The Basics of Brewing Mead
Today, when people hear the word “mead” they often recall a medieval feast or a renaissance festival. In the basic form, mead is simply honey wine. Honey, water, and yeast ferment together, producing an alcoholic drink. Mead is a versatile beverage with a range of flavors. Alcohol content ranges from a light 4% up to a hearty 18% or more. Making mead is surprisingly easy and a great starting point for new homebrewers. We hope this guide will inspire you to make your first batch or try some when you have a chance!
You can brew a simple mead with honey, water, and yeast, but each ingredient impacts the flavor profile. Most grocery stores carry an average priced, “clover” honey in bulk, such as Kirkland’s Signature Pure Honey, which typically yields a simple flavor profile. This low-cost option is a good choice for your first batch or as a base for a flavored mead. Varietal honey, such McCoy’s Florida Orange Blossom, might provide floral or fruity notes, resulting in a more enjoyable, unflavored mead.
Next, select your water. Different water sources can have minerals or additives that affect the flavor or health of the yeast. To be safe, bottled spring water is better than tap water. Public utilities typically add chlorine or chloramine as water treatment, which could cause the yeast to die or produce undesirable flavors.
Finally, the strain and health of the yeast ultimately influence the flavor and alcohol content the most. White Labs Sweet Mead Yeast, number WLP720, provides the best results for the least amount of work at a reasonable price. The alcohol content will be on the lower side, but you can drink the mead within a couple of weeks after fermentation is over. Other strains of yeast, such as champagne yeast or ale yeasts, have different target alcohol contents and different flavor profiles. However, you might have to wait several months for the mead to mellow out.
You only need a few simple materials to start brewing: a fermenter, an airlock, and a way to sanitize everything. You can find most of the materials you need through Amazon or MoreBeer.com. A fermenter is just a container where the honey-water-yeast mixture converts to mead. Homebrew stores or online retailers sell specially labeled fermenters for a wide range of prices, depending on the quality and size, but we suggest a one-gallon, wide-mouth fermenter. However, if you’re just starting out, a one-gallon jug of apple cider suffices (if you drink the cider first!)
The fermenter should be easy to clean, such that a cleaning brush or a hand can get inside to wash it out. A simple airlock can be improvised with a balloon and a rubber band, but you can find cheap, real airlocks easily online. You’ll need a rubber stopper to keep the airlock steam sealed airtight. For the grocery store apple cider jug, a #6.5 size stopper typically works, while a specially made fermenter will have a hole with a gasket to accept the stem of the airlock.
Carefully wash, dry and sanitize all your materials. Buy a food-grade sanitizer, which is typically a concentrate you’ll mix with water to put in a spray bottle or five-gallon bucket. You can even use boiling water in a pinch if your materials can stand the heat.
Gathering the ingredients and materials to brew mead takes longer than the actual brewing process. The amount of honey and water vary by recipe and your desired volume. For one gallon of mead, mix three pounds of honey with enough water to reach one gallon in total volume. In warm weather, the honey may pour easily into the vessel, however, in colder temperatures, gently warm the honey in a pot of water on the stove to make it pour more quickly.
Once you’ve added the water and honey to your fermenter, plug up any holes and physically shake the container. If the container is too large or heavy to shake, mix with a sanitized spoon. Some homebrewers will even use a drill with a sterilized mixing attachment.
Finally, add your yeast. Different manufacturers have varying recommendations you’ll add the yeast to the mixture, but you’ll need to activate the yeast in warm water before pitching (adding) the yeast to the mixture. Shake the vessel one last time after you add the yeast, then put in the airlock, and place the fermenter in a cool, safe place away from direct sunlight.
While fermenting, make sure the fermenter stays within the recommended temperature range for the yeast strain used, usually between 68F and 75F. Special yeast strains can accommodate wider or warmer temperatures, to a certain extent, but at lower temperatures, the fermentation process could slow or even stop altogether.
The yeast will eat the sugars in the mixture and produce alcohol as a byproduct. Bubbles will rise through the airlock every few seconds when the yeast is most active. Gently shake the fermenter during the first three days of fermentation to help gases rise to the surface to be released through the airlock. You must release these gases in the early stage to prevent the yeast from getting stressed out, which can result in off-flavors. If you shake too hard, though, the whole mixture could overflow, like a shaken soda can.
The fermentation process slows towards the end of the first week or so, so you’ll see fewer bubbles being released from the airlock. Eventually, the bubbles will stop rising altogether, signaling the finish of fermentation. The mead is ready to drink at this point but will improve with age. The longer you let the mead rest, the clearer it will get. Leave it alone in the fermenter to get a clear, yellow to amber mead.
For best results to maintain that clarity, siphon the mead into another container, such as glass bottles or another gallon jar. Siphoning can easily be done with a sterilized tube filled partially with water. Elevate the fermenter on a counter or cabinet, insert the hose into the fermenter with the other end clamped, position the clamped end over a discard container, then release. Once all the water flows out and the mixture turns yellow, clamp the end again and transfer to the intended bottle or jug, leaving the sediment behind.
Five Helpful Tips For Making Mead:
- Sanitize everything and be careful not to contaminate your mead.
- Buy good quality yeast and follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully
- Save some mead back to age, and enjoy after a year or more to see how it improves
- Get creative with your flavors and create your own recipes!
- Check out your local homebrew store, or MoreBeer.Com for supplies.
Five Things to Avoid When Making Mead:
- Avoid spending too much money to get started. The basic ingredients and materials can be very affordable.
- Say no to tap water, you might kill your yeast with the contaminants in the water
- Don’t use bread yeast – buy a yeast developed for home brewing and the style of mead you’re looking for.
- Always remember sanitization, we cannot stress that enough!
- Never throw it out if it doesn’t taste right at first, mead will improve with age.
The mead will continue to improve over time just like wine and can be enjoyed after many years if stored in a well-sealed bottle. If the fermentation process wasn’t complete at the end of the month, the mead could carbonate, like a beer or soda, having the potential to burst the seal of the bottle. A bottle bomb in your closet is never fun to clean.
Making mead at home is a very simple process with almost instant gratification with a sweet, easy to drink, alcoholic beverage. The wide range of recipes, ingredients, and flavors make mead a versatile drink to suit the desires of any consumer. When serving home-brewed mead at a dinner, house party, or event, guests will be intrigued and amazed by this uncommon option, and the brewer will be inspired by the overabundance of different flavors to try.