Day by Day

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to make mead

First thing you need to know is this - if you ask five people how to make mead, you're going to get five different answers.  So all I'm going to do is give you a basic description, because anything after that is going to cause various other winemakers to snort and say "That's not the way to do it!  THIS is how it's done!"

Mead is a honey wine.  It's the earliest form of alcohol, and probably the simplest form of alcohol to make. You need honey, water, and yeast.  And something to ferment it in.  And gas locks (bubblers).  And sanitizer.  Lots and lots of sanitizer.  So, the process goes like this -

First, you sanitize anything that's going to come in contact with your mead.  Yeast, while really really good at turning sugar into CO2 and alcohol, it's not that much of a fighter.  So other bacteria, viruses and fungi who also love to eat sugar will crowd out the yeast if they get half a chance.  Therefore, don't give them half a chance.  We use an alkaline sanitizer that we buy at a local home brew shop.  It'll turn organic matter into goo if it sits for a while, so use gloves.  Or use a different sanitizer, but we like the alkaline stuff.

You need large bottles.  We separated our batch into five different gallon bottles, but if you want you can ferment the entire batch in one big container.  The reason we separate is that we like to mess around.  The Ragin' Mrs. made a container of pomegranate mead this time.  One container we used honey that had separated, so it has a different flavor.

(FYI, mead with fruit added is called a "melomel")

Once you sanitize the bottles, you add the honey and water.  Mix it first, trust me on this.  You don't want to spend your day shaking bottles full of honey and water trying to mix it up.  The ratio is roughly three or four pounds of honey (a little over one quart) to each gallon of water.

Yes, this means you're going to end up with about six gallons of honey/water mix.  It's called "must".

Once you have your must in it's sterilized fermentation container, you add the yeast.  Again, we got it from a local home brew shop.  We used Sherry yeast for this batch, which means we'll get an alcohol content of about 15%.  Once we reach that level of alcohol, the yeast die off, so it's pretty much self regulation on that score.  There are a ton of different kinds of yeast out there, and they'll all give you a different alcohol level, different flavors, yada yada yada.  If you can find a home brew shop, talk to 'em.  Better yet, if you can find a home brewing or wine-making club, talk to THEM.  Chance are they'll not only give you more advice than you can use, but they'll have lots of equipment they might let you borrow.

While the yeast is fermenting, it's going to let off a lot of CO2.  That's what the gas lock is for.  Oxygen is alcohol's enemy, so you want something that will let the CO2 escape while keeping oxygen out.  When the yeast is fully working, the gas lock will actually bubble.  You let the mix sit in it's bottle and ferment for about two weeks.

After two weeks, you siphon it out of one bottle and transfer it to another and let it ferment all over again.  This is called "racking".  It re-energizes the yeast, helps remove sediment and prevents the mix from getting....  well, really bad flavors from all the dead yeast sitting around in it.

After two more weeks, you siphon once again (and filter it if you want) and then put it in it's last bottles, where it'll sit for anywhere from three months to a year.  If you've got a good bottling system, you can let it sit for a couple of years.  This isn't a red wine here, you don't let it sit for decades.  Once it's a year old, it's drinkable.  Hell, depending on the sugar content and the yeast you use, you could drink it in three months.

As long as you keep everything sterilized before you use it, you should have no problem.  And there you have it.  It sounds a lot more complicated than it is.  The biggest things to remember is keep everything sterile.  The more honey you add, the sweeter your mead will be.  And different yeast will give you different results.  Don't go buy bread-making yeast and dump it in.  You won't get the flavor you want.  You can find sherry yeasts, champagne yeasts, you name it and it's there.  The shop we use has about twenty different kinds of yeast for sale.

That's the basics.  Everything else is negotiable.  You can infuse your mix with tea leaves, mint, fruit, extracts, pure fruit juice, or anything else you think you might like the flavor of.  You can use different yeast.  You can change the ratio of honey to water.  All of that will give you different flavors.  You can serve it different ways as well - you can put it in a crock pot and warm it up with a sachet of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to get mulled mead, which flat out rocks on a cold winter night.  For those of you in more southern climes, chill it and serve it with a good tart fruit that'll cut through the sweetness.  Maybe some good really dark chocolate.

Any questions?


MauserMedic said...

This sounds interesting; I'd been thinking about trying this with cider, given that there's an apple tree the next block over. Know how to do these things on one's own can't hurt, and at the rate the economies going, might be a lot more economical than buying.

Buzz said...

While you were "enjoying" your time in Indiana, I hope you took the opportunity to sample the local mead.
Oliver Winery is located about an hour south of Indianapolis. They are well known for their mead.
I'm not a fan of wine, so I wouldn't know good from bad, but I've heard it's pretty good.