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I think that campden tablets lend an odor to my mead that requires my letting the wine breathe for a while. I get headaches from this too.

Assuming I'm right about this, would pasteurization of the must a viable option? Can I use less than the recommended amount of campden tablets and be safe?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

Honey is aseptic. The water content is too low for microorganisms to develop, so there is no need to pasteurize or use campden. Campden is used in winemaking to eliminate the wild yeasts which exist on grape skins, this helps ensure a more consistent product by eliminating the variation introduced by wild yeasts. None of this is necessary with mead and in fact will be detrimental by either driving off volatile aromatics (heat) or by introducing potential off-flavors (sulfites).

The more pedantic will argue that honey can never be perfectly sterile (hence why you aren't supposed to feed honey to infants, for example) and so there's always some tiny, theoretical chance of something nasty being in there. In practice the risk is so minuscule as to be negligible. The alcohol resulting from fermentation should kill off any stray spores that might have been in the original honey.

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I have been able to verify this multiple times now. I don't use campden tablets for mead anymore. I do heat the must before hand, which appears to remove the cloudy appearance I've had in the past. – Blanthor May 1 '15 at 17:40
The high osmotic potential of honey does prevent bacterial or fungal growth, this much is true; however, it does not kill microorganisms and once the honey has been dissolved into water to make mead many of the organisms which were trapped can begin to multiply. However, in my experience as long as it's good-quality honey you rarely have any wild yeasts which could out-reproduce the one you pitch. – apraetor Jun 18 '15 at 22:50

The general recommendation from award winning meadmakers is to use neither heat nor campden.

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I have been working from a modified wine recipe. Do I just find a hearty yeast and hope for the best? – Blanthor Nov 21 '10 at 20:22
How do you sterilize the equipment and the must? – Blanthor Feb 4 '11 at 22:38
The must does not need to be sterilized. The equipment should be sterilized w/ no rinse cleaner like star san – Adam Kalnas Sep 23 '12 at 20:12
You're saying "sterilized" however I think you're meaning sanitized. Those words may be similar but their meanings are drastically different. Sterilization is not possible for most home brewers, or necessary. Sterilization can generally only be achieved with the use of an autoclave and certainly not with a product such as Star San. Sanitation is what your achieving (destruction of 99% of viables). – David PGB Sep 24 '12 at 5:39

Yes, you can make mead without campden tablets. I only use them for stabilizing the mead at the end. 1 campden tablet per gallon to ensure fermentation does not kick back up. I have never added them to the beginning.

Some people will pasteurize/boil their meads, claiming that pasteurization will kill all impurities. That is an old school mentality, as pasturing and boiling strips the honey of many of it's flavors and aromas.

If you keg your meads or consume them quickly, then you don't need to worry about stabilization. Although, I personally will add some stabilizer in at the end, you can never be too careful.

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I pasteurize (bring the must to 165 for about 15 minutes). I haven't had a problem.

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@ Pulshead "I pasteurize (bring the must to 165 for about 15 minutes). I haven't had a problem." Most award winning mead makers will tell you this is not only unecessary but anything more than warming your honey will take away from the end result flavors. – user6265 Jan 10 '14 at 15:39

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