How to Make Mead
Mead goes by a couple of different names, such as "Mead", "Honey Wine", "Ambrosia" or even "Nectar of the gods". Mead is commonly referred to as one of the oldest fermented beverages, with lore going back to the Vikings. There is evidence that can put Mead Making back as far as 15,000 BC. Mead is still misunderstood, even with it's long history. Homebrewers and Winemakers have helped to bring back the interest in Mead. Homebrewers, known for experimenting in a multitude of beer styles and ingredients, brought this creativity into the world of Mead Making.
To get started in Mead Making, some basic equipment is needed. If you are already a Homebrewer or a Winemaker, you should have most of the equipment already. Adventures in Homebrewing has a couple of Beginner Mead Kits that will have everything you need to get started. Our best selling Mead Making kit is the Mead Making Equipment Kit with Glass Secondary. This is a two-stage fermentation equipment kit designed to work with 5 gallon mead recipes. This kit is compatible with all AIH mead recipes.
This Mead Making Kit Includes:
- 7.9 gallon plastic fermenter w/ drilled lid and stopper
- 5 gallon glass carboy secondary fermenter
- Universal stopper
- Two 3-piece airlocks
- Plastic Bucket Opener
- Triple scale hydrometer
- 3/8" standard auto-siphon
- Auto-siphon Clip (3/8")
- 6 feet of 3/8" siphon hose
- Spring loaded bottle filler
- Double-lever corker
- Plastic Spoon (28 inch)
- 30 wine corks
- Complete Mead Making book
Honey is the main ingredient in mead making. It is important to get your honey from a reputable source, like Adventures in Homebrewing. All the honey that Adventures in Homebrewing sells is well suited for making a mead. Have you ever seen honey that has crystallized? Many assume that when the honey has crystallized, that is has spoiled or "gone bad". This could not be further from the truth. The crystallization process is natural and spontaneous. Pure, raw and unheated honey has a natural tendency to crystallize over time with no effect to the honey other than color and texture. The honey you get from Adventures in Homebrewing, will probably come crystallized. What's more, the crystallization of honey actually preserves the flavor and quality characteristics of your honey. Some honey users even prefer it in this state as it is easier to spread on bread or toast. The crystallization of honey is actually an attribute of pure and natural honey. Why? Honey is a highly concentrated sugar solution. Think about this the next time you're in the supermarket and see those shelves of perfect liquid honey.
Adventures in Homebrewing offers Honey for Homebrewing all of which are suitable for mead making.
Mead Making Instructions - How to Make Mead
(general instructions for a 5 gallon mead recipe)
- Sanitize your equipment. Before you begin your mead making process, you will start out making sure all of your equipment is clean and sanitized. Anything that touches the must (unfermented honey and water mixture) should be sanitized, this will of course include the brew pot. If you are a homebrewer, you may depend on the boil to "sanitize" your brew pot. But with mead, we will not be boiling. So, it is important to clean and sanitize everything.
Heat the water. If your honey is crystallized, you can liquify it in a hot water bath. To do this, placed the sealed container in hot water until it liquefies enough to pour out of the container. In your brew pot, heat 2.5 Gallons of water to 170°F. Remove the brew pot and water from the heat source. You will be adding the honey to this water, but you do not want to do that while the brew pot is still on the heat source. The honey will sink to the bottom of the brew pot. If the brew pot is still on the heat source, there is a high risk of the honey scorching to the bottom of the brew pot.
Please note Many older mead recipes call for boiling the honey during preparation. This was done for a couple of reasons. The first would be to remove unwanted elements from the honey, such as cappings, dead bees and debris. Honey today, will not come with this type of unwanted components. The other reason honey was boiled was to kill off wild yeasts and other unwanted organisms in the honey that could compromise the mead. This can be accomplished without boiling the honey. Heating the honey to 150°F for about 5 minutes or or to 140°F for about 20 minutes should kill off any present wild yeasts.
In an effort to preserve as much of the aromatics of the honey as possible, boiling the honey should be avoided. Boiling the honey will also strip it of the desirable aromas and flavor compounds.
- Add the honey. Pour the honey in the brew pot. The honey will sink to the bottom. If you are as frugal as I am, you will want to get all the honey out of the containers. Use a ladle,(sanitized of course)and remove some of the hot water from the brew pot. Pour the hot water into the honey container, replace the lid and swirl around. Now, pour the remaining honey into the brewpot. You have just created a must.
Add Sulfites. Add 5 campden tablets to the hot water. Stir the mixture into a uniform solution.
Potassium metabisulfites are commonly used by commercial mead makers and home mead makers for sanitization. Sulfites are added when the water and honey is first mixed. The most convenient way to add Potassium metabisulfite to your must is with Campden Tablets. Potassium metabisulfite is the active ingredient in campden tablets.
One campden tablet is added per gallon. So, 5 campden tablets for a 5 gallon batch. By using sulfites, the mead will have the stability it needs to protect itself from infection, even over long aging times.
- Take a temperature reading. You should be around 140°F to 150°F. Use caution handling and moving the brew pot at this point. It may not be boiling, but it is very hot.
- Add 3 gallons of cool water to your sanitized plastic fermenter. Your fermenter is now ready to receive the must. Pour the warm must into the fermenter and stir into the water.
- It is time to add certain additives. Each mead kit from Adventures in Homebrewing will come with a pre-measured kit containing: 6 tsp Acid Blend, 4 tsp Yeast Nutrient & 2.5 tsp Pectic Enzyme. Add these now.
- My favorite meads are made with fruit and honey. Adventures in Homebrewing sells numerous mead kits that come with fruit. Although fresh fruit may be used, the kits from Adventures in Homebrewing come with 6 Pounds of Puree. The benefit to using the Purees, is that they are sanitary and can be added directly to the must. If you are going to use a Puree, it is to be added now.
Here are some of the Purees that Adventures in Homebrewing has available:
It is time to pitch the yeast. Follow the pitching instructions of your chosen yeast. Typically, the must will need to be below 80°F before the yeast is pitched. Once you pitch the yeast into the must, stir well (with a sanitized spoon) to make sure it is well mixed. Yeast will need oxygen to aid in its reproduction and to get fermentation off to a healthy start. Stir the must vigorously for at least 5 minutes.
Adventures in Homebrewing has many Mead Yeast choices available.
- Take a hydrometer reading at this time to record the Original Gravity.
- Fermentation: Fermentation temperature should be between 65-75°F for the duration of fermentation. Be sure to keep your fermenter off of cold floors and away from fluctuating temperatures.
- Stir for 2 minutes twice a day until fermentation begins, usually within 24 to 48 hours.
- Finishing Gravity: When fermentation is complete, take a hydrometer reading to confirm. This can sometimes take up to a month so do not rush this step.
Secondary: After confirming fermentation is complete, transfer to a sanitized 5-6 gallon glass carboy for secondary. Once in secondary, stir vigorously or use a wine whip, until all of the sulfur dioxide is released (rotten eggs) from the mead. Put the airlock in place and let the mead to clear for at least 2-3 months. This can sometimes take longer. Be sure to keep your airlock filled during this time.
Once all of the sulfur is released then you can also use Isinglass in the secondary, this will speed up the clarifying process, usually about 3 to 7 days.
- Bottling: Before you proceed to the bottling step, ensure fermentation is complete via use of Hydrometer reading. When your mead has cleared, and you have not seen signs of fermentation for two weeks, it is probably time to bottle. Once in the bottle, some of the best meads are ages 6 to 9 months for best drinkability. Now is the time to decide whether you want a still mead or a sparkling mead.
- Still Mead: if you do not wish to have carbonation in your mead, you will need to add Potassium Sorbate before proceeding to the bottling process.
- Sparkling Mead: if a Sparkling Mead is desired, omit the addition of Potassium Sorbate, then follow normal bottling procedures for beer. If your are looking for the proper bottles for Sparkling Mead, you will want Vichy Bottles.
Here comes the hard part, letting the mead mature or age in the bottle. Mead will improve dramatically with age. Leaving it sit for 6 months to 1 year before opening is ideal. Be patient and it will really pay off. Enjoy!
Check out some of the Mead Recipe Kits available at Adventures in Homebrewing. Here are some of my favorites.
Check out our full catalog of Mead Recipes Here
How To Back Sweeten Mead
One of the misconceptions in mead making, is that mead should be sweet due to the fact that honey is being used. This is a common misconception, the reality is that a lot of the time the sweetness of the honey is usually all but gone after fermentation takes place. That is why we suggest Back Sweeting.
What is back sweetening?
Back sweetening is adding some type of sugar after your mead is already fermented to sweeten the taste of your mead. The proper way to do this, is with honey. However, we do not just dump honey into the fermenter after your mead has fermented. This will cause the fermentation to restart.
The Process of Back Sweetening
Make sure your mead is completely finished fermenting. Take hydrometer readings to confirm. Add 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon of mead and and stir to halt fermentation. Potassium sorbate does not kill yeast, but prevents them from converting anymore sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
- After at least 24 hours, additional sugar (typically honey) can be added to the mead without the risk of fermentation.
- The desired sweetness will depend on your personal preference. Add the honey in small increments, thoroughly stirring, and then testing until the desired sweetness is obtained.
What if you want a backsweetened and carbonated mead?
- The simplest method is to use a homebrew kegging system. Keg systems use tanks of CO2 to force carbonated liquid to a desired level, which does not require the yeast's services in any way. This is good since the first step of the backsweetening process effectively eliminates the fermentation capabilities of the yeast.
That's it! Enjoy your sweeter mead!
How to Clarify Mead
To get a nice clear mead, the easiest method is to let the mead age until it's clear. The unwanted haze in your mead can be the result of suspended yeast particles, protein or polyphenols. Adding clarifiers to your mead can help to eliminate the haze. Clarifiers bond to these particles and precipitate them out. You can use Bentonite or Sparkalloid which are agents that you put in your mead to accelerate the clearing process. However, it's a good idea to let your mead age at this point to balance the honey with the rest of your mead.
Clarifying Additives for Mead Making
Clarifying agents or clarifiers are often referred to as fining agents. The reason we use these additives is it remove the haze from our wine or mead.
- Positively charged fining agents, such as Gelatin, Isinglass and Sparkolloid work by bonding with negatively charged substances in the must. Gelatin will bond with tannins, clump together and drop out of suspension. Isinglass is actually derived from fish bladders, and can be effective on slight hazes. Sparkolloid will require some prep work before it can be used, but is very effective on stubborn hazes.
- Negatively charged fining agents, such as Bentonite precipitate out yeast and proteins. Bentonite is basically dry, powdered clay. Using Bentonite is very effective, but may require an additional racking to eliminate excess sediment.
- Pectic Enzyme is the compound in fruits that will turn into a gel when heated. The melomels in pectin can be a cause of haze in your mead or wine. The pectin begins to gel around 180°F. Pectic Enzyme will work to break down this pectin haze. It can be added with the yeast.
- Acids such asCitric, Tartaric, Malic and Acid Blend are used to add a subtle tartness and works to balance and residual sugar in the mead. Citric is the acid produced in citrus fruits. Tartaric is the acid from grapes. Malic is the acid found in apples. An acid blend is a good blend of each of these.
Types of Mead
- Traditional Mead: A fermented honey beverage made from approximately one to two pounds of honey, per one gallon of water only.
- Dry mead will have little to no residual sweetness, but should still having detectable honey notes.
- Semi-sweet mead should finish medium-dry, with more honey character and a hint of sweetness in the finish.
- Sweet mead, my favorite, has the highest level of residual sweetness and honey character.
- Hydromel: Weak or watered mead
- Sack Mead: Mead that is made sweeter by the addition of twenty to twenty-five percent more honey; a sauterne-like beverage.
- Metheglin: Metheglin is a spiced mead; originally spiced with a combination of herbs (gruit) but later hops became more popular.
- Sack Metheglin: Sweet spiced mead; traditionally similar to vermouth.
Melomel, or Mulsum: Mead made with fruit juice.
Fruit mead, otherwise known as Melomel, is basically a traditional mead with the addition of fruit. The honey character is still intended to be at the forefront while the inclusion of various fruits opens traditional mead up to new varieties and options.
Among the two most common Fruit Meads are Cyser, a fruit mead with apples, and Pyment, a fruit mead made with grapes.
- Cyser: A melomel made with apple juice or cider; similar to a sherry wine.
- Pyment, or Clarre: A melomel made with grape juice; sometimes referred to as honey-sweetened grape wine.
- Hyppocras: Spiced pyment.
Hop Head Jon, Adventures in Homebrewing