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Mead Making Tips and Tools

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What is Mead?

Mead or variations of beverages fermented with honey are considered the oldest fermented beverages. Patrick McGovern, an archeochemist at the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology found evidence of the fermentation a honey-grape-rice-fruit mixture from 9000 BC in Jiahu, an ancient village in the Henan provence of China. (We highly recommend McGovern's book “Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages.”)

Like Beer, there are numerous variations or styles of Mead. Here are a few of the more common variations:

  • Traditional: Just honey 

  • Melomel: Mead made with fruit added.

  • Braggot (or Bracket) Mead made with malted grain (usually barley)

  • Hydromel: This is the term for a weak or watered down mead.

  • Pyment: This is mead made with grape or grape juice added.

  • Cyser - A mead made with apples or apple juice.

 

What does Mead Taste Like?

We get this question all the time. A lot depends on the ingredients in your mead. If fruit, spices or malts are added to honey these ingredients can mask or hide the true flavor of mead. A traditional mead, made with just honey, water and yeast will have a subtle flavors of honey. The dryer the mead, the more subtle the flavor. A sweet mead will have more honey character than a dry. 

 

How is Mead similar or different from making wine or beer?

Like wine or beer, mead is produced through a process called "Alcohol Fermentation." In this process, simple sugars from ingredients like honey, grapes, and malts are converted to ethanol and carbon dioxide by yeast. Without yeast there can be no alcohol.

Unlike beer or winemaking, very little equipment is needed to produce great mead. A couple of food grade fermentation vessels and basic utensils along with fresh yeast, good honey and other ingredents are all that is required.

 

What equipment is needed to make Mead?

As I mentioned above, the equipment needs to make mead are minimal.  We recommend

  • A quality cleaner and sanitizer.

  • A fermentation vessel - food grade bucket with lid or a carboy.  PET is fine, but be sure to inspect it for scratches which might harbor bacteria.  If you plan to make a fruit mead (Melomel) a bucket is easier to manipulate the mixture during fermentation and remove the fruit after.  

  • An aging vessel - food grade plastic or glass carboy. 

  • A plastic or stainless spoon.  Wood spoons are not recomended as they harbor bacteria.  

  • Hydrometer.  The hydrometer is the brains of the operation.  Hydrometers measure the density of a liquid.  In our case, how dense is the sugar (honey, fruits, juice) in our mixture.  The hydrometer will give us an estimate of the potential amount of alcohol in our mead at the beginning of fermentation the amount at the end of fermentation.  The hydrometer is essential for testing when fermentation is complete.  

  • Airlock to vent the carbon dioxide 

  • Siphon tubing to transfer the mead between rackings and at bottling.

  • Bottle filler or spigot for bottling your mead.

  • Bottles (wine, beer or EZ-Cap) and bottle brush to clean the bottles 

 

How Much Honey Should I Use?

For a dry traditional mead:  OG 1.080 / FG 0.998

  • 10 Lbs high quality varietal honey
  • Enough water to make 5 gallons (about 4 gallons total)

 

For a semi-sweet traditional mead:  OG 1.094 / FG 1.010

  • 12.5 to 14 Lbs high quality varietal honey
  • Enough water to make 5 gallons (about 4 gallons total)

 

For a sweet traditional mead:  OG 1.120 / FG 1.025

  • 15 - 18 Lbs high quality varietal honey
  • Enough water to make 5 gallons (about 4 gallons total)  

 

Easy Mead Making Steps (For All Recipes) For 5 Gallons of Mead.

The mechanics of mixing the ingredients and fermenting your own mead is simple. The key requirements are Sanitation and Temperature Control. With a good recipe as your starting point and watching your sanitation and temperature control you can make an outstanding mead to share with family and friends at home.

Step 1 - Sanitizing is required to prevent spoilage and off-flavors in our fermentation.  When we talk about sanitize we include two processes:  cleaning and sanitizing. 

  • Cleaning:  Before and after using any piece of equipment carefully clean all equipment which will come into contact with the ingredients.  There are a number of products available such as Easy Clean, One Step and PBW for this task.  OxyClean is another good choice.  Do not use bleach, household cleaners or dish soap as these products will leave residues or off flavors which may impact the flavor of your wine.  After cleaning, rinse thoroughly and dry.
  • Sanitizing is done to reduce or remove bacteria and wild yeasts.  Common sanitizers are Star San, Io-Star or Metabifulfite.  Each of these are no rinse sanitizers.  Follow the label instructions for their use. 

 

Step 2 - Must (honey mixture) Preparation.  Important!  If you are using fruit, complete this step the day before you add your yeast.  

  • Add 2 gallons of warm filtered water to the sanitized primary fermenter.  Wide mouth carboys or bucket fermenters are mush easier to pour your honey into.  Do not boil your honey mixture!
  • Add the honey and stir until completely mixed
  • Add filtered water to the mixture to top up to 5 gallons
  • If using fruit, add the de-thawed fruit. We find placing the fruit in a sanitized straining bag makes it easier to remove the spent fruit.
    • Before you place the fruit in the fermenter, add before you add the fruit, fruiis Campden tablet and Pectic enzyme. If fruit is peach, apricot or pineapple use x2 pectic
    • Cover and wait 12 hours before adding yeast.  

 

 Step 3 - Calculate and Add Nutrients   

  • Nutrient needs are based on the YAN requirements for the starting gravity of your must and YOUR YEAST SELECTION.   
    • A dry mead with a SG of 1.080 has a Yan requirement of 200 ppm.  
    • A semi-dry mead with a SG of 1.096 has a Yan requirement of 250 ppm
    • A sweet mead with a SG of 1.115 has a Yan requirement of 350 ppm.  

 

  • Divide the Yan requirements by 50 to get the grams per gallon of Fermaid O needed.  For example
    • A dry mead with a target Yan of 200 will require 4 grams of Fermaid-O (200/50)
    • A semi-dry mead with a target Yan of 250 will require 5 grams of Fermaid-0 (250/50)
    • A sweet mead with a target Yan of 350 will require 7 grams of Fermaid-0 (350/50)  

 

Step 4 - Yeast Preparation (Re-hydration) and Add to Must  

  • How much yeast to use
    • For dry or semi-dry mead (< 1.10) use 1 gram per gallon.  
    • For sweet mead (> 1.10) use 2 grams per gallon 
  • How much Go Ferm to use
    • Your recipe should call for 1.25 x the amount of yeast.  So
      • For 5 grams of yeast use 6.25 grams of GoFerm.  For 10 grams of yeast use 12.5 grams Go Ferm
  • How much water to use
    • Your recipe should call for 20 x the weight of GoFerm.  So
      • For 6.25 grams of GoFerm use 125 ML of water.  For 12.5 grams of GoFerm use 250 ML of water.  
  • The yeast re-hydration process
    • Measure your water in a measuring cup or other sanitized container.  
    • Bring the water to a quick boil in the microwave.
    • As the water cools, add the GoFerm to dissolve.  Cover.  
    • @ 104.5 degrees sprinkle the yeast onto the water.  Cover.
    • @ 15 minutes - after 15 minutes temper the yeast and GoFerm mixture with a small amount of the must (about 1 tablespoon) every two or three minutes until the yeast mixture is room temperature.  Do not let this process take longer than 30 minutes.

 

Step 5 - Fermentation 

  • Record the Starting Gravity with your hydrometer
  • Add the yeast mixture from Step 4 and oxygenate well using a spoon, whisk or wine whip.  
  • This aeration oxygenates the must and enhances fermentation.  
  • Seal the fermentation vessel and attach the air lock
  • Place the fermentation vessel in a cool dark location.
  • During the first few days of fermentation add the Fermaid-O nutrient
    • De-gas and then add 1/4 of the dose 24 hours after start.
    • De-gas and then add 1/4 of the dose 48 hours after start.
    • De-gas and then add 1/4 of the dose 72 hours after start.
    • De-gas and then add the last 1/4th on Day 7 or the 1/3rd sugar break; whichever comes first.
  • We recommend you de-gas twice a day for the first five days.  A wine whip works best; Always de-gas before you add Fermaid-O.  
  • Fermentation is generally considered complete when the hydrometer reads 1.000.  
  • If you have added fruit, remove the bag containing the fruit after 7 days and discard.    

 

 Step 6 - Post Fermentation

  • After fermentation is completed, transfer the mead from the fermentation vessel to a clean and sanitized carboy.  Add 0.33 grams/gallon Potassium Metabisulfite to protect your mead from spoilage and oxidation.  Use your wine whip to de-gas. Continue to store your mead in a cool dark place.   
  • At this stage, your mead may seem very dry, thin and bitter.  Trust me.  It will improve with a bit of time.   
  • As the weeks go by, your age will begin to clear.  After 30 days, transfer your mead again to clean and sanitized carboy.  
  • Repeat this process until your mead is clear.  Our mead typically require at three transfers.  Sometimes we leave it stored for six months to a year before we bottle.  Bulk aging improves mead quicker than it will improve in the bottle.     
  • Cold crashing (refrigerate) mead will speed the clearing process.  Fining agents like gelatin or Super-Kleer may also be used.  However resist the urge if you can.  All meads clear with time.    
  • Bottle your mead when it is clear and signs of carbon dioxide bubbles have disappeared.  Add 0.33 grams/gallon of Potassium Metabisulfite to protect your mead while it is in the bottle.    

 

Step 7 Post Fermentation Adjustments

  • If your mead is too dry you may wish to add sweetness.  The best option to sweeten a mead is to blend it with a sweeter mead.  If this is not possible you can use raw honey.  If you add sweetness you will also need to add 0.5-0.75 grams/gallon of Potassium Sorbate and 0.33 grams/gallon Potassium Metabisulfite at least 24 hours before you add the sweetner to prevent re-fermentation.  Wait at least 30 days before bottling.  
  • If your mead lacks balance a small dose of acid (citric, tartaric or malic) will help brighten the flavor.
  • Tannins and oak also add complexity.      

 

 

Sweet Orange Blossom Mead - 5 Gallons

OG 1.115 / FG 1.010

14 pounds Orange blossom honey

Go Ferm - 12.5 Grams Re-hydrated in 250 ML water

72B-1122 Yeast - 2 Packet or 10 Grams

Fermaid O - 7 grams 

 

Sweet Apple Cyser - 5 Gallon

OG 1.122 / FG 1.015 

 10.5 pounds Clover or Wildflower Honey

4  gallons Apple Juice with 2 teaspoons of Pectic Enzyme added 24 hours prior to adding yeast 

Go Ferm - 12.5 Grams Re-hydrated in 250 ML water

72B-1122 Yeast - 2 Packet or 10 Grams 

Fermaid O - 7 grams 

 

 

The "BOMM Recipe" - 1 gallon (Does not follow latest protocol)  

Start with 1 gallon very good water – bottled or filtered
Remove 1/2 cup water to compensate for smack pack volume.
Draw line on jugs at this water level.
Remove an additional 3.2 cups of water from jug (757 ml).
Add Orange Blossom honey (or your favorite varietal honey) back to line.
-About 2.5 lbs. SG 1.099ish.

Add 1/4 tsp DAP and 1/2 tsp of Fermaid K. Add these again at 2/3 (1.066) & 1/3 (1.033) sugar break.

Add 1/4 tsp K2CO3. One time addition.
-Potassium carbonate (K2CO3) is preferred due to high K+ levels, but potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3) will work fine. This is for pH buffering and to provide K+ for the yeast.

Shake with the top on until honey is fully dissolved. It will require some effort! You're earning your mead!
Add activated Wyeast 1388 yeast smacked for about 2 hours.
No water in airlock for 7 days or the gravity falls below 1.033. Whichever comes first, add water or vodka to airlock.
Ferments dry in about a week.

NOTE: Wyeast 1388 is NOT sensitive to temperature. Temperatures of 65-80 F all yield clean mead free of fusels. The yeast do ferment the fastest at 68 F however.

Post Fermentation (Optional!)
Add 1 vanilla bean, 3 cubes American Medium toast and 2 cubes French Medium toast oak for 2-4 weeks to taste.

You can also step feed small additions of honey until the yeast give up to sweeten. Just be sure your gravity is stable over several weeks to avoid bottle bombs!
 

 

 

MEAD MAKING RESOURCES

 The BJCP Mead Exam

 

BJCP Mead Resources

 

Reference Library

Honey Information

Honey Varieties and Mead Ingredients

Mead and Mead Making

Mead Analysis and Judging

  • Judging Mead – Presentation given at 2010 BJCP Judge Reception by Exam Director Steve Piatz
  • Honey Color and Flavor – Honey Color and Flavor (NHB)
  • Honey Color – Honey Color as defined by the US Dept of Agriculture (NHB)
  • Tasting Honey (PDF) – The Effect of Honey Additions on the Four Basic Tastes (NHB)
  • Mead Judging (PDF) – Mike Hall's Treatise on Mead Judging from 1996
  • Wine Judging (PDF) – Factors Considered in Wine Evaluation (American Wine Society), much of the information is applicable to mead. Reprinted with permission of the author.
  • Sensory Analysis of Honey (PDF) – Sensory Analysis Applied to Honey, a European technical journal article

 

 

 

 

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