Clearing Cloudy Mead
When I started making mead at home, I didn’t concern myself much with a cloudy batch. It still tasted good and would usually clear in the bottle over time, so why bother?
My view on cloudy mead started to change when I had the chance to make 500+ gallons of mead with a professional winemaker in 2010. We used the same recipe, honey, yeast, nutrients, temperature, etc. that I had used many times back at home, but the end product was noticeably different. The only thing that changed, besides batch size, was a basic fining and filtration process.
The finished mead tasted delightful and was very attractive in the bottle and glass. This experience made me really start to devote more attention to the craft & science of professional winemaking.
Left to its own devices, mead will usually clear…eventually. This isn’t always practical for professional meadmakers. Waiting months and months for a mead to clear on its own ties up valuable resources and revenue. So how do we speed up the process? The answer is usually a combination of clarifying, fining, and filtration techniques and everyone seems to have their own special recipe. These techniques generally fall into 4 different groups.
Early prevention is most important when fresh fruit is being added to a mead. At primary fermentation, pectic enzyme or bentonite clay can be used to reduce pectic haze and protein haze respectively. I use pectic enzyme regularly in meads that I know will be high in pectin (containing pears, apples, plums, etc.). Personally, I don’t worry too much about suspended protein at this point because it can serve as an additional nitrogen source for yeast. So I tend to use bentonite later in the fermentation process if needed.
Transferring mead from one fermentation vessel to another, leaving behind the solids that fell to the bottom (i.e. racking) is sometimes enough to clear a mead. Racking should also be performed after clarifying and fining, especially if the mead will be filtered before bottling.
Clarifying & Fining
Mead usually stays cloudy due to suspended particles that resulted from chemical reactions during fermentation. These particles have either a positive or negative charge. Too many of one or the other, and it prevents the mead from clearing. To give it a helping hand, we can add a fining agent to bond with the surplus positive or negatively charged particles and fall out of suspension (precipitate).
When looking for advice on fining agents and clarifying schedules, you will likely find many different recommendations. For the sake of simplicity, I will provide a brief overview of some generally accepted practices.
When the mead has completed it’s fermentation, a dose of bentonite clay is typically added. Bentonite will help the proteins in the mead (including yeast) clump together and precipitate to the bottom. The mead is then racked off the sediment after a few days.
Some meadmakers will also use Sparkolloid after bentonite. Sparkolloid is a blend of polysaccharides in a diatomaceous earth carrier and has a strong positive charge. This strong positive charge complements the negative charge of bentonite. The bentonite first attracts and binds with positively charged particles. Then the Sparkolloid attracts any remaining negatively charged particles and helps them precipitate. The mead is then racked again after a week or more.
To take things even further, a polish fining agent can be used next. This could be something like isinglass or Kitosol 40 (kieselsol and chitosan). Personally, I prefer to avoid using some of these fining agents because customers might have sensitivities or allergies to them (fish, shelfish).
Once a mead is nice and clear, filtration can be used to help stabilize it for bottling and to add an extra luster. The difference can really be incredible when you compare glasses side-by-side.
Filtration is commonplace at most medium to large wineries but has been rather cost prohibitive for smaller producers. The equipment was always rather expensive and the filter media would absorb a larger portion of the finished product. Luckily, this is starting to change with recent advances in filtration technology. The prices and waste continue to decrease, making filtration a more affordable process for small, boutique meaderies.
Just last week I was able to help a local meadery run some mead through a lenticular filter from Scott Laboratories. I was rather impressed compared to the plate & frame filters that I have used in the past.
That turned into a longer article than I expected. Hope you enjoyed reading. Come back again soon for more articles and find us on Twitter @FindGeorgiaMead. Cheers!
I am not a health professional, nor do I pretend to be. Please consult your doctor before altering your alcohol consumption habits. Do not consume alcohol if you are under the age of 21. Do not drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly!