After thinking a lot of how to make mead at home, everybody resorts to Internet for knowledge. At home, of course, because it’s cheaper and more “bio”. Not to mention of pleasure of DIY (of course) and the pride associated with the result. So, after a little research, we find out that making mead at home doesn’t seem so complicated. Basically, you mix honey in water, pitch yeast, and wait! Of course, there are also complicated recipes and methods. Not for me right now.
Let’s start with simple things, meaning a traditional plain mead. Here is a recipe of a simple mead, courtesy of Dan Mouer, called K.I.S.S Mead (Keep It Simple Stupid), giving us a slightly-to-moderately sweet mead. Thanks Dan for sharing this recipe with the world.
- 15 pounds of plain clover honey (it’s a light thistle honey) Orange blossom honey works nicely, as well. At any rate, because the brewer is a beginner, avoid any darker, stronger-tasting honey, as well as honey with comb or anything containing preservatives.
- two packets of champagne yeast (Saccharomyces bayanus)
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 3 or 4 teaspoons of yeast nutrient (not yeast energizer!) – that’s diammonium phosphate.
Begin by boiling a couple cups of water with ¼ cup honey. When cooled to about 90 degrees or less, add the yeast and place in a sanitized jar or bottle, lightly covered, to make a starter. If you want to simply sprinkle the dry yeast into the fermenter, that will probably work, too.
Warm the honey in hot water so it will pour into a clean, sanitary, stainless pot. To this add just enough water to dissolve the honey with gentle heating on the stove. Don’t boil it.
Pour the honey solution into a sanitized fermenter, and bring up to 5 gallons of water. Tap water is fine if you filter out chlorine. Otherwise you may first want to boil it and then cool it, before adding it. Or simply use bottled spring water from the store.
Now add ½ cup lemon juice and then 3 or 4 teaspoons of yeast nutrient. (You could leave out the acid and the nutrient, but you will have trouble getting much of a fermentation going, and the resulting wine will be very sweet and very “flabby.”)
Cover the fermenter with cloth, or with a lid and bubbler.
Primarily fermentation: Mead usually ferments slowly, and it generally prefers a very warm fermentation spot. Watch it and make sure it has started in a few days. Check on it from time to time to make sure that it has not stuck. If it sticks, make another starter, add some “yeast energizer” (also called yeast extract or yeast hulls) and wait some more. This period of fermentation can take several weeks.
Secondary fermentation: When fermentation has stopped, or has nearly stopped, rack it into a glass carboy (transfer the liquid) and fit a lock.
Rack again in 3-4 months (transfer it again into a different carboy, or the same after it was well cleaned and sterilized), adding about 25 ppm free SO2.
Rack twice more in a year’s time, and bottle when crystal clear.
If clearing is a problem, try fining with isinglass (Isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It is a form of collagen used mainly for the clarification or fining of beer).
Allow mead to sit for a couple weeks after racking off finings, to make certain it doesn’t re-cloud. Filter if you like.
Aging: When you are certain that there is no lingering fermentation of residual sugar, bottle the mead, and forget it for a while. It will continue to improve for at least the next year.
A piece of advice: Your mead may go through some “awkward” phases. Often mead smells and tastes weird. If it has a sort of medicinal or chemical flavor, try adding additional acid and letting it rest. Do not be impatient with mead. Good, good things will come to those who wait.
I’ve found this great recipe, which uses frozen fruit, very well detailed and very promising. The recipe belongs to Sarah Anne Lawless, a professional artist, writer, and folk herbalist from Canada, which has a long experience in brewing mead, with all types of fruits. She uses figs, oranges, apples… you name it.
• honey (fireweed and alfalfa),
• yeast (wine, mead or champagne yeast),
• black tea for the tannin,
• sliced lemon or orange for an acid,
• some frozen fruit, at your choice.
Bucket – same volume as carboy
• Carboy – can be smaller volume than bucket (glass is best), come in 1, 3, and 5 gallon sizes.
• Bung and Airlock – rubber plug with a plastic contraption
• Racking Tube – length of plastic tubing used to move liquid from one container into another using gravity
• Glass Wine Bottles and Corks – any bottle can be used or reused as long as it fits the cork and doesn’t have a screw top
• Corker – can be found online.
If you don’t have a carboy at home or airlocks (I don’t!) and decide to make mead, take a look at this already made kit for brewing mead at home: Homebrewstuff One Gallon Nano-Meadery Mead Starter Kit, containing a small book teaching you some tricks.
Preparing the mead in the bucket:
– Pour the quantity of honey to be used into a stock pot, add water to fill up the rest of the pot. Heat the honey, stirring now and then, but don’t let it come to a boil.
– In your bucket, add the quantity of water for your recipe, pour in the heated honey mixture. Depending on how many gallons, add 1-2 black tea bags, half a lemon or orange sliced up, any spices or herbs, and some frozen fruit. (Frozen because as the cell membranes are broken down in the freezer and will allow the fruit to ferment easier.)
– Mix everything together with a large spoon.
– Take out the tea bags after a couple hours – too much tannin is bad.
– When the mixture in the bucket has cooled to a lukewarm temperature (this can take hours to overnight), scoop up some of the liquid in a bowl or measuring cup and add the yeast to this separate bowl. Mix with a fork and allow to sit for 15 minutes. If the yeast is alive, the mixture will be frothy and bubbly – this is good, you can now dump it into the bucket of mead. If the yeast is dead and the liquid remains unchanged, then either the yeast is bad or the mixture is still too hot – let the liquid cool a bit more then add a new yeast packet to the measuring cup and try again.
For the next 1-2 weeks, stir the mixture from your bucket, vigorously, every day, to aerate it and start the fermentation. Usually after the first week of vigorous stirring, the alcohol content is high enough to transfer the mead into a carboy. If you really want to be sure you can measure the alcohol content using a hydrometer available at wine shops. This is Primary Fermentation.
– Clean your carboys, airlocks, bungs and the racking tube. (You can use soap and bleach, or purchase sparklebright from a wine shop. – it’s a pink crystal powder and one tablespoon can clean up to 4 carboys. Everything must be completely sanitized to ensure success in making mead.)
– Heat up more honey with water
– Place the buckets on a countertop, scoop off the scum and fermenting fruit, take out anything that isn’t liquid using a sieve as a scoop. Allow the buckets to sit for a few hours to overnight in order for any sediment to settle.
– Place your clean carboy on the floor below the bucket, insert the solid end of the racking tube into the bucket and while squatting next to the carboy, suck on the other end of the tube until the mead starts pouring down into it – immediately place the end of the tube in the carboy – shove the end all the way to the base of the carboy – you want as little air to get in as possible. In the bucket, hold the end of the racking tube slightly above any sediment, we should transfer a maximum of a third of the amount of sediment from the bucket. The sediment will aid in the fermentation, but too much will overwhelm it.
– After the mead is transferred into the carboy, fill it up with the heated honey-water, almost to the very top, but leave a few cm or an inch for the airlock.
– Add the airlock – filled with water up to the line so air doesn’t get in – push it in gently or it will get sucked into the carboy.
From now on all you will need to do is refill any evaporated water from the airlock, add more heated honey-water if the mead evaporates to top up the carboy and feed the yeast, or to rack the mead if the carboy is getting really dirty and in danger of growing mold.
Racking (transferring from one carboy to another clean one)
The mead may need to be racked 3-5 times during the secondary fermentation. Or you may never need to rack it. This depends on the aggressiveness of the yeast and the amount of sugars from fruits.
If the carboy is clean and there is enough space to add more liquid, then just top it up with more heated honey. If you use fresh fruit, then it is more likely you will need to rack the mead multiple times.
Racking is done if the carboy is dirty and needs to be cleaned in the middle of fermentation, or if the yeast is running out of sugars to eat and the mead is getting too dry for your tastes. Transfer the mead from the carboy into a temporary bucket. Clean the carboy and poor all the mead back in it.
Or, if you have another clean carboy that you can use that the mead can stay in the second one. And the transfer can be done, whenever it is required. If you like the mead sweeter, than add more heated honey-water.
Killing the mead:
If the fermentation is over, then the mead is killed. Use a flashlight to see if there are bubbles at the top of the carboy. If there aren’t any, just to be sure simply add 1/4 tsp or so of yeast nutrient (from a wine store). If the mead starts making bubbles, then it means it’s coming back to life and it’s not ready. But if it stays dead then you can clarify it and get it ready for bottling.
If it will continue to make bubbles, but at a lower rate, we can use a chemical substance containing sulphites (available from a wine or u-brew shop). But remember there are people allergic to it, and that it is a chemical additive that will alter the natural, organic feature of your mead. So, it is recommended to be patient and wait.
There are two methods for clarifying mead – natural and chemical.
– For the chemical method, a clarifier can be bought from a wine or u-brew store. Just add the required amount to the carboy and wait for 1 week before bottling.
– For the natural method: you will need 1 egg white at room temperature, for 5 gallons, or 1/4 egg white per one gallon. Whisk the white until smooth – not frothy, no bubbles! Slip the egg white into your carboy and give it a shake or stir. Wait two weeks, then bottle once it clarifies straining out the egg whites. You should be able to see right through a carboy of clarified mead, even a red. However, some meads like apple and apricot may never clarify.
What do you say? Will you give it a try?
I personally decided to first taste one from the market, see if I like it, and then give it a try. Who knows? Maybe I don’t like it. But with so many people saying how amazing it is, I simply need to convince myself.
I think I’ll try with a cheaper one…. Prairie passion, Winner of the Governers Cup. Illinois State Fair Double Gold Medal Winner…. if they so…
Have you tried them? Any advice from a connoisseur?
Glass of mead: “Sima”. Licenciado sob CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons