead for a full-blown experiment, but wanted to see if I could blindly identify the differences. I bottle conditioned using four methods:
For the amounts of sugar I used the Homebrew Dad’s Priming Sugar Calculator.
The base recipe for this experimead is a variant of my Oaked Short Mead, where I instead ferment at a high temperature with D-47 to get lots of yeast character, consistent with the traditional mead, Valkyrie’s Choice a la Groennfell Meadery. The resulting yeast character was strong, but it turns out I prefer my meads with less yeast character.
Recipe: 8%, Traditional Mead, July 2017, 4.25 gallon
- ~3.75 US gallons/15 litres of spring water
- Target OG: 1.061 – 8%
- Target FG = 0.998
- 250ml Hogans Golden Wildflower Honey
- 1100ml Tobans Golden Wildflower Honey
- 1000ml Tobans White Wildflower Honey
- Two cubes of medium toast American oak
- Total honey: 7.45 lb
- 2 packets Lalvin D-47 yeast (10g)
- Recommended YAN by The MeadMakr BatchBuildr is 112.5 YAN
- 0.5g Go-ferm (4 YAN) – I used so little because I ran out use more.
- 6 g Fermaid-O (60 YAN)
- 1 g DAP (13 YAN)
- 4.5g Fermaid-K (25 YAN)
- Total: ~102 YAN, I undershot on this, but I also staggered.
- Made an activation starter using 2 packets (10 grams) Lalvin D-47 yeast the 0.5 grams Go-ferm, 5.5 grams Fermaid-O in 500ml Starter for 4 hours. (I would use four packets of yeast next time). I recommend using all Go-ferm, but I ran out for this batch.
- Added water to 6 gallon bucket (one gallon distilled and rest spring)
- Mixed in honey with wine whip.
- Must was bright yellow and smelled of wild flower and apple blossom.
- Shook glass carboy for 1.5 min to aerate (next time I would do two minutes of pure 02 at pitch and 24 hours)
- Fermented started at 64 f at two hours after pitch
- +12h – added 1.5g Fermaid-K, 74f
- +24h – Degassed added 1.5g Fermaid-K, 74f
- +48h – Gravity 1.04 smelled of fruity esters, muddled honey, clean. Added 1.5 g Fermaid-K. Degassed, 74f.
- +84h – Degassed, gravity reads 1.022, tasted clean and sweet, added 1g DAP, 74f.
- +5 days – still bubbling, airlock blew off when carboy was swirled.
- +14 days – added two blocks of American oak. High flocculation.
- +15 days – stirred up to get the yeast to clean up.
- +17 days – added two stage clarifier.
- +27 days – tasted a honey-bread yeasty flavor, lots of aldehyde honey like yeast character.
- +1 Month – 0.996. Transferred from 5 gallon to 1x3g and 1x1g glass carboys splash racking and flushed with CO2. Tasted of light phenolic – not burnt, no-clove, but a floral character. Hard to describe. Honey flavor is muddled.
- +1 Month+1 day – mostly clear.
- +1 Month+4 days – clear, bottled to 2 volume using various priming sugars.
I tasted the meads after three and a half months from pitch. I poured the four samples and mixed up the cups so I was blind to the type. There was a notable difference across the meads. They were all quite clean except for an intrusive phenolic that intensified the floral notes and muddled the honey character quite a bit. It was hard to describe, since it wasn’t an ester or a hotter alcohol taste. Instead it tasted like a honey like aldehyde. The taste was OK but not my favourite. I got the intended result, fermenting at a high temperature with D-47 to get lots of yeast character, a la Groennfell Meadery. It just turns out I prefer the taste of golden honey character, with less yeast character. Next time if I want extra mouthfeel, I will add tannin, acid, or leave residual sugar.
I took notes blind to the mead types, and then after writing down my impressions revealed to myself the priming method. Here were my tasting notes:
- Soda stream – Very dry. Good aroma, but not as strong as the one primed with honey. Remained at 0.996.
- Corn sugar – There was a sweetness here that was not from honey. It was clean, and neutral. It had the second highest acidity after the table sugar. Finished at 0.998.
- Table sugar – There was a sweetness here that was not from honey and was also quite acidic. The aldehyde notes were really amplified by the acidity. Finished at 0.997.
- Honey – By far this had the best in terms of aroma and flavor. It had a strong honey nose and the acidity was more rounded and complimented the mead. Finished at 0.998.
I was actually quite surprised by how much the priming sugar made a difference. I think the mead was a good one to try this on, because there was not much flavor to hide behind. Also, the fact that the mead finished at 0.996 meant that some of the priming sugar didn’t seem to completely ferment. I will probably make a larger amount next time and turn this into a full experimead. I now prime all my meads with honey. I place my bottles on a gram scale, and use a squeeze bottle to add my honey to the bottles. The only issue I have with this method is that if I accidently add too much honey, I have rinse out the bottle again with hot water, re-sanitise, and try again.
Further resources: Basic Brewing Radio™ did interviews for experiments looking at priming sugars in beers and ciders. After re-listening to them the results align quite closely.
- October 28, 2010 – Alternate Priming Sugars Home brewer Drew Filkins shares his technique of using alternative ingredients to put the bubbles in his brew.
- July 21, 2011 – Cider Priming Sugar Experiment Zot O’Connor shares his experiment priming cider with different priming sugars. Helping us to judge the results are members of WAHA and a special surprise guest.