GETTING THE “ALL CLEAR”: CLARIFYING MEAD
First and foremost great crafted mead does not have to be clear…we are quite certain mazers 1000s of years ago did not bother with it and did fine — but there is something about clear mead. How do you get it? There are no guarantees but overall there are a number of things a person can do if they really want clear mead. Here are our suggestions from easiest to most difficult:
Purchase filtered honey. We don’t recommend this method but ‘clearly’ if you start with a clear honey you will most likely end up with a clear mead. Unfortunately you will probably be giving up on taste and aroma which seems counter productive. However if clarity is your primary goal this is where you start.
Time is the most obvious factor. If you have the time and patience, all the particles and proteins will eventually fall the bottom. Gravity always wins!
Try a highly flocculant strain of yeast as a part of your yeast blend. Flocculant merely means the tendency for yeast and other particulates in the must to aggregate together and fall to the bottom. Some strains of yeast are highly flocculant (like most strains for cider or those for maltier ales) while others (such as hefeweizens or many wine strains) tend to stay in suspension much longer. When a highly flocculant yeast finishes with their job…they go to the bottom taking proteins, colloids, and other yeast cells with them leaving behind a clear mead. Check the website of the manufacturer for details about flocculation.
Boiling the must, similar to boiling your wort in brewing, usually brings a lot of proteins, wax, and other particulates (i.e. bees legs, pollens, and debris) to the top. Merely scoop them out as the must cools. The upside is you also kill all the wild yeast and bacteria. The downside to this method is that many feel (including us) that you are probably giving up something in terms of flavor and aroma with this method. Our mead maker started making mead in 1998…and has never had a batch of mead go bad due to not being boiled first. We are ‘no boilers’.
Include the addition of (reasonably) flavor-neutral fining agents with strong positive or negative charges such as Sparkloid, Bentonite, or Chitosan among other fining agents. Most are naturally occurring in the environment (fossilized algea, volcanic ash, powdered exoskeletons of crustaceans, etc.) and highly effective. Click here for an excellent review of these and many many other different types (check out Pectic Enzyme for an easy and different approach) of fining agents. These additives are denser than the must and, as they slowly sink, tend to attract particulates along the way. How you apply these to your mead is up to you…ask 10 different meadmakers how they use fining agents and you are libel to get 15 different answers. We’ve had a lot of success adding fining agents around 10 days before racking to secondary tanks or, at times, add them to the secondary tanks themselves…or in the case of one particularly stubborn batch — both.
Many wineries and meaderies use temperature to cause yeast to fall asleep and settle to the bottom. Often referred to as “cold crashing” this method is often found throughout the wine industry. Place your fermentor in the ‘fridge…it only takes a few days.
Obviously filtering is an option as well. The plus side of this is it will get the job done….at the possible risk of losing some flavor and aroma and costing you $$. It is perhaps the most labor intensive but also a great way to make your mead ‘sparkling’ clear.
In the end it is up to you…unless you have a lot of dead yeast cells floating around in your brew you are probably not going to notice a difference between the taste of a hazy mead and that of a clear mead but if presentation is important to you there are things you can do! Wassail!