Mead Yeast: What is the Best Yeast for Mead?

by Karl | Updated: December 22, 2020

All mead makers and homebrewers know that choosing the right yeast for your homebrew is the best way to get the tastiest finished product possible.

Why is Yeast Important?

Choosing the right mead yeast is critical and will make a lot of difference in your mead.

It is one of the only three ingredients that make up a mead. Though, if you choose to use unfiltered honey, it contains wild yeasts of its own.

Moreover, choosing the right ingredients is essential so you do not waste time making a lousy gallon batch.

How Do I Choose the Best Mead Yeasts?

The term mead encompasses a lot of different kinds of drinks. This can include a lower ABV hydromel one [R] to a big, full-bodied sack mead, which has the highest ABV and require the most honey to produce.

There are also a lot of other meads in between these two opposites.

Factors You Should Pay Attention to When Choosing the Right Mead Yeast

There are several common considerations you need to pay attention to when choosing the right mead yeast.

Make sure the mead yeast you chose is tolerant to alcohol, with some even requiring tolerance to a sizable alcohol content of 14%.

Ensure that the attenuation, or the percentage that measures the conversion of sugars into alcohol and CO2 during fermentation, is going to be right for the finish you want.

This means that if, for example, you want a dry mead, then a low attenuating yeast will not work for you.

So here is a rundown of the two basic things you need to consider.

Alcohol Tolerance

The advantage of mead making is you get to choose how much alcohol you want in your finished mead. This means you can customize it to your alcohol tolerance.

Your choice of yeast strain will control what your potential alcohol content may be. Each strain will have a possible alcohol range or ABV that corresponds to it.

For example, the DV-10 is a champagne yeast that is pretty hardy and produces a high alcohol tolerance.

The yeast needs to be capable or tolerant enough to reach the alcohol content of the finished mead you are after.

If not, the yeast will drop out before finishing fermentation, leaving you with an overly sweet mead.

Remember that yeast are living organisms [R]. They will not give you exact results 100% of the time, as they can under or overshoot once in a while.

So, use the stated yeast tolerance as more of a guide, and measure with your hydrometer  or refractometer to determine your actual ABV.

Ideal Fermentation Temperature Range

Regardless of the yeast strain you choose, all yeasts will have a preferred temperature range. This range will give you the preferred flavor profile and optimum fermentation, as well as more predictable results.

For example, the Lalvin K1 V1116  works better at lower temperatures of around 16°C (61°F), where floral esters are highlighted.

This particular yeast is well-suited to enhancing floral and fruity qualities in fruit wines and fruit meads. It is also a good fermenter with high alcohol tolerance.

On the other hand, if you are a beginner or need a yeast that can tolerate a wider temperature range, the Lalvin EC 1118 may be the better yeast selection.

It can thrive in cool or hot conditions, making it particularly good for dry meads as it can ferment nearly all the sugars available to it.

Similarly, the Lalvin 71b or Fleishmann’s Active Dry Bread Yeast also has wide temperature ranges that are generally forgiving of various temperature environments.

Thus, ensuring that you can ferment in your chosen yeast’s desired temperature range will significantly improve your finished mead.

Check that your fermentation space or area and supplies meet the requirements of your yeast strains.

Otherwise, you may have to spend longer aging your mead so you can mellow the off-flavors that were developed during fermentation.

Nutrient Requirements

As living organisms, yeast requires nutrients to survive and have healthy fermentation. They mainly need sugar and require other nutrients, such as a significant amount of nitrogen, to thrive.

Honey, while containing a lot of sugar, does not have a lot of minerals that yeasts need. Moreover, the amount of sugar required by an ale yeast, for example, is less than a wine yeast.

As a mead maker, you can choose to get a Yeast Nutrient or Yeast Energizer [R].

Yeast Nutrient

Yeast Nutrient is made up of a combination of diammonium phosphate [R](DAP) and food-grade urea [R]. To use this, dose at 1 tsp per gallon of must. 

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Yeast Energizer

Yeast Energizer is similar to Yeast Nutrient. However, it also concludes magnesium sulfate, yeast hulls, and vitamin B complex in addition to DAP. Dose it at 1/2 tsp per gallon of must.

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Flavor Profile

Depending on the yeast strains you choose, it will impart its characteristics in your meads. This will all depend on your preference and the finished product you want.

For example, some yeasts are more neutral and will impart minimal flavors. Like the 71b, others will add more esters, which is usually a result of higher temperature fermentation.

On the other hand, Belgian ale yeasts give funkier flavors, including distinct spicy or fruity notes.

White Labs has a Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast that is a liquid strain which only leaves a small amount of residual sweetness.

This makes the wine yeast great for making fruit mead, such as a blueberry mead, or just adding a subtle fruitiness or a honey character to your product.

The Lalvin D-47 is a popular one among many a beer or mead maker. It accentuates the varietal character in wine and leaves a mouthfeel that is great for boosting a mead’s body.

In sum, the excellent mead’s choice will also depend on the characteristics you want to highlight and bring out in your mead.

Some may wish to add more sweetness, while some may prefer to bring out the other ingredients’ varietal character. It is purely up to you.

Autolysis

Autolysis is the process when yeast cells break down after fermentation. Depending on the yeast type, this can lead to off-flavors or a pleasing complexity.

This is only a problem if you do not intend to rack your mead stock regularly.

The general rule is that you have approximately three weeks after sediment forms on the bottom of your fermenter to rack without autolysis.

It is best to choose a yeast with minimal or advantageous autolysis byproducts for some who are the type to forget.

One way to stop your mead from fermenting or restarting its fermentation process is by adding potassium sorbate.

Flocculation

Flocculation is the process where yeast falls out of suspension after fermentation. Some do this quickly, while others take the time or require specific techniques to fine the mead.

This can be sped up with forced filtration or using fining agents, but these can potentially strip flavor from your finished mead.

Final Words

To a certain extent, any brewers or winemakers’ yeast is capable of turning honey into mead. However, there are ideal for mead yeasts that you should consider when mead making.

Yeasts’ choice is what separates so-so from truly great meads, even if you used the same mead recipe for both of them.

We hope this article has helped you figure out the best type so you can pitch the yeast and make the best mead you can!

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