Making Mead: Getting Started

July 28th, 2010

In a lot of the writing about mead including among brewers and enthusiasts, a lot of great word imagery is used: Honey wine, old Norse gods and Beowulf drinking mugs of mead, mythology such as being part of the creation of the term “honeymoon.” This is all great stuff and helps explain some of the attraction of learning how to make mead at home and becoming a mead enthusiast.

Mead is a hearty drink, usually containing a comparatively high alcohol content compared to most wines and beers and due to the honey as a key ingredient it should have a nice bouquet to go with it. It is always interesting to remember that a basic mead is made of only three key ingredients: Honey, yeast, and water.

It can be easy and a lot of fun to make up some 1 gallon batches of mead and experiment with different recipes and styles of mead making. There are several one gallon mead recipes on this site and that is one of the favorite batch sizes due to the lower time investment and ability to try numerous different flavors and types of honey.

Or you can just go ahead and start with larger 3 or 5 gallon batch sizes which have the potential to reward you with much more mead to enjoy if you hit on the perfect recipe. Either way, once getting started in making mead odds are good that it will become a hobby that will grow as soon as you sample that first really good batch that you like and think to yourself how great it is that you made it and that you want more of it.

Mead Fermentation and Yeast

July 13th, 2010

A very important part of learning how to make mead is to know what yeast to select to create a good vigorous fermentation in your honey water must.

Mead often has somewhat high starting gravity and a higher alcohol content than wines for example unless making a stronger wine. The most common yeasts used in mead fermentation are the stronger wine yeasts with higher alcohol tolerances. Common yeasts used in the recipes here are Lalvin D-47, Lalvin EC-1118, and Cotes de Blanc (Redstar), but make your own analysis based on the type of mead being made.

In most of the recipes listed here, a yeast nutrient and energizer is used to help get the yeast the starting base it needs for a strong fermentation. In addition to that, or in place of it, many will also recommend a yeast “starter” which is a small batch of the yeast that is activated prior to putting it into the must. The idea is to get the best fermentation and yeast growth possible.

Yeast are the engine that converts the sweet honey water mixture into the delicious elixir that is honey wine mead. The yeast will grow, and as they grow consume the sugar in the must to fuel the growth. A byproduct of this growth process is alcohol (this is fermentation). Also given off is C02 which is what makes the airlock bubble in a fermenting batch of mead. This is also why there must be an airlock or otherwise open release valve for the gas to escape or your fermentation container will explode.

Once the yeast have either converted all the sugar to alcohol (and resulting in a dryer mead) or reached their alcohol tolerance, then they die and sink to the bottom of your mead to be cleared by racking.

Knowing the starting gravity of your must and the alcohol tolerance of the yeast is important when trying to determine the final alcohol content and the final sweetness or dryness of the finished mead. For example, if the gravity is too high and/or the yeast’s alcohol tolerance is too low then a mead that may have been planned to be a dry mead will be a sweeter mead. Or the same thing can happen in reverse and a low starting gravity and/or a high alcohol tolerant yeast will change a planned sweet mead into a dry mead.

Mead Supplies: Basic Equipment for Home Mead Making

July 3rd, 2010

When you are ready to learn how to make mead and want to take the step to real life action, there are some basic items that will get you started. This list doesn’t include the key ingredients of honey and yeast, but deals with the hardware and gear that will be useful to the process.

Stockpot and Thermometer

If you will be boiling or heating the honey-water must then you need a good sturdy stainless steel stockpot that is large enough to hold the batch sizes you will be producing. You will also need a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Hydrometer
A hydrometer measures the amount of sugar dissolved in a solution. The main measurement looked at here is specific gravity. You will want to take a reading before you start fermentation to make sure it is at the right level, and to compare to the final gravity number as well.

Plastic Fermentation Vessel
If you will be starting the primary fermentation in another container other than the glass carboy or one gallon container, then you will need that as well. Usually this takes the form of a plastic bucket of 5 or more gallons.

Glass Carboy, Airlocks and Rubber stoppers
Typically available in 1, 3, or 5 gallon sizes, the carboy can be used as a primary fermentation vessel or as a secondary container or both. This item is a mainstay of mead making supplies and is a must have item. A rubber stopper with a spot for an airlock will be necessary to close off your mead during fermentation, but the airlock will still allow pressure to escape while allowing you to monitor the progress of your fermentation.

Racking Cane and Siphon Hose
The racking cane and siphon hose will be used when you are ready to transfer your mead from one container to another, usually during “racking.” Racking is the transfer of the mead from one container to the other with the goal of clarification of the mead. Yeast residue will sink to the bottom of the mead, and when racked, the very bottom dregs will be left in the old container so that your mead will become more clear with each transfer.

Sanitizers
A good sanitizer for your mead making equipment is a necessity for making your own mead. Thoroughly sanitizing your equipment is a key part of the process to make a good quality mead.

This is a list of some of the basic items that you need to get started making mead at home. There are many other items both large and small that can enhance the mead making experience and the end product, but for a basic overview this will get you started.

Mead Recipe: Blueberry Melomel (Mead)

July 3rd, 2010

A nice recipe used for making a 1 gallon batch of blueberry melomel (mead).

Ingredients:

3 pounds raspberry Honey
1 pound frozen blueberries
1 Teaspoon yeast energizer
1 Teaspoon yeast nutrient
1/2 teaspoon tannin
1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
5g Lalvin D-47
1 can blueberries (used in secondary)

Steps:
Mix all ingredients except frozen blueberries and yeast in 1 gallon glass jug and shake to dissolve and aerate the must. For this one, a plastic bucket container was used for the primary fermentation, and the dissolved must was poured onto the thawed blueberries that were in the bucket.
Re-hydrate and pitch the yeast.
No boil method used. Used regular tap water, and shook jug to mix and aerate the must.

At the first racking after primary fermentation had ended, blueberries from the can were added to top off the jug until almost full. After the second racking no more blueberries were added and all blueberry sediment was left in the jug that was being siphoned from.

Measurements:
Original Gravity – 1.11
Final Gravity – 1.03

Mead Recipe: Cherry Melomel (Mead)

July 3rd, 2010

A nice recipe used for making a 1 gallon batch of cherry melomel (mead).

Ingredients:

3 pounds starthistle Honey
32 ounces black cherry juice (from natural foods store)
32 ounces tart cherry juice (from natural foods store)
1/2 teaspoon tannin
1 Teaspoon yeast energizer
1 Teaspoon yeast nutrient
1/2 teaspoon pectic enzyme
5g Lalvin EC-1118
2 cans of tart pie cherries (no pits), note: 2nd can in secondary fermentation

Steps:
Mix all ingredients except yeast in 1 gallon glass jug and shake to dissolve and aerate the must.
Re-hydrate and pitch the yeast.
No boil method used. Used regular tap water, and shook jug to mix and aerate the must.

3 days later added most of a can of tart cherries to the jug. Fermentation was still going strong.
At the first racking after primary fermentation had ended, the juice and cherries from the 2nd can of tart cherries was added. After the next racking no additional cherries were added, and all cherries were left in the jug that was being transferred from.

Measurements:
Original Gravity – 1.17
Final Gravity – 1.03

Make Mead: Boil the Honey or Not?

July 3rd, 2010

As a mead maker one question that will inevitably come up and be discussed and debated is whether you should boil the honey you use in making your mead or whether not to boil it, or even if it should be heated or not.

Those in the boil camp recommend starting off your must (the pre-fermentation mix of honey, water, and any other spices, fruit, etc,) by bringing your honey and water mix to a boil and then skimming any residues that come to the top out of the must. The pros of this approach are said to be a clearer end product with less treatment, while a major con is that this can destroy the honey aroma which is a key part of enjoying a mead.

Some favor a more moderate heating approach, only heating the must, usually to about 150 degrees (F) and maintaining it for 5-10 minutes, followed by a quick cooling process. Those in favor of this approach argue that this preserves more of the honey aroma.

The other approach is not to boil at all. The proponents of this approach will state that proper sterilization of the equipment and must allow the must not to be boiled or heated and thus maintain maximum honey aroma in the finished mead. Any possible clarification issues can be dealt with prior to the bottling stage. It is worth noting that this approach also doesn’t require you to handle boiling liquids in ranges from 1 to 5 gallons in the usual batch sizes.

All three of these methods have been used successfully by many to make good meads. The mead maker can experiment on his own to determine which approach works best for their meads. This can be a worthwhile part of the mead making journey to experiment with and use as a learning experience.

Mead Recipe: Blackberry Honey Sack Mead

July 3rd, 2010

A nice recipe used for making a 1 gallon batch of blackberry sack mead.

Ingredients:

3 pounds Blackberry Honey
1 Teaspoon yeast energizer
1 Teaspoon yeast nutrient
5g Cotes de Blanc (Redstar)
1 cup Orange Juice
1/4 tsp tannin

Steps:
Mix Honey, water, fertilizer, nutrient, and tannin in 1 gallon glass jug.
Re-hydrate yeast with water and orange juice mix for starter and pitch the yeast
No boil method used. Used regular tap water, and shook jug to mix and aerate the must.

Measurements:
Original Gravity – 1.13
Final Gravity – 1.00

Mead Recipe: Orange Blossom Sack Mead

July 3rd, 2010

A nice recipe used for a 1 gallon batch of mead.

Ingredients:

3 pounds Orange Blossom Honey
1 Teaspoon yeast energizer
1 Teaspoon yeast nutrient
5g Cotes de Blanc (Redstar)

Steps:
Mix Honey, water, fertilizer, and nutrient in 1 gallon glass jug.
Re-hydrate and pitch the yeast
No boil method used. Used regular tap water, and shook jug to mix and aerate the must.

Measurements:
Original Gravity – 1.13
Final Gravity – 1.01

This mead cleared nicely with one racking as you can see in the picture below.

How to Make Honey Mead at Home

How Much Mead Can I Make?

June 30th, 2010

A question that is sometimes asked by home mead makers is how much mead can I legally make for my own personal use?

A federal government site with information available to review is TTB.gov.

The rules are subject to review and change at any time, and state and local regulations would also need to be consulted for your location. The notes below are not intended to be legal advice, or to substitute for your own research, but it appears from a review of TTB.gov (at this time) that an individual can make for their personal consumption only (no reselling or commercial use) 100 gallons for a residence with one adult and 200 gallons for a residence with 2 adults.

As mentioned above, please do your own research on this if there are any concerns about it to make sure there are no issues with federal, state, or local ordinances and laws.

How to Calculate Alcohol Content in Your Mead

June 30th, 2010

To calculate the alcohol content of your mead you need to have two numbers – the original gravity and the final gravity, both referring to the specific gravity that can be measured with a hydrometer. Your original gravity should be taken after the must is prepared, but before pitching the yeast. The final gravity reading will be taken after all fermentation is complete and your mead is finished and ready to enjoy.

The specific gravity numbers will be different from the original to the final and will have changed as the yeast consumed (fermented) the sugar in the must into alcohol.

Formula to use:

Subtract the Final Gravity from the Original Gravity number. Take this number and divide by .74. That total is the approximate alcohol content of the mead in percent.