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I have done a little home-brewing (with friends) and have made or helped make several meads over the years -- enough to prompt this question but not enough to provide sufficient data to answer it.

Some of our meads have kept well for several years. Others have started to go off after six months or a year (but were fine before that). The meads are bottled in capped (usually) 12oz brown bottles stored in a dark basement, and it doesn't seem to be about individual bottles. This seems to be a case of "some recipes keep longer than others". I'd like to know what properties contribute to this.

So far, the batch that has kept well for the longest (over 10 years now! I've been saving the last few bottles...) was very high-gravity for a mead; it's strong, sweet, and very smooth. But another moderately-high-gravity mead degraded after a year or so, and lower-gravity ones have sometimes lasted longer. So it seems like there must be other factors at play; it doesn't seem to be as simple as "stronger (or sweeter) meads keep longer".

Our production techniques have been about as consistent as home-brewing can be -- same equipment, same general process, same cellars, same fastidiousness about sanitation. Varieties of honey and yeast have varied, and of course recipes have too.

This is not a home-brewing question; I'm not asking specifically how to make long-lived mead. Rather, I'm asking what characteristics allow a mead to age longer without going off, which also helps me decide what to drink.

I know that commercial meads exist, by the way, but I have never encountered one.

  • This is not a home brewing question because it a about characteristics of the mead? – paparazzo Jul 14 '16 at 8:50
  • @Paparazzi in the same way that a question asking what makes IPAs so bitter, yes. – Monica Cellio Jul 14 '16 at 13:02
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    Hard to say, but you probably introduced some contamination into the skunking bottles somehow. Were you reusing bottles from something else? Did an entire run go bad or just certain bottles out of the batch? Another thought, were the bad bottles clear so they would transmit light? How are they stored (temp changes in the room)? Corked bottle, grolsch, bottle cap? I've been pretty loosey goosey with my mead so far and not experienced any skunking (yet) though most of mine have been like yours, high alcohol content and sweetness, which might be masking some underlying flavors. – Jason K Jul 15 '16 at 14:54
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    @JasonK thanks for the comment; I've edited in some clarifications. I also might have been using the word "skunking" incorrectly (changed now); I'm not talking about batches that went wrong from the start, but about different "decay times", so to speak. – Monica Cellio Jul 15 '16 at 17:18
  • @MonicaCellio Ah, I get you now. You are saying that with some batches you prefer the taste early on, but they seem to get less appealing as they age, while others do not? Are there dryer meads that you do like? Perhaps you just like the sweeter ones. Are they all still (non-carbonated)? Another thought is that you may be aerating some batches during bottling, or your bottle caps are not sealed properly, which can negatively affect the taste. But I think the sweeter meads are just covering up slight off-flavors that the dryer meads don't. Consistency takes lots of practice! – Jason K Jul 19 '16 at 19:48
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One of the biggest determinants in how well a mead or beer or wine will age is oxidation. The only time that oxygen is beneficial is when your must or wort (IDK the currect term for unfermented mead) has cooled and you are ready to pitch the yeast. Oxygen at this point will help the yeast to multiply. But when the liquid is hot prior to cooling, and after fermentation is complete, you should be careful to minimize the amount of oxygen you are adding to it. Always stir gently and avoid splashing when racking and bottling.

You use the word "skunking" in the title. True skunking (as opposed to staling or oxidation) is caused by a chemical reaction between hop extract and light. If you are adding hops to any meads, be sure to protect the bottles from light by storing them in a dark place, preferably in a box. Sunlight and florescent lights are particularly harmful.

  • This could well be the problem. I knew that extra oxygen in the carboy is a problem (i.e. use the right size, not one that's too big), and I knew to rack/bottle gently, but I haven't been careful about oxidation before it goes into the carboy and I'll bet some of my friends haven't been either. Also, thanks for the tip about florescent lights; I keep my mead in the basement because it's cool and usually dark, but haven't been minding the overhead lights when I need to go down there 'cause I thought only sunlight was a problem. – Monica Cellio Aug 12 '16 at 18:19
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Even though you think this is a issue with certain types of mead during aging, I can't help but think you are just dealing with contamination that is turning some batches foul. I've never read of any type of mead that WORSENS with proper aging. So either you just don't like dry mead (maybe try carbonating it?) or you have contamination ruining your mead independent of what type it is. Alas, it is hard to find commercial meads to see what you actually like. Chaucers is wretched. I've seen some Scandinavian meads (like Vikings Blod) but they are pricey ($30+ for a bottle) so I've only tried a few. Maybe there is a mead brewers gathering near where you live?

From The Meadery

Your Mead was great when bottled, but the taste has changed dramatically for the worse after only a few weeks? What you probably have is a vinegar infection. Smell the Mead and look for any hint of an aspirin or vinegar smell. If you catch it right away, you can often save a batch by treating it with sulfite tablets, but the odds are not very good. You can only stop further damage, not reverse what has already occurred. Worse, if a vinegar infection got into your Mead, it's undoubtedly living in your brewing system somewhere. Go after it with a vengeance. Sanitize everything post haste, maybe even throwing out all of your siphon hoses (acetobacteria loves to hide there). Make sure there is a good seal on your air-locks.

If you have done all of this, and your Mead still tastes terrible after six months, try again. Examine all of your sanitation procedures, especially bottle washing. Make sure that any herbs or raisins or whatever that you might have added were not a source of bacterial infection. Most foul tastes are the result either of sterilizer contamination or bacterial infection. If you used an exotic ingredient, such as papaya peel, maybe you should try a new recipe. Maybe aging will solve the problem, maybe not. At a meadmakers gathering back in 1986 there was a Mead that everyone agreed had been the meanest they had ever tasted just the year before, but which had improved dramatically after a year of aging.

Oh, and another possibility that might slowly degrade your taste, from the same site:

You don't want the Mead to sit on the sediment for too long, especially in a warm climate, because the spent yeast will begin to feed on the sediment (a process called autolysis), and this will give your Mead an unpleasant taste. If your Mead takes a long time to ferment, rack it every month or so if it keeps throwing sediment.

In this case you make be bottling too soon, or adding too much sediment when you do bottle.

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