Making Mead is exactly the same as any other fruit wine making and the same principles apply as with all brewing. It’s really easy to make and is an absolutely fantastic drink! This post concentrates specifically on Mead as a wine style drink however ale Mead can also be made.
The basics you need to make Mead are honey, water, yeast and yeast nutrient. This is the basic minimum although some recipes will call for extras. This recipe makes a light wine like Mead with lots of honey flavour. It’s worth mentioning that you can get many different flavours from Mead depending on the honey used. You will also need equipment to make Mead, on the link below is our 1 gallon wine starter equipment pack which has all the equipment you would need to make it, just add bottles:
Ingredients (Makes 4.5 litres):
You can add other additives such as tannin and citric acid but we recommend keeping it simple especially for your first attempt, if the recipe you have calls for it that’s fine, but otherwise don’t worry.
Mix the honey with 2.5 litres of warm water together with the nutrient then make the volume up to 4.5 litres. Whilst adding the water it’s a good idea to aim for the correct temperature of between 18 and 24 °C , just make sure it doesn’t go over 28 °C otherwise this could kill the yeast. If it goes cooler than 18 °C just gently increase the temperature until it is within the range above. This can be done by moving the brew to a warmer location or a heating device can be used. Pitch the yeast once the temperature is correct.
Fermentation can then take about two weeks to a month, this is due to the honey as a natural product therefore each one will have a different amount of fermentable and unfermentable sugars in it. The must can then be syphoned off into another container which removes it from the sediment bed and aids with clearing. This isn’t always necessary and if you want to make a sparkling Mead it is best to bottle direct from the primary fermenter just before the end of fermentation. With both methods you will need to add two campden tablets one 24 hours before [pitching the yeast and other just before you bottle. Adding the campden tablet before pitching the yeast will kill off any wild bacteria ensuring that your cultivated yeast is the only one doing the fermenting. However some people do ferment their Mead with wild yeast.
Once in the bottles it is best left to mature for two months although leaving it for a year will yield great results. If you’re making sparkling mead you need to make sure that you use the appropriate bottles that can handle the pressure like glass swing top bottles or plastic bottles.
Do I need to sterilise the honey first before fermentation?
Generally, no you don’t. You can boil the initial water and honey mixture first or add a campden tablet 24 hours prior to pitching the yeast, this will kill any bacteria or wild yeast. Just to note that boiling the honey can strip away some of the flavour so it is not recommended. If you don’t sterilise before brewing you can end up with a wild yeast fermenting your must, this isn’t always a bad thing and some people do ferment Mead with wild yeast, however if this is the case you don’t quite know what you’re going to end up with and it is a process of trial and error.
What honey can I use in Mead?
Technically you can use any honey to make Mead but you’ll get different flavours depending on the flowers the bees have collected the pollen from. It ranges from Apple blossom honey to Heather honey so you really can get stuck in and experiment to find which you prefer.
Dry and Sweet Mead
Dry Mead is pretty easy to make, all you need to do is let the yeast ferment fully. The Lalvin yeast recommended above is a champagne yeast and will ferment to between 18% and 20% therefore fermenting to dryness.
Sweet Mead involves a little more experimentation, you can stop the ferment with campden tablets and fermentation stopper (potassium sorbate) once the desired specific gravity is reached. It depends what your start gravity reading is as to when you stop fermentation and again requires a experimentation. The other method is to let your Mead fully ferment and then back sweeten in a secondary vessel. It can be back sweetened with more honey or even fruit like cherries for example.
A little about Mead
History and Mead go hand in hand it has been with us ever since we discovered fermentation and is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world. It is experiencing a rise in popularity and rightly so as this over looked drink tastes absolutely amazing, no wonder our ancestors loved it so much and revered it has a drink of the Gods which had healing properties. The ancient Greeks called it ambrosia and believed it to have dropped from the heavens as dew which the bees then collected. It is also legendary amongst many other cultures and is especially associated with Germanic cultures for example the Vikings and Anglo Saxons, Mead was a feature at any Anglo Saxon tavern although depending on your position in society you would drink a certain kind of Mead. For the poor this was made from the crushed honey combs after as much honey as possible could be extracted. The rich would drink a Mead made from honey and water with added spices, this is now called metheglin.
Elizabeth I had her own Mead recipe which has survived in the writings of her bee keeper Charles Butler. Mead has been a popular drink amongst royalty throughout the ages, in Anglo Saxon England King Witlaf of Mercia drank his Mead from decorated bovine horns as the Germanic tribes did years before him and which was remarked upon by Julius Caesar.
A little on Bees!
Mead production is obviously dependent on a healthy population of bees. The numbers have been declining in recent years due to the use of chemicals in farming such as Neonicotinoids which affect the bees ability to forage, learn and remember navigation routes ultimately ending in the death of the hive. However with new environmental laws the negative impact of chemical use in farming can hopefully be reversed and we’ll have lots of happy hives for years to come.
Bees are fascinating creates and are essential pollinators they will forage around 2 miles from the hive and some have been seen going much further. When they find a good source of food they will return to the hive and do a dance for their fellow worker bees which will give them directions. For example if the source is less than 100 yards away from the hive the bees will perform a circular dance first one way and then the other. You may also have noticed a bee buzzing around you from time to time, this is the bee mapping you out as an obstruction to the food source, it will then go back and tell the hive, again through a dance, that you are in the way basically. They really are amazing little creatures and our very existence depends upon them and other pollinators and insects.
I hope you found this article useful and if you have anything to add let us know!