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I've been making mead for a while and there's something I can't quite resolve. Some batches are said to have a strange, solvent-like or "turpentiney" after-taste. Most people don't seem to notice it or care and I've only ever noticed anything once or twice (I myself have noticed a slightly odd after-taste a few times but I wouldn't have called it "turpentiney", it was very faint), but a couple people seem sensitive to it and notice it more often.

I use different honeys, from pasteurized Billy Bee to unpasteurized wildflower honey I buy at farmer's markets. For yeast, I use champagne yeast. I almost never use the same recipe twice, yet the 2 or 3 people that are particularly sensitive claim that they can detect this taste in almost every batch I make, and that it varies from batch to batch.

Is this common in mead? What might be causing it? Is there something that can be done to mitigate it or prevent it? It's hard for me to know for sure how bad it is since I don't seem very sensitive to it.

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Not sure how well this applies to mead, but what are your fermentation temps/pitch rates looking like? I know my beers all used to get a bit of that solvent-y quality, but once I started getting better temps and making starters, things turned out better. –  fire.eagle Jan 14 '12 at 17:54
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have you read the closet of sir kenelm digby knight opened? gutenberg.org/ebooks/16441 it's got about 60-70 ancient mead recipes. one thing i've noticed is that all of them advise boiling the honey very well, which i've seen discouraged in newer recipes (i suspect without reason). i've only made a little bit of mead, but the recipe i use is based on my synthesis of what's in that book and so far they taste good. –  magnetar Jun 27 '12 at 15:41
    
@magnetar: I'll have to check it out. I'm starting to think that flavour might come from too-warm brewing, but I'm not sure. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 28 '12 at 20:24

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It most certainly is a function of your fermentation profile. Reviewing your temperatures and the amount of yeast you pitch makes a difference. Mead is also a fairly poor nutrient substrate for yeast.

The very best mead makers preach about staggered nutrient additions while also degassing the CO2 from the must during the early part of fermentation. Yeast strain selection also plays a very big part in the outcome.

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Ok, I admit I have not measured the temperature when I pitch (and as for amount, it's one packet), but it's usually a little warm to the touch, I'd estimate it at a little warmer than body temperature. The last batch I brewed was a cherry mead (this one: homebrew.stackexchange.com/questions/5039/…) which fermented very vigorously and quickly, I thought because the cherry juice added nutrients that had been lacking in other batches. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 15 '12 at 15:38
    
As for degassing the CO2 at the beginning of fermentation, I don't think I've heard of this before. The jar I ferment in has a pretty simple setup: A 5L jar with the lid off, and the top covered by a few layers of paper towel held on with an elastic band. I would think that would let most of the gas out quite easily, I suppose I could stir it up a bit ever day... –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 15 '12 at 15:40

Those off flavors are almost certainly fusel alcohols. They tend to come out more with show meads because there aren't any additional flavorings or ingredients to mask the off flavors.

I would suggest controlling your fermentation temps and make sure you have adequate nutrition available for the yeast. Other than that, the best thing to do is age your mead properly for extended period of time (>1 year).

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I'm planning to get an insulated cooler and some freezer-packs for the next batch (in a week or two, hopefully) because you're probably right - it's probably too warm inside. What would you recommend as a good nutrient for mead? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 7 '12 at 13:21
    
I would suggest going with equal parts DAP ("yeast nutrient") and "yeast energizer" (yeast hulls, phosphorous, DAP). Ken Schramm's book (The Compleat Meadmaker) is a great resource for recipes and info. BTW, I used a Cool Brewing bag for my last batch and it works almost too well for temp control. At first temps were so low I had to reduce the amount of ice. Good luck! –  bk0 Aug 7 '12 at 14:14
    
The answer here: homebrew.stackexchange.com/questions/7152/… suggests using boiled yeast as a nutrient for yeast (they're cannibals! yikes!) and using "diammonium phosphate" as a nitrogen nutrient - Is this the same as "DAP"? –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Aug 7 '12 at 14:22
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DAP == diammonium phosphate. I would just use commercial yeast energizer, it's too much hassle trying to make it and you will use quite a bit if you make mead regularly. –  bk0 Aug 8 '12 at 13:45

Most likely, depending on your fermentation, you might have weak yeast cultures or poor nutrient which would develop much more esters, which are probably the taste you're describing. Having a fermentation that is too warm or too cold can also contribute to this. here's a good mead book

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Most of mine have had a solventy or phenolic twang when they're young. Somewhere around a year, that finally ages out, and they taste much more pleasant after that.

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