I used to think mead making and in particular nutrient additions was simple. But, after running an unrelated experiment between two meads, I discovered nutrient additions in mead may be more important than I previously thought.
Honey is deficient in many nutrients required for healthy mead yeast. Nitrogen and other micronutrients are required for a quick and healthy mead fermentation. Nutrient staggering is a technique used to optimize yeast efficiency and health. Fermaid-K and DAP are common nutrients used in mead.
My mead was just not getting to the attenuation levels that others were able to achieve. I wondered why, Its simple right just add yeast, water, and honey together wait 9 months and drink. Little did I know there were strategies to making better mead faster.
Staggering Mead Nutrients
The idea behind staggering mead nutrients is optimization. If you add the nutrients all at once and call it a day, much of this nutrition is lost as it floats to the bottom alongside hibernating or dead yeast.
The key to nutrient staggering is to take the total amount that you will need to add to your mead and split it up over multiple days. This is typically 4 days or so. It should be done early, during the first week of fermentation.
The nutrients you will want to stagger with are Fermaid-K or DAP. There are other nutrients like Go-Ferm that are specifically formulated to help with yeast rehydration. This does not need to be staggered, and can be forgone altogether if you are using a liquid yeast.
Types of Mead Nutrients and Their Affects
I’ve talked about a few types of mead nutrients above, but some are actually just brands rather than actual nutrients. In reality there are a lot of different types of mead nutrients and they all provide different benefits.
My yeast nutrient recommendations:
- Fermaid-O: The O I’m assuming stands for organic. This is an organic source of nitrogen and some micronutrients. Its more expensive than inorganic sources of nitrogen, but produces a better product.
- Go-Ferm: This is great for use with dry yeast to start a healthy fermentation.
If you are interested in learning about more available brands, below I’ve made a simple list of the brand and what it adds and helps your mead accomplish.
|Nutrient Name||Nutrient Added||How it Helps|
|Diammonium Phosphate (DAP)||Adds Nitrogen||Helps yeast growth (DAP is not a brand)|
|Go-Ferm||Adds Micronutrients||Used to help rehydration|
|Fermax||Adds Micronutrients||Improves attenuation and speed|
|Yeast Energizer||Adds Nitrogen and some micronutrients||stimulates fermentation|
|FermFed||Adds micronutrients and nitrogen||Keeps yeast healthy|
|FermStart||Adds beneficial hydration nutrients||Used to rehydrate dry yeast|
|Fermaid K||nitrogen and key nutrients||general nutrient addition|
|Fermaid O||Organic Nitrogen|
PSA: No matter how many times you hear it, raisins are not a yeast nutrient substitute. Check out Man Made Meads experiment on YouTube.
There are obviously a lot of products on the market so it can be a bit daunting. It really comes down to 3 things:
- Rehydration nutrients.
Another difference is organic vs inorganic nitrogen sources. The trend is toward organic sources but inorganic is far cheaper.
There can be a lot of variability in the micronutrients, but digging in the weeds of that is not worth your time or effort. What you should do is check whether or not your mead making starter kit has a yeast nutrient that is not just nitrogen, it could be slowing your fermentation.
I know I had that issue when I bought my mead starter kit, all it had was a nitrogen nutrient, little did I realize there was a whole new world of nutrient education. Since there are so few ingredients and variables when it comes to making mead, yeast nutrients become incredibly important.
How to Add Nutrients to Mead
There are few methods of adding nutrients to mead depending on the need. For example, if you are adding rehydration nutrient its best to swirl the nutrient in warm water before adding.
Nitrogen and Micronutrients can be added in two ways:
- By mixing with some must and then pitching in the larger fermentation vessel.
- Adding the nutrient to the fermentation vessel dry.
The first way of adding the nutrients avoids off-gassing problems. Adding nutrient will result in a bit of a vigorous reaction by the yeast and could result in a mess in and around your fermenter.
Mead Nutrient Calculators
There are tons of mead calculators if you do a simple Google search. So it depends on your preference on the one you want to use. Some are more daunting and complicated than others.
But, if you looking for a simple calculator that helps with nutrient staggering the best I have found is from Mead Made Right.
It may not meet the needs of more advanced mead brewers but if you are looking for simple this is your best bet. When you learn more and understand all of the different variables when homebrewing your mead you can jump to more complicated calculators like the one at GotMead.
Effects of Excessive Mead Nutrients
When following directions on nutrient packages you shouldn’t run into much trouble, but there are some risks to adding too much nutrient. Most of them are not bad at all, but there is actually a legal limit that winemakers can add in the United States.
Excess nutrients in mead can lead to spoilage, harsh off flavors and excessive ethyl carbamate. Not all yeasts require the same amounts of nutrients and ale yeast typically needs more nitrogen than wine yeast.
DAP Legal Limit for Wine
The legal limit of DAP in the United States is 968 parts per million. This is for wine and not mead. Mead typically needs more nitrogen because there are such low amounts of nitrogen present in honey.
When entering your calculations into any mead nutrient calculator you will need to check to see whether the particular yeast you are using has a low, medium, or high nitrogen requirement. This will help you achieve the proper amount of nutrient for any particular yeast strain.
Unfortunately, most yeast companies will not publish the nitrogen requirement since for beer and wine it typically is not a problem. So instead you will have to judge what a particular strain needs on a case by case. Ale yeast will typically need more nitrogen than a wine yeast will.
Spoilage and Off Flavor
Adding too much yeast nutrient can result in two bad outcomes for your mead. Too much excess nitrogen can serve as food for nasty microbes that can spoil your mead. This might be an issue at the early stages, but may be less of an issue as the alcohol content grows.
Off flavors can also result from too much nutrient, particularly nitrogen. It can add a harsh flavor to your mead. Too much DAP can also result in excessive levels of ethyl carbamate. This is why many mead and wine makers are moving away from DAP and towards more organic forms of yeast nutrient.
Mead Nutrients Help with Stalled Fermentations
I really didn’t think much about mead nutrition and though a one and done approach was sufficient. The problem was that my mead never fully attenuated and I was beginning to wonder why.
After conducting an unrelated experiment of between beer and wine yeast in mead. I discovered the importance of yeast nutrients. See my below gravity table.
|Date||Mangrove Jacks Belgian Ale Yeast Gravity||Wine Yeast K1-V1116 Gravity||Notes:|
|Nov. 27th||1.067||1.045||Jump is from honey mixing better with yeast activity|
|Dec. 13th||1.036||1.033||fermentation looks to have stalled|
|Dec. 24th||1.036||1.033||Added a half tsp yeast nutrient.|
|Dec. 30th||1.036||1.035||Active yeast makes gravity jump|
|Jan. 10th||1.035||1.032||Did a vigorous degassing|
In my venture to see which yeast would finish first I discovered that both stopped at the same time. It confused me that neither had fully attenuated either. So I decided to add more nutrient and the fermentation seemed to restart.
This led me to diving deep into the nutrition of yeast. The above experiment also only utilized DAP, so none of the necessary micronutrients were present.
In my effort to speed up when my mead will be ready I discovered the much needed yeast nutrient regimen and therefore increased my efficiency as a result.
I will have to revisit this experiment and it is far from conclusive as I have learned that not all yeast is created equally, especially when it comes to nutrition.
Mead Without Nutrient Additions
It might surprise you to know that mead can actually be produced without any yeast nutrient at all. Amazing right? But, just realize you may not get the consistent or desired results.
Dark vs Light Colored Honey
If you are planning on not adding nutrients to your mead I would suggest using a darker colored honey. Dark honeys typically contain more nutrients than light honeys.
You can have two of they same type of honey that have wildly different quantities of nutrients. The light colored honey is typically harvested in the spring while the dark is harvested in the fall.
Low ABV Mead
If you are forgoing yeast nutrients then you will typically be fermenting a lower ABV mead. You can increase the ABV a little bit by overpitching your yeast but the end result will be a short mead. Which actually isn’t to bad and short meads are typically sweeter.
Styles of Mead That Don’t Need Nutrient
Mead doesn’t have to be just honey and water. There are tons of different styles that include: Fruits, grain, and spices. These types of meads won’t have as much of a nutrient requirement because the adjuncts have more nutrients present than honey alone does.
Examples of Meads where nutrient additions may not be as important.
- Braggot- a mead with malt added. Malt has plenty of nitrogen present.
- Cyser – A cider-mead mix. The fruit has more nutrients present than honey alone does.
- Melomel- A mead with any fruit besides pear and apples. This also has more nutrients present than honey alone.
- Metheglin- A spiced mead, this has a little bit of nutrients added but not much, more yeast nutrient may be needed, unless the spices are alongside fruits or malts.
Ancient Mead Recipe Nutrient Requirements
One question comes to mind when thinking about yeast nutrient. How did they do it in ancient times? They didn’t have specially formulated nutrient blends so how could they ever make mead?
Well there may be a few answers that you may not have though of. For example, the honey produced today is a lot cleaner and well filtered than it was back in the day. There was likely plenty of bee pollen that got into the mix and believe it or not bee pollen can act as a semi-nutrient.
It’s also likely the abv of their mead was a lot lower than it is today and quite possible that their mead did not taste as great as our mead today tastes.