Now that Spring is here, it is time to start thinking about another of our favorite beverages: Mead. For those of you that have never had the pleasure of drinking mead; it is a wonderfully mellow, smooth and sometimes sweet wine made from honey. It is often considered to be the oldest of the fermented beverages. Mead was extremely popular during the Middle Ages. But thanks to the growth of beer and wine making, Mead is having a resurgence.
One of the things that I love about mead is it’s versatility. Mead can be a simple traditional honey wine or it can be mixed with just about anything such as fruit, spices, and/or herbs. When other items are added to the mead, it will then be referred to by a different name.
- Traditional – A straight mead using just honey, yeast and water
- Melomel – A mead fermented and flavored with fruit
- Cyser – Made with the addition of apples, cider or juice
- Pyment – Made with grapes or grape Juice
- Sack – An extra strong sweet mead
- Hippocras – Made with the addition of grapes and spices
- Metheglin – Made with herbs and spices
- Braggot – Mead made with Malted Barley
- Morat – Mead using Mulberries as the fruit
- Capsicumel – Mead using hot peppers
- Acerglyn – Mead using Maple Syrup
In order to begin making mead, you will need to have some equipment and ingredients. The good news is that it is the same basic equipment that is used to make beer and wine (Stock Pot, Carboy, Thermometer, Hydrometer, Air Lock, Auto Siphon, Sanitizer). You will also need yeast, yeast nutrient, yeast energizer and pectic enzyme if adding fruit. In regard to the ingredients, one of the most important aspects is to ensure that you are using a high quality honey.
For this article we are going to do a very basic traditional mead recipe.
- 15 lbs of a high quality honey
- 4 gallons of water or enough to bring the level to 5 gallons
- 1 tsp of yeast energizer
- 2 tsp of yeast nutrient
- 2 packages of Lalvin D-47 yeast
The Making of the Must
The first thing that you want to do is to make sure that all of your equipment is clean and sanitized. Now that you have all of the equipment and ingredients ready, it is time to make your must. Must is the term that is used for the honey and water solution prior to it being fermented and becoming mead. There are a number of different ways in which people prefer to mix their mead, and no single method is the best as there are positives and negatives to each: Boil, No Boil, and Pasteurize. For our mead today, we are going to use the Pasteurize method.
Take one gallon of water and heat it up in your stock pot until it reaches boiling temperature. During this time, you can also add your yeast nutrient and energizer to the water. While you are waiting for the water is coming to a boil, immerse the container of honey in warm water in the sink to help the honey liquify.
After you have reached boiling, take the stock pot off of the heat to reduce scorching and begin pouring in your honey. Let the honey fall to the bottom of the pot without stirring. Now, while wearing protective gloves, you can ladle some hot water into the honey container to dissolve the honey that is stuck to the sides of the container. Once you have removed as much honey as you can, begin to stir the honey in the pot until it is completely blended.
Once your must is completely mixed, you want to take a temperature reading of the must. If the temperature reads above 150°F, then you can let the must sit for 10 minute prior to moving on the cooling phase. If is it between 130-150°F, then you will want to let it sit for 20-25 minutes before cooling.
Cooling the Must
Now that the must is sitting and resting, make sure that your primary fermenter is properly sanitized. At this time you can go ahead and add 2 1/2 to 3 gallons of clean cold water to the fermenter. As soon as the must has completed its resting period, carefully pour the must into the fermenter and gently stir. You will want to make sure that you now have 5 gallons of must. If you are not quite at 5 gallons, add additional water to bring it up to this level.
At this point we want to prepare to pitch our yeast. The first step is to make sure that our temperature has cooled down to about 65-75°, which is the optimum fermentation temperature for the yeast. The second step is to aerate the must. Oxygen is very important to yeast as it helps the cells to reproduce. To aerate the must, take a spoon and vigorously stir for about five minutes.
Now that this has been completed, you can go ahead and pitch your yeast. We recommend that you just sprinkle the yeast on the top of the must and let it settle into the liquid. There is no stirring necessary at this point. After the yeast has been pitched, you can put the lid or stopper as well as the airlock on your fermenter.
Pro Tip: When making a Mead using fruit, adding some pectic enzyme at the beginning of fermentation and again during secondary fermentation, will help to ensure that the mead clarifies properly
Fermentation and Bottling
The fermenter should be kept in a cool area of about 65-75°F. You should begin to see signs of fermentation in the airlock within the first 24 hours. After about 2-weeks the fermentation will begin to slow down. This is a good time to transfer your mead into another carboy for additional aging. The secondary fermenter should be 5 gallons so that there is not an excessive amount of oxygen sitting on top of the mead.
Now you can leave the mead in the secondary fermenter until it clears, and the fermentation is completed. This usually takes about 2-weeks, but there is no rush as the mead is going to need to continue aging and conditioning. Once the fermentation has completed, you can go ahead and bottle. Now comes the hard part. The mead will have to sit and age for approximately 6-12 months before it is at its peak. Although this is a long time to wait, in the end you find that it was absolutely worth it.
Now that you have tackled a traditional style mead, the sky’s the limit in regard to other styles that you can create. Come visit us at The Brew Hut for more information on making Mead.