When Should I rack mead to the secondary?
If you are unfamiliar with the term "rack" it means to siphon the mead out of one container and into a new container -leaving behind all the unwanted sediment that has accumulated.
There are a lot of factors that go into determining when to actually rack your mead. This includes the type of honey, the recipe used, the type of yeast and even the temperature of the room you are fermenting the mead.
But.... let me give you some easy to follow rules of thumb.
Generally about four weeks is a good time to rack just about any mead. The purpose is to get the liquid of the mead off of the sediment that has accumulated on the bottom of the jug. That sediment can cause off flavors.
(This picture shows a small amount of sediment in the jug. The mead is still very cloudy and a lot more sediment will happen. This ferment is at about two weeks. That sediment will get much thicker in another two weeks.)
If your mead develops a thick sediment of a half inch or more in less than a month go right ahead and feel confident to rack it immediately. That will be quite good. Remember: the goal of racking is to get the mead off the sediment!
When Should I add Fruit to my Mead?
i have two answers to this question.
The first answer is for absolute beginners to mead making:
Add the fruit to the mead when you do your first racking. This means the first time you siphon the mead into a new container at about the four week mark. Add your fruit. The reason for this is that your mead now has built up an alcohol content which will make it much more resistant to any wild yeasts or off flavors coming off the fruit.
It's a safer batch of mead and a good technique for beginners. But there is a trade-off. Because the fruit spends less time in the mead it will impart a lesser flavor.
The second answer is for more experienced mead makers. If you have made a few batches of mead you know what to do and you know how important sanitation is to mead making. You no-doubt are very diligent when it comes to not just washing your equipment and your fruit but you also sanitize thing with an actual food grade sanitizer like One-step. So you can go ahead and add fruit to your mead when you first make it. You mix up the water, yeast and honey. And go right ahead and add the fruit.
(A side note: One-Step Cleanser is a very inexpensive cleaner that you use to sanitize all your equipment. You mix it with water. It is available on amazon here: One-Step)
There are two benefits to doing it this way. First you get pretty much everything done at one time. No fussing with fruits later. And secondly you get a stronger fruit flavor contribution to your mead because the fruit spends longer in the jug and at an earlier stage in the ferment.
How often and should I rack my mead?
The answer to this question can vary a lot depending on the batch of mead. But the quick answer is to rack the mead whenever it needs it! What I mean is that as long as your mead is still fermenting and still forming a sediment on the bottom of the jug it is good to go ahead and rack it. I have made batches of mead that needed just one racking. And I have had batches of mead that took six rackings (one every month for six months straight).
When Should I bottle my Mead?
You can bottle mead any time you want. But there is a risk involved in bottling too early. If you bottle too early and there is still a ferment going on then you run the risk of enormous pressure building up in the bottle and exploding the cork right off. Or worse, this pressure can even explode the bottle itself. This is called creating bottle bombs.
I have a tutorial with a video that shows you the process of bottling mead right here: How to Bottle Mead
So the big thing you need to know is whether or not the ferment is complete. If it is then you can bottle.
The quick answer is to bottle your mead when the ferment is complete! I know that is a bit vague! The real question is when do you know your ferment is done?
That's easy. There are three indicators of a complete ferment:
1. Did it ferment vigorously for a period of time? Did the airlock bubble very vigorously? That's a good sign.
2. Did it clear up? This is also referred to as clarification.
If you are unsure as to what it means that mead clears up here are two pictures that show it quite clearly. When you first make mead it will be cloudy and milky like the batch on the left. And when it is completing it's ferment it will clear up and get that beautiful wine-like look to it like the batch on the right. This picture also shows the importance of racking your mead. Racking it will help it to clear up faster.
3. After those two other conditions were met we look for one more thing: Has the airlock stopped bubbling? Or is it at least less than one bubble every minute?
If all three of these conditions are met then it is time to bottle.