How to make mead

by | Winemaking




Mead was a very popular drink throughout history and was used in religious gatherings.  Some pagan rituals use mead in their ceremonies.  Ethiopian meads are used in funeral rituals.

Some old traditions in Europe gave newlyweds a month’s supply of mead.  Some say this is where the word “honeymoon” comes from, but most linguists do not support the claim.  It does sound cool when you tell people this, however, be prepared for someone to call you on this claim.

Mead, sometimes called honey wine, is a fermented beverage made with honey.  The most basic mead is made with honey, yeast and water.  It really is that simple.

Mead comes in a wide variety of flavors and types.  It is varies as much as wine or beer.  Each style could be its own article.  It is a shame all meads are lumped together in the brewing style guides.  I omitted it from my brewing map for this reason.  It also doesn’t make sense for style guidelines for beer to cover mead.  It’s like putting all wine as a single category in the beer brewing guidelines.

meads

Here's my raspberry mead and vanilla mead fermenting away

Mead can be constructed with different flavors of honey using a wide variety of yeasts.  There are meads from all over the world with dramatically different tastes.  If you’ve had mead before, don’t get too hung up on the taste and assume all meads should share similar tastes.  It is like assuming all beer should taste like Budweiser, since it was the beer you tasted first.

I’ve had made mead with green tea, fruit, vanilla, grapes, and a wide selection of flavors.  One of the first meads I made was raspberry mead, but in hindsight I should have started with a simpler recipe.  I ran into problems with the fermentation, which might have been avoided.  I’ll cover the raspberry mead and other recipes in future articles.  For this article, I’ll cover one of the simplest meads possible.

Minimum Equipment needed

Large metal spoon
Ladle
Fermenter with airlock
Carboy with airlock (I recommend Better Bottles)
Sanitizer
Hydrometer (optional but recommended)

Setup

The most important step for making mead is the first one.  You must start by cleaning and sanitizing everything!  We are creating a food product and adding micro-organisms (yeast).  If we are not careful about cleaning, other unwanted micro-organisms might move in too.  The resulting mead would not be toxic, it would just taste that way.  There are no known pathogens that can live in alcohol, but we don’t want to ruin the mead.  Make sure everything is very clean.

The best sanitizer to use is a one-step sanitizer like Star San.  Star San is a blend of phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid.  It is a weak acid that with 2 minutes of contact will kill most micro-organisms.  It is odorless and tasteless.  It does not matter if you use the foam sanitizer or the non-foam sanitizer (Sani Clean), both are very effective.  Make sure everything is sanitized.

Basic Mead

15 lbs (5 qts) of honey
4.5 gallons of water
2 teaspoons of yeast nutrient
1 teaspoon of yeast energizer
2 packets of Lalvin 71b-1122 yeast

Pour the water into your fermenter.  Get as much of the honey as you can into the fermenter, but don’t stir it.  It should sink to the bottom of the water.  Once you pour all the honey you can into the fermenter, ladle some of the water back into the honey container.  Reseal the honey container, and shake the water around inside the container.  This will help you get the last bit of honey from the container.  Pour the last honey water into the fermenter.  Once the last of the honey is in the fermenter, mix the honey thoroughly.  This mixture is called the “must”.

Mix in the nutrient and energizer.  You can get these items from your local homebrew store.  Since honey is almost pure sugar, you need to add nutrients to help the yeast reproduce.

The other thing your yeast needs is oxygen.  Using your spoon, stir the must as much as you can.  You can also seal your fermenter and rock it back and forth.  I use a wort mixer which attaches to a drill.  You can find these at your local homebrew store.  Any of the above methods will work.  The important bit to take away is you need to mix oxygen into your must.

If you have a hydrometer, take a bit of the must and place it in a hydrometer jar.  It is important to take a gravity reading , because mead fermentations are much more subdued and can take much longer.

Activate the yeast by mixing it with warm water (not hot).  After a few minutes, pour the yeast into the fermenter and seal it.  Store the fermenter in a cool dark place.

The fermentation should start within 72 hours.  If you are a beer homebrewer, do not expect the same vigorous fermentation.

This can take a long time.  Just put the carboy in a cool dark place, and forget about it for a while.  You can always take two consecutive hydrometer readings to determine if the fermentation is complete.  If the readings from Monday are the same as the readings on Friday, your fermentation has likely stopped.

After a few weeks, the bubbles should stop.  Rack the mead into a carboy.  Make sure you fill the carboy to the neck with filtered water.  Place the airlock into the carboy and store for at least another month.  At this point the fermentation is complete, and we are just waiting for the yeast to settle.

Once the yeast has settled you are ready for bottling.  The mead should be clear.  Clean and sanitize your bottling bucket, corks, and 30 wine bottles.  Take a hydrometer reading at this point to determine your final gravity.  Siphon the mead into your bottling bucket, and then bottle your mead.

The mead at this point will still taste a bit “jet fuel-ish”.  This is quite common.  It may take another 6 months of aging before the mead has mellowed a bit.  After 6 months, open a bottle and see how it is.  You will find the mead will mellow with age.

Enjoy!

Mead can be served warm or cold.  There is no standard.  I prefer to chill lighter meads, but drink other darker meads (or meads based on red grapes) at red wine serving temperatures.  For this mead, I would chill it like a white wine.  Serve it in a wine glass and enjoy!

For more information about making mead, I would highly recommend The Complete Meadmaker by Ken Schramm.  I would also highly recommend the Got Mead website .  They have a wealth of information about making mead, including different recipes.  They also have many skilled mead makers.


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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!