Introduction to Mead - How to Make Mead
What is Mead?:
Mead is a wine whose fermentable ingredients come from honey instead of grapes. It has existed in society for thousands of years. When honey was harder to collect, it was a drink reserved for upper class citizens. Thanks to some really brave people with smoke cans and mesh suits; we can all get honey (and in extension, mead) a little easier. In terms of making mead, you need at least these three ingredients: Honey, Water, and yeast. Everything after that is icing on the cake, and helps give mead further versatility. Now let’s go over some steps to creating your own outstanding meads.
Getting Started: Equipment and Honey Selection
You may have everything you need already from previous brewing experience, but I’ll go over everything just in case you are just starting up.
- Carboy or bucket - To hold fermenting and aging meads.
- Airlock and bung - This allows CO2 produced by fermentation to escape while sealing the mead from the outside world.
- Hydrometer - These measure if your batch is still fermenting and let you calculate ABV.
- Auto-siphon and/or Siphon tubing - Allows the transfer of liquid without disturbing bulk of sediment.
- Bottles and Bottling equipment - Mead can be bottled in wine or beer bottles, you’ll need a capper and beer bottles (with new crown caps), or a corker and wine bottles (with new corks). *Note: Do not store carbonating mead in wine bottles. It will explode as wine bottles are not meant to contain the force of carbonation.
- Sanitizer - Using sanitizer greatly reduces the risk of infections and ruined batches. This is especially important as meads age for longer periods of time than beer.
That is a basic list of what you’ll need, but it covers all your bases and you can add more equipment later. Now it’s time to go over some honey basics. Honey is the main fermentable ingredient in mead, and believe it or not, there are a great many types of honey available. They cover all ranges of flavor profiles and costs. I could spend a very long time going over all the different types of honey, so I’ll just go over a few of the common ones that mead makers use.
- Clover - Basically this honest is what’s in all the grocery stores. When you think of how honey tastes, it’s probably clover honey you’re thinking of.
- Orange Blossom - One of the most commonly used in mead making. Orange Blossom Honey has aromatic and flavor notes of oranges.
- Wildflower - The Mutt of the honey world. Just a random mix of floral sources and the flavors will vary from provider to provider, season to season.
- Buckwheat - Not as common as the others, but I wanted to point out that it has a very strong flavor, almost like molasses, and typically is used in addition to other honeys and not as a primary fermentation source.
If honey comes primarily from a single type of plant, it is called a “varietal”. Each varietal honey has a very unique flavor that isn’t always reminiscent of the plant it came from. There are dozens upon dozens of varietal honeys readily available for you to try your hand at mead making with. Now that you have some basic information down, it’s time to make mead.
The Process of making your first meads:
Making your Mead Must: Must is the term used to describe the unfermented solution that you add yeast to in order to make mead. Let’s go over how to put together a mead using this recipe. I created it to cover many aspects of the mead making process. Basic Cyser: Units are for one gallon, scale up equally if making more than 1 gallon. 2.5 Pounds of Honey 1/2 Gallon of Apple Cider** Yeast Nutrient (generic yeast nutrient, fermaid O, and fermaid K are all fine) Camden Tablet (needed later) Potassium Sorbate (needed later) Red Star - Cotes Des Blanc Yeast
Some other things you’ll need that weren’t on the equipment list above:
- A pot big enough to hold at least a gallon (or more if you scale your recipe up).
- A whisk or large spoon. Whisk prefered***.
- If you haven’t gotten a siphon or siphon tubing yet; A funnel
** Pasteurized cider is OK, but avoid anything with sulfites in the ingredients.
- Sanitize all of your equipment. The Pot, the whisk or spoon, carboy/ bucket, bung, everything.
- In the pot, combine honey and cider and whisk together until the honey is dissolved. If the honey isn’t dissolving, add water to the pot and keep whisking and adding more water until it is (don’t go over your total volume though).
- Add the mix into your fermenter by using a siphon or pouring through a funnel. If you're brewing in a bucket, you don’t need the funnel or siphon, just pour.
- Add water to get to your final volume (1 gallon) if needed.
- Take a gravity reading.
- Add half a dose of yeast nutrient to the must.
- Open the Yeast Packet and add it in.
- Stir the yeast in with the whisk (if in bucket), or shake the carboy around.
- Apply the lid or bung and put the filled airlock on.
You’re done for the day! I’m going to use this intermission to go over a few more things that will get you off on the right foot, and go over why we did some of those things we did in the steps above. Yeast Nutrient - Remember those three ingredients? Honey water and yeast? They are all devoid of the things yeast need to grow and ferment healthily. Without out nutrient, your mead may stop fermenting early (stall), have very harsh alcoholic notes, or both. These can dampen a new mead makers spirits and you can avoid all these things by spending roughly $1 extra per batch. I can’t stress enough how important yeast nutrient is in mead making. The Whisking - Another thing yeast use to reproduce is oxygen. Heavy whisking helps aerate the must more than just an aggressive pour into your fermenter. Proper aeration and yeast nutrients are big steps to creating clean, amazing meads. It also will help cut down on aging time. Let’s move forward to the next steps as far as the recipe goes.
- The next day: you are likely seeing airlock activity at this point. Add in the second half of yeast nutrients. This time though, dissolve them in a bit of water to avoid extreme foam overs. Splitting nutrient doses over periods of time is called SNA or staggered nutrient additions. SNA is a proven method for having full and complete fermentations.
- After 3-4 weeks, take a gravity reading. At this point your fermentation has likely ended. Take a gravity reading. Due to the healthy environment you provided, and the fermentability of your ingredients, it should be between 1.000 and 1.005.
- Rack to a secondary if the gravity stays the same over the next week. Once in secondary, the long aging process begins. In this time the mead will continue to drop sediment and mellow out any harsh flavors.
- Over the months of aging, your airlock may dry out, so it’s important to check it occasionally and top it up as needed. Once your mead is clear enough to read through, you’re ready to bottle. Remember to sanitize your bottles and siphoning equipment. Sanitizing corks and caps is optional. If your caps are have an oxygen absorbing lining; Don’t get the caps wet. Once they get wet, they will begin to scrub the oxygen from the air and will be useless by the time you get them onto bottles.