Let’s Make Some Mead!
With the rise in popularity of mead, I have been jokingly saying; “It’s nature’s way of saving the bees”. Who knows why things come and go out of style, I can assure you mead making, and drinking are on the upswing. I won’t go into the history of mead, I’m not that knowledgeable about it. I was recently at Homebrew Con and sat in a seminar about mead by author and researcher Laura Angotti. She has a website devoted to mead in pre-Elizabeth I England. There are some cool recipes at Mysteryofmead.com. I was fortunate enough taste some of these recipes Laura had prepared for Homebrew Con.
One of the great things about mead is there were never any restrictions placed on it’s making like the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law). So, anything goes when it comes to mead making! The only downside is every time you add something to the basic Honey, Water, Yeast you change it’s name. I’ll cover some of the different names for the purists that might be reading, but if you come into the shop I will refer to them by ingredients and not their proper names. (Example; Ginger Mead, Blueberry Mead and so on).
Here are a few of the different names, of mead, based on ingredients:
- Melomel- Fruit additions
- Sparkling Mead- carbonated
- Braggot- Mead made with malted grain
- Pyment- Grape or grape juice added
- Cyser- Honey and apple cider as fermentables
- Metheglin- Adding herbs and spices
- Bochet- Caramelizing the honey before fermentation
There are more but these are the primary ones most Homebrewers will make.
Let’s look at my basic recipe. Well, before I do that let’s cover something; this is just my recipe. It’s not the only way to make mead, it’s just what has worked for me. So, if you want to say pasteurize your honey before you pitch your yeast, that’s your call. I have never seen a reason to do it so don’t. Again, mead is in such an infancy stage of modern brew making that there are 101 different ways to make it. Do what works for you. This recipe is for 5 gallons. Why 5 gallons? Because I found that it’s the same amount of work for the 5 gallons as a 1-gallon batch. Furthermore, my 1-gallon batches were not getting the time to age before I was drinking them. I’m finally getting to the point where I have some aging and some drinkable. If you want to make a smaller batch just divide everything by 5 to make a gallon and work up to your desired volume from there.
John’s 5 gallon plain Mead
Honey- 15lbs- I’ve found that this is the “sweet spot” for making mead. I don’t really care for dry mead (it tastes like white wine to me) and this will give enough sweetness to know your drinking a honey wine. Your final gravity should come out between 1.018 and 1.022. You can always back sweeten (add more honey to taste) after fermentation is complete if yours turns out too dry. What variety of honey is up to you. I’m originally from Florida so a lot of my meads are made with Orange Blossom.
Yeast- Another call you can make, any yeast will ferment honey. If you come into the shop and ask about mead yeast, I will give you Lalvin D-47 or 71B. They are clean fermenting yeast that will get you around 14% ABV. You will need 2 packets of whatever you’re using for 5 gallons.
Tannin- This will give you a counter point to the mead’s sweetness. I use black tea for mine. 5 bags of any black tea will do. You’re using the black tea for the tannins not the flavor of the tea. So, yes, it must be black tea. (Once you have a few plain meads under your belt you can experiment with one of the other meads I listed above).
The night before brew day I boil 5 gallons of water, cover, and let cool overnight. Day of brewing starts with placing your 15 pounds of honey in a sink of hot water (no, don’t dump it in there! Just place the containers in it). Bring your water from the night before to 110 degrees F. While that’s heating; take 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, add your nutrient and energizer (according to their instructions on package), 5 tea bags and let steep for 10 minutes and remove the tea bags. Pour about 2 gallons of your 110 degree water into a fermenting bucket or carboy (cleaned and sanitized. See here for instructions), add your tannin/nutrient soup, your 15 pounds of warm honey (warm honey is easier to pour. Rinse the containers out with your reserve 110-degree water), cover securely and shake the mess out of it. When you think you’ve shaken enough to mix the honey and water…….shake it some more. Once you’re sure the honey is thoroughly diluted in the water, top off with your reserve water to make 5 gallons and shake that to incorporate the honey (it will be easier in 2 steps as the honey has liquified tremendously). Let your must cool to about 70 degrees F and take a hydrometer reading, it should be around 1.122. You can now pitch your yeast, add a clean/sanitized airlock and place in a room at about 68 degrees. I leave my mead in primary for 2 months, I then take another hydrometer reading, rack it (move it) to a clean/sanitized carboy with airlock, let it set for another month and take another hydrometer reading. If this number is the same as the previous number, it’s ready to be bottled. If not wait another week and take a reading. The mead is ready to be bottled once you get two readings, the same, in a row. Rack it to a bottling bucket, degas, back sweeten if desired and then bottle. Mead will reach its optimal flavor profile if aged between 6 months and a year. To be honest, most of mine have died young. After a year and a half of brewing I have finally made enough that some of it is getting aged.
When yeast convert sugar to ethanol, they release carbon dioxide also. Most of the gas is released through the airlock, but there is enough in suspension to affect the mead’s flavor. Yours truly sent off a mead I had made to a national competition, opened a bottle a week before judging to find that it hadn’t degassed. I haven’t got my score sheet back, but I anticipate some corner time with a dunce hat is in my future. At any rate, you’re going to want to degas. I was using a vacuum sealer to degas my mead but after the flop of the competition mead I bought a degassing wand. Attach it to a drill and whip until the bubbles stop. “But John”, you say, “what about oxygen ruining your mead?”. You don’t have to worry about that because carbon dioxide is heavier that oxygen and will form a blanket that will keep oxygen from being introduced into the mead.
If you would like some recipes or see videos on making mead, there is a couple out of Tampa, Florida, Brian and Derica. They have a YouTube channel dedicated to mead. Check out their webpage and let them know I sent you.
Leave me a comment to let me know what you think. The rest of my blog entries can be reached here. I’d be interested in hearing about any additions you tried with your mead!
- John Thompson