A Simple Mead Recipe: Rack to secondary

Today’s the day. I waited until the yeast had fermented all the available sugar (here’s why), I prepared a bentonite slurry, and I set aside all morning so I’d have the time. Once I sanitized my equipment, added sulfite and the bentonite slurry to the 5-gallon carboy, I started my siphon.

Starting the siphon by sucking on the end of the siphon tube

It took me quite a while to get used to the idea of starting a siphon by sucking on the end of the siphon tube. People debated the topic in online forums, and discussed various gadgets and clever siphon-starting methods aimed at ever more antiseptic siphoning. Invariably some old timer would tell us that he’d been making wine, and starting his siphons by mouth, for decades and hadn’t had a problem. “Yeah, old timer,” I thought, “but in the meantime we’ve invented antibiotics, fluoridated our water, and learned the importance of washing our hands.” I think I’ve still got plenty of years ahead of me, but on this issue, I’ve become an old timer.

What changed my mind? Whatever I was afraid of getting into my mead (or wine or beer) would be adapted to conditions in my mouth: about 100 Fahrenheit (about 38 Celsius), non-alcoholic (most of the time), and pH neutral. Without warning, I would plunge these critters into an acidic, alcoholic liquid that was about 40F (22C) colder. Any that survived would be under severe and permanent stress. They wouldn’t be able to reproduce and spoil my mead. So I could relax and watch my mead meander into its new home.

Siphoning the mead from the primary fermenter, a 10-gallon Rubbermaid Brute container, into a 5-gallon glass carboy

The siphon went off without a hitch. Because I waited for the mead to ferment to dryness, I didn’t have CO2 coming out of solution and interrupting the siphon. Once I filled the 5-gallon carboy, I moved the end of the siphon hose into the 1-gallon jug (using a measuring cup to catch the still-flowing liquid while I transfered between the two). I came pretty close to filling both containers to the top. You never have the precise amount of mead (or wine or beer) to fill your containers, though, so it’s important to plan ahead.

A 5-gallon carboy filled to the top with mead, a 1-gallon jug that's not quite full, and two wine bottles filled with older mead that I'll use to top up

As you can see in the above photo, I was able to fill the 5-gallon carboy to the top. Not so the 1-gallon jug. The two wine bottles are filled with mead from older batches, and I’ll use them to top up the 1-gallon jug. Since I started with six gallons of liquid (one gallon of honey and five gallons of water), I knew that I’d need at most six gallons of capacity. I also knew that one container would not be completely full, so I needed to be ready for that. Since I make mead regularly, I had some bottles I could use to top up the 1-gallon jug. Another way to do it would be to have many different sized bottles handy, a 0.5-gallon jug, two wine bottles, and a beer bottle, for example. That would have left me with several full small containers. I’ve done it both ways, and either way works. You just don’t want to find yourself with too little capacity (like I would have if I only prepared the 5-gallon carboy) or no way to handle odd sizes (either with a collection of various sized containers or something to top up with).

You’ll still have a little bit left over. A cup or so. Usually just enough to fill a wine glass, and here again, proper planning is vital. I transfered the excess to a waiting wine glass. Raised it in salute to all those old timers I had silently ridiculed and … disposed of it 🙂

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