Making Mead the Easy and Tasty Ancient Honey Wine
Making the most ancient brew is easy!
Lets get right into it with the things you'll need:
- A Fermenter (Carboy)
- An Airlock (costs about 3 USD and is reusable)
And that's all! No fancy equipment is needed. While it is useful to know your initial gravity in order to approximate the potential alcohol content of your brew it's by no means necessary. And the same goes for acidity and all the other metrics you are like to read about in many guides.
Note: Your brews gravity reading will also tell you when it has went dry and tehre are no more sugars in the must.
After all, lets keep in mind that in ancient times people just didn't have those things and they where still able to pull it off.
Why make mead?
Well, there are a lot of reasons. For me, mainly it's because I like the taste and in my area mead is not sold (at reasonable prices). Also it's a fun and non-demanding hobby.
Only after I started brewing my own did I realize there are other benefits as well. It turns out you get all the benefits of honey (immune system boost, soothing effect on coughs and colds, antioxidants, etc.). The best thing about all this is that after fermentation there is little to no sugar left in your brew.
Why are gravity, acidity etc. not critical when brewing a small batch at home?
Well, in the old days people just didn't have the knowledge and the equipment to take such readings. And yet mead is the most ancient form of brew humanity knows. That is because it is simple to make and hard to get horribly wrong.
Back in those days they thought that the sick that they used to stir the must (the liquid that is about to ferment - namely honey, water and whatever spices you wanted to add) was magical. In reality they where of course introducing yeast that was left on the stick from previous batches. And by using the same stick they where in essence cultivating strands of yeast better adapted to making mead.
Also they didn't have airlocks and glass fermenters, and yet still got results. Well, naturally, probably quite inconsistent between batches and most likely more than one batch turned to vinegar in those days, but still.
How to go about making mead.
Prepare all that you need, then go over it and retrieve the things you forgot if you are like me.
Jokes aside, I like to begin with leaving my honey on the sun about 1 hour before I start (if during the summer of course) so that it will flow easier.
Also, as a side note - I like to find a local bee keeper - never have I used store bought honey. That way you get several things - the honey is not processed (heat treating honey discards most of its benefits such as antioxidants, nutrients etc.), you support a bee keeper and your local economy.
So then as your honey is soaking up the sun, you can sit down and do a bit of math - namely how much honey and how much water do you need to use. The general rule of thump is a one third honey and two thirds water. Now do keep in mind that with such a vague rule there is no way to know how strong the mead can get since every honey has different sugar content. If you just want to give it a try with a small 5-10 liter batch you can just go ahead and use one third honey and two thirds water and power trough. In that case you would be making mead just to give it a try and decide whether or not you want to invest more time and honey into the hobby.
And here we get to the water. Nothing much to think about - if your tap water is good enough to drink it will be good enough to brew with. One small condition - there shouldn't be chlorine in your must.That one is easy - just pour the needed amount in an open vessel so the chlorine can evaporate and escape the liquid. Another option is a filter - there are many out there so I wont go into details here.
As you have the water sitting to get rid of the chlorine and the honey warming up, get the sanitizer and all other thing you will use - the carboy, funnels, spoons (for the honey that is stuck to the walls of the jar). Personally, I mix a sink-full of it (mine is 15 liters) of the sanitizer to and wash all of the items in it. Beforehand I wash the sink of course. As I tend to be forgetful, I keep a sink-full of sanitizer during the process.
Well, by now most likely the honey is in such a state that you can pour it. Depending on the fermentation vessel you can either pour the honey directly in or mix it with a bit of warm water to get it more runny and them transfer it to the carboy. Two things to note here - first, if you are using large carboys (mine are 30 liters and they get quite heavy) its better to dilute the honey with a bit of water in a smaller pot or bucket and add it to the carboy at stages. You see, once we have mixed the water and the honey we will need to aerate the must and swinging around a full 30 liter carboy is quite the workout. So instead I dilute about half of the honey with a bit water, pour it in, aerate well and then I add the rest.
Why not plastic containers?
Plenty or reasons to be honest. First glass carboys are easily available and more reusable. Essentially, unless you break them they are eternal. Also glass in practically impenetrable to air. Neither is the case with a plastic container.
Take into consideration the fact that plastic is not biodegradable and quite harmful to the environment in any state, shape or form. Compare that to glass which is essentially melted quartz sand and thus in practice harmless and the case is closed in my eyes
So now, you have your honey and the water added in the glass carboy or other fermenter. Congratulations - you have your must!
What's left now is to add (pitch in) the yeast. If you plan to add any spices of fruit (technically if you add fruit you are making a melomel) now is the time. Regardless, add a bit of sun dried raisins. They are the natural alternative to the yeast nutrients commercially available. Why do I advise raisins over the commercial nutrients? Well, I have done it with both, and while the commercial nutrients do give you a clear mead faster they do nothing for the flavor. Fermentation speed is generally the same but raisins taste much better much faster. It will be more cloudy but that fixable with a bit of patience - let it sit for a few weeks more and it will clear out, the sediment setting to bottom in an "yeast cake".
Extra tip: You can use a clean cloth pouch to put the raisins and herbs/spices in for easier extraction later.
So, herbs, spices and raisins in, now all that is left is to put an airlock on it (attach it firmly - unless you want vinegar you don't want any air to get inside) and patience. By that I mean set the carboy in a room with constant temperature - ideally around 20° C and let it sit.
Should I Check on the Mead and When is it Ready
By all means do look at it from time to time but don't open the airlock. once it is fermenting you do not want oxygen in there.
It varies, but in 1-4 days after pitching in the yeast fermentation should start. You'll know when you see bubbles going in the future mead. Depending on the must and yeast you can also get a violent fermentation at first, even some must coming out of the airlock. Not much to worry about if the carboy is in a easily cleanable place. If that happens, remove the airlock (opening the airlock will release the pressure and it should stop coming out), wash it, sanitize it and place it back on. During the process you can cover the top of the carboy with a paper towel drenched in sanitizer to prevent contamination.
Active fermentation should take between 2 to 5 weeks, actively fermenting at the start and gradually calming down and starting to settle sediment at the bottom towards the end.
Still, I leave the mead to sit for at least 3-4 months. This helps clear it out as dead yeast settles to the bottom on the carboy giving you a clearer mead and also helps eliminate the footy/yeasty smells left immediately after fermentation. You see fermentation is a smelly business as yeast produces Hydrogen Sulfide among others and that does not smell good at all. Not to worry! It will go away, it just needs some time to "degas". This is one of the many ways aging makes your mead better.
When is it ready? Well, technically speaking as soon as you hit your intended alcohol content or when it goes fully dry (no sugars let in the must). That can be determined by taking a gravity reading, but those are another article altogether.
So after having done all that waiting your mead is ready! Taste it, rack some of it in bottles for aging and enjoy! Also it is not too late to add herbs or spices in it now. Just keep in mind that if you add anything that has sugar in it (fruit, etc.) fermentation will likely restart. And if that happens in a closed bottle you will get carbonation.
Note: If you are uncertain of the sugar content left after fermentation or you are adding something that can potentially restart fermentation make sure you use bottles that can hold carbonation. Trust me, you do not want mead bombs going off spraying everything with mead and broken glass.
Here's what an yeast cake looks like.
What Yeast to Use
What yeast should you use? Well, technically speaking any yeast would do including bread yeast, BUT I caution against using bread yeast for brewing. The thing is that bread yeast is bread and specialized in producing a lot of gases for baking purposes. Will it work - yes, will you get off flavors and unnecessary amount of sediment making the mead cloudy, also yes.
There are many types of yeast and what to use depends on your must and what you want to achieve. If you want a really strong mead (I've manged monsters of 22% alcohol content) use champagne yeast. However, keep in mind that you wont get the most and the best flavors from your must. Champagne yeast ferments quickly and has a really high alcohol content.
There are yeast strains specifically for meads and siders I recommend going with those as they do indeed work best.
© 2019 Raven Ives