Great tasting Mead
What is mead?
Mead is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man. It is made by fermenting Honey with water and sometimes adjuncts like fruits, spices, grains or herbs; though its main fermentable sugar is derived from the honey.
With alcohol content ranging from around 3.5% to in excess of 20% ABV, Mead can be sweet, dry, sparkling or still. There are a wide variety of mead recipes to suit anyone’s taste.
Mead is ancient.
There is archeological evidence of mead existing in China circa 7000 BC
The earliest known reference to mead in literature comes from the Hymn of the Rigveda, a Vedic text dated to around 1700BC.
The Ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle discusses mead in his treatise Meteorologica.
In Norse mythology he dwarfs Fjalar and Galar killed Kvasir and drained him of his blood. The two mixed his blood with honey, resulting in the Mead of Poetry, a mead which imbues the drinker with skaldship and wisdom, and the spread of which eventually resulted in the introduction of poetry to mankind.
There are many different types of mead
Here is an incomplete list of terminology used for describing various kinds of mead recipes.
Mead -Just plain ol’ mead is made using only Honey, Water, and yeast. Sometimes called “show Mead” or “Traditional Mead”.
Braggot – Made with malted grains.
Metheglin – Mead made with spices added such as cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.
Melomel: Mead made with fruit added. If apples are used, it is a cyser, a pyment if grapes or grape juice is added, Mulberries make the Mead into a morat.
Acerglyn –Mead made with maple syrup.
Bochet –refers to a mead that was made with the honey caramelized or burned before it is added to the water.
Hydromel – A low alcohol, very light, or watered down mead.
Sack Mead – Mead made with extra honey, it is typically very sweet and boasts a high alcohol content.
“Great Mead” is any style of mead that is aged many years.
“Short Mead” is any mead intended to be fermented quickly and consumed in as short a time as possible.
Honey is at the heart of any mead recipe. There are many different kinds of honey to choose from and in the United States, there are over 300 strains ranging in color from almost molasses to water clear with a tint of amber. It is best to obtain raw un-heated (un-pasteurized) honey for the optimal results.
Orange Blossom Honey. – This honey is apt to add a citrus flavor to the finished product. The flavor is such that this is a very good choice of Honey for making “traditional” mead as it would be a shame to cover the flavor up with spices and fruits.
Wildflower Honey – Locally obtained Wildflower honey has the added bonuses of boosting your immunity to local allergies while supporting local beekeepers. These types of honey tend to be dark in color and very aromatic. They stand up well to fruits and spices allowing the natural honey flavor to stand out in a melomel or metheglin.
Clover Honey. – Inexpensive clover is the dominant supermarket honey. It is a pale yellow color and has a plain honey taste. Used in a mead it imparts a light basic taste on the finished product. As such it makes a perfect “blank canvas” upon which to build flavors with your recipes.
Acacia Honey – This is a pale transparent amber color honey, lighter than most other honey. Bees produce this honey from the black locust flower in North America and Europe. Acacia honey boasts has a high fructose content and has been compared in taste to high fructose corn syrup.
It has a faint floral aroma and works well in a traditional mead, a melomel or a metheglin. In the final product, it will provide a sweet taste.
Alfalfa Honey. – Alfalfa blossoms bloom in the summer months producing a honey is light amber in color. Alfalfa honey is less sweet than most other honey and produces a floral, almost “grassy” flavor in the finished mead.
Other types of more expensive or hard to come by honey are:
- Blueberry Blossom
- Raspberry Blossom
- Blackberry Blossom
The water you use in your mead is an important factor in the quality and variability of your mead batch.
If your tap water is high in impurities, this will leave off flavors in your finished product. Bottled or spring water is recommended, but do not use distilled water which lacks sufficient minerals for the yeast.
There are hundreds of different strands of yeast available for making mead, but here is a brief selection of a few of the most popular and successful strands.
Lalvin D47is a white wine yeast and is a standard “go to” yeast for mead makers. This yeast tends to accentuate honey flavor and is a good choice for a medium to dry traditional mead. It prefers a nutrient-rich environment and requires a yeast nutrient. This yeast has best results at lower temperatures.
Alcohol Tolerance: 14%
Temperature: 59°-68° F
Lalvin 71B-1122 is a red wine yeast that is great for melomels. It is tolerant to a broader range of temperatures and It produces a smooth and aromatic mead that that will mature more quickly than many other yeasts.
Alcohol Tolerance: 14%
Lalvin EC-1118 is a dry champagne yeast with a high alcohol and sulfate tolerance. Its hearty in a broad range of temperatures and will inhibit wild yeasts. Its affects neutral flavor and aroma to the finished mead, allowing for the full profile of your recipe to shine through. This yeast can be used to restart stuck fermentation. (This yeast is very similar to Red Star Pasteur Blanc)
Alcohol Tolerance: 18%+
Red Star Cote Des Blanc is one of the most aromatic strains of white wine yeast. It is very good for making fruity melomels.
Alcohol Tolerance: 14%
Temperature: 55-86 °F
Adjuncts can be added either to the Primary or the secondary fermentation. There are pros and cons to each, and you may choose to do both. Adding the adjuncts to the primary fermentation has the advantage of adding nutrients to help the yeast get started fermenting faster. This will aslo help moderate the PH level of the must. The disadvantage is that some of the complex aromas and flavors will be “blown out the cap” as they are driven off by CO2.
Adding the fruit to the secondary fermentation is a bit more challenging because it will restart fermentation and take a long time to combine the fruit flavor with the mead.
A final option is to add concentrated fruit juice just prior to bottling. Beware, this may restart fermentation and cause a bottle bomb.
Fruit: Here are some guidelines on adding fruit to your melomels. The amounts listed will give you a medium fruit character from each fruit. Adjust accordingly for a milder or stronger fruit character. The list below is for a 5 gallon batch of finished mead:
- Cysers-Apples-Add 4 gallons of apple juice or cider in the primary. For stronger apple flavors, add 3 cans of apple juice concentrate (16 oz) in the secondary.
- Bilbemel (Blueberry Melomel)-Add 7 to 10 lbs of blueberries in the secondary 1.5-2 lbs/gal. When stronger blueberry flavor is wanted, add around 2.2 lbs/gal of blueberries in secondary.
- Cherry Melomels-For tart cherries, add 7-8 lbs of cherries to secondary (1.4-1.6 lbs/gal). When stronger flavors are wanted, add about 1.8 lbs/gal of cherries to secondary. For Sweet Cherries-add 8-9 lbs of sweet cherries to secondary (1.4-1.8 lbs/gal) and around 2 lbs/gal for a stronger sweet cherry flavor.
- Citrus Melomels-Adjust down for lemons and limes-For a medium citrus mead, use 6-8 lbs in the secondary (1.2-1.6 lbs/gal) and around 1.8 lbs/gal for a stronger citrus mead character.
- Currant Meads-Add 5-7 lbs of fruit to the secondary (1.2-1.6 lbs/gal) and for stronger flavor, add 1.8 lbs/gal or more.
- Melon Meads-Add 6-8 lbs of pulp in the secondary (1.2-1.6 lbs/gal) and for stronger melon character, add 1.8 lbs/gal or more to secondary fermenter.
- Peach Melomels-Add 8-12 lbs of peaches to the secondary (1.2-2.4 lbs/gal) and for stronger peach character, add around 2.5 lbs/gal or more to secondary.
- Plum Melomel-Add 8-9 lbs to secondary (1.4-1.8 lbs/gal) and for stronger plum flavor, add 2 lbs/gal or more to secondary.
- Rudamel (Raspberry Melomel)-Add 5-7 lbs of raspberries in secondary (1-1.6 lbs/gal) and for a very strong raspberry flavor, add 1.8 lbs/gal or more raspberries to secondary.
- Strawberry Melomel-Add 8-10 lbs of strawberries to secondary (1.2-2 lbs/gal) and for strong flavor, add 2.2 lbs/gal or more to secondary.As a guideline, if you want a strong sweet melomel, add up to 4 lbs/gal of berries or stone fruits to primary fermenter. If you prefer a dry mead, reduce the levels to 1 to 1.5 lbs/gal.
Spices and Herbs.
Some of the additives you can use include ginger, vanilla, citrus peels, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, lemongrass, peppers or the seeds of peppers, nutmeg, oregano, basil, hops, chamomile, lemongrass, chocolate or cacao nibs, coffee, rose petals, a combination such as mulling spices, or nuts of various kinds.
Herbs and spices can be added to the must by adding a teaspoon size amount of dried herbs to a teabag or coffee filter tied with string and tossed into the primary fermenter. A sanitized marble can be added to the bag to help it sink in the must. Leave the string hanging over the side of the fermenter to be able to remove the bag. Leave the herbs steeping for one to two days before removing them.
Another method is to use extracts such as vanilla extract to flavor your mead. Be careful not to overdo it! Extracts are very potent. You can always add more, but you can never take it back out.
Yeast Nutrient. Honey does not naturally have the nitrates and minerals that Yeast need to stay healthy.
Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) – this is a good source of nitrogen for yeast. The added nitrogen will help the yeast will remain active through the ferment. Be careful to research the correct dosage.
Fermax (Or Fermaid) – Yeast nutrient are very similar blends which feed a healthy yeast population. In addition to DAP and Nitrates, these contain several vitamins and minerals which will help your mead.
Acid Blend can be added after fermentation completes to add to or change the flavor of your recipe.
Go-Ferm is an option that gives your yeast a little extra edge during rehydration by supplying the cells with both amino nitrogen and the vitamins and minerals that yeast cells need to “harden” themselves against the stresses they face during fermentation.
Carboy, bucket, or growler. Your fermenter is an important part of the mead making process. Some of the more conventional primary fermenter options include a food grade 5 gallon bucket, a 5 gallon glass “carboy”, a 1 gallon wine jug or growler. Whatever is used as a primary fermenter, make sure it is free of scratches and is cleaned and sanitized before use.
Stopper. – Sometimes called a bung, this is simply a food-grade rubber “cork” that is tapered to seal the top of the fermenter and is drilled so that you can insert an airlock into it. They come in a variety of sizes. Most 5Gallon Carboys will accept a #7 stopper while a smaller 1 gallon growler will probably take a #6.
A big long spoon. If you need to stir in ingredients into your wort, you will want a long stainless steel or plastic spoon which can reach the bottom of the brew pot.
An Autosiphon or racking cane with a hose is used to transfer the liquid from the primary to the secondary fermenter. These can be purchased at brew supply stores or online.
Airlock. – An airlock is necessary to allow for CO2 gasses produced during fermentation to be allowed to escape the fermenter, while preventing oxygen in. There are two general types of airlocks that attach to a stopper. The 3 piece unit and the S type. They both need to be filled half-way with sanitized water to work.
If you do not have an airlock handy, then a sanitized balloon can be stretched over the mouth of the fermenter and a small hole perforated with a pin to allow excess CO2 to escape.
Another alternative is to simply fasten a tube in the stopper and place the other end into a jar of sanitized water.
A Hydrometer is a glass device used for measuring the specific gravity of a liquid in relation to water. For our purposes, we are using the hydrometer to measure the density of potentially fermentable sugars dissolved in our water while making Mead. A hydrometer consists of a sealed glass ampule weighted at the bottom with a graduated scale in the stem.
If you were to place the hydrometer into 60 degree distilled water, it should indicate a specific gravity of 1.00.
The temperature is important when taking a hydrometer reading. A hydrometer is most accurate when reading a liquid whose temperature is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is significantly more or less than 60, consult the conversion chart on the hydrometers instruction sheet.
When you first mix your must and take the specific gravity reading it should be between 1.06 and 1.12 depending on how much honey your recipe includes. This number is called the Original Gravity (OG).
Using a clean and sanitized wine thief, remove enough of your must to fill the clear plastic tube the hydrometer came in so that the device will float. Take a reading where the waterline meets the lines on the scale. If there are a lot of CO2 bubbles suspended in the must, it may be necessary to degas the sample to take a reading as the bubbles will try to “float” the hydrometer and skew the reading. To degas, stir or pour the must back and forth to make it go “flat”.
Your hydrometer readings will show you if your must is fermenting properly. In general, a Mead
should finish about 100 points below OG. This assumes a Mead that starts somewhere above
1.100, which many do. You should expect to see the specific gravity of your must gradually falling as the weeks go by.
Lets Go! How to make your own Mead!
Sanitation is perhaps the most vital part of the brewing process. Any contamination from wild yeast or bacteria can infect and bloom in your must and turn it into a bitter tasting, stinking swamp. You must clean and sanitize everything that will come into contact with your must. First clean everything to remove any dirt or debris then sanitize it to kill any bacteria. Here are a few of the more commonly used products:
Bleach. Regular household chlorine bleach works well as a very inexpensive way to sanitize your brewing equipment. About a cap-full per gallon of water is plenty. However, this solution must be thoroughly rinsed in clean water afterward. Rinse at least 3 times to remove all traces of bleach and strong chlorine smell. Failure to rinse chlorine thoroughly can corrode stainless steel equipment and leave a white residue.
Star-san is a foaming, no-rinse sanitizer Made from food-grade phosphoric acid. It sanitizes by creating an acidic environment that inhibits bacteria growth. It is odorless and flavorless so it will not taint your mead. Dilute 1 ounce of star-san into 5 gallons of clean water and allow 1-2 minutes of contact time for it to completely sanitize. You can keep and reuse your sanitizer solution for up to a month in a sealed container.
One-Step is an oxygen-based powdered cleaner that also acts as a sanitizer through the release of hydrogen peroxide. It is helpful for cleaning dirty equipment.
PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) is a powdered alkali cleaner used for pre-cleaning your equipment prior to sanitizing. It works best when hot and requires rinsing before sanitation. It is great for running through valves and tubes or other difficult to clean areas.
Making your yeast starter
A starter is not an absolute necessary step. You can simply re-hydrate your yeast as per the instructions on the back of the packet. However, if you want to ensure a fast and healthy fermentation, you should create a starter first.
A good yeast starter will help ensure a healthy start to the fermentation process. Combine about 200 mls (one cup) of water and a table spoon or two of honey to provide enough sugars so the yeast can feed and start cell reproduction.
Boil or no boil?
There is a great deal of controversy about whether one should boil honey to “remove bacteria” from it. Essentially boiling the honey will pasteurize it and change it’s aroma and flavor. If you choose to boil the honey, mix it with water and bring it to a boil for 15 minutes, then cool it.
Many people choose not to boil the honey and create successful mead. The wild yeast and bacteria in the honey will not be able to put up a fight against the amount of yeast being intentionally pitched, and thus are not a concern. Exceptional cleaning and sanitation is essential to success of the no boil option.
Fermentation never begins:
too high an initial gravity, repitch with a higher alcohol tolerant yeast
Prolonged slow fermentation:
too little nutrient, add additional at 1 gram per gallon and agitate vigorously
Fermentation slows dramatically after 2 to 5 days:
Must might have stratified, agitate or stir vigorously.
Aeration and a small dose of nutrients might help.
repitch with a higher alcohol tolerant yeast
The cheat sheet.
1. Sanitize everything. The surface, the equipment, the containers and your hands must be clean and sanitized.
2. Yeast. Prepare your yeast by either making a starter or re-hydrating the dry yeast.
3. Combine the water and honey in your primary fermenter. Fill the fermenter 1/3 full of water, add honey and shake until they are mixed.
4. Nutrients. Add your yeast Nutrient.
5. Adjuncts. Add your adjuncts such as herbs, spices, extracts, or fruit puree (if the recipe calls for it at this time)
6. Take a Hydrometer reading to record your OG.
7. Aerate your must well. Plug the fermenter and shake it thoroughly for 5 minutes to aerate your must.
8. Pitch. Pitch your yeast into the must (pour the yeast into the honey water)
9. Attach airlock. Attach your airlock and stopper to the fermenter and fill it ½ way with water.