Hail and well-met, brewers! When I spoke to Chad Wiltz from Garagiste Meadery in Tampa, Florida, he mentioned that one of the biggest priorities for making the transition between homebrewing and professional brewing is ensuring that those making the transition know how to filtrate correctly. Many people haven’t heard of mead, was his implication, and sediment can be offputting.
And I admit– when I started brewing several years ago, I was very discouraged by how cloudy my first batch of mead turned out to be very cloudy and opaque. Especially since I made so much of it! Look:
That’s a lot of mead for it to look like mud. My fiancee and I were horrified. We wanted to do anything we could to clear that nastiness out. So, we went to our local brewery store to ask the Archwizards of Beer how to fix it.
The first suggestion (after reassuring us that there was nothing wrong with our brew!) was to use potassium sorbate. Potassium sorbate is usually added to wine to stop fermentation and prevent spoiling. Mead doesn’t need this preservative because honey has a very hard time going bad. But a side effect of this is that it helps those very valuable, but definitely caca, bits of fruit and yeast sink to the bottom faster, making it easier to rerack and making it crystal clear. It isn’t poisonous, so it won’t harm your mead in any fashion.
You can also use bentonite. It’s basically a powder you pour into your carboy that bonds with the particles, forms a clay, and sinks to the bottom. However, there’s a steep learning curve to using benonite, and its biggest complaint is that a lot of people screw it up and wind up with a big lump of useless clay at the bottom of their carboy.
The Downside:My fiance and I bought some k-sorbate that day, but we never wound up using it. Our brewer told us that it could occasionally leave a strange taste if you didn’t do it just right, and since this was our first batch, we didn’t want to screw it up. When k-sorbate breaks up, it turns into ethyl sorbate, which also isn’t toxic, but it can give your mead a pineapple or even celery taste. This won’t happen right away, but it definitely will put an expiration date on your wine. Also, it isn’t poisonous to your alcohol, but it can be dangerous to work with! K-sorbate can spontaneously ignite when it comes into contact with papers and cloth, so if you spill any on your clothes or use a paper towel to clean it up, be sure to rinse them immediately and thoroughly.
Much like k-sorbate, this one works by stopping fermentation, which will send everything to the bottom faster. Makes sense, right? No yeast fartin’ and fuckin’ around in your carboy, no CO2 causing everything to bubble and float.
The Downside: Cold will work faster than just waiting, but it’s going to take up space. You’ll need a fridge big enough to hold your carboy. For those of us who live in apartments, that can be hard to come by. Also there is a chance of spontaneous refermentation once you take it out of the cold. You’ll want to give this some time before bottling to make sure it doesn’t explode on you. Speaking from personal experience, here.
Of course, industrial and professional brewers actually use filtration systems, but there ARE filtration systems available for homebrewers, too. A quick Google search will even show you that they aren’t that expensive– around $50. Full disclosure: I have personally never used one for my mead.
The Downside:The biggest complaint I’ve found for these small filtration systems is that the remove color and aroma from the final product. Your best bet is to try it with small amounts first.
If nothing else, there’s always time. In all honesty, this is the route me and my fiance usually use, because we are seldom in a rush to get mead out, and most of our recipes only get better with age. Keep it in the carboy or bucket for up to a year later, reracking it every couple of months, and by the time you’re ready to bottle, it will be nearly completely clear.
The Downside:It takes time. And over time, your mead might change, too. Sometimes for the best, sometimes, not so great. Also, there’s the simple fact that you just can’t drink it right away. Which sucks. But hey, hunger is the best sauce.