The Best Yeast For Making Mead
Yeast is one Fungi
Yeast is a microorganism in the fungi kingdom, the particular yeast that is used in alcohol production is Saccharomyces cerevisiae which converts carbohydrates into carbon dioxide and alcohol. When making mead pretty much any yeast in the family can be used, however to get the best results you will want to tailor the yeast to your recipe, different types of meads work best with different types of yeast. Choose your yeast carefully to, and know the properties of the yeast you are using, and you will improve your end product drastically.
Picking a yeast for wine is easy, picking one for brewing is also easy, but there aren't many yeast strains engineered for meads. So you often will find yourself using yeasts bred for wines or beers. Here are some of my suggestions for mead yeasts.
Image is Saccharomyces Cerevisiae under a microscope, copyright holder has released rights into the public domain
Lalvin EC1118 - High Alcohol, Fast Fermenter
Lalvin EC1118 is a fast fermenting yeast that can tolerate pretty much any conditions. It will ferment very dry with an alcohol tolerance of 18%. If you want a mead with a kick this is the yeast for you. Ideal for dry to medium melomels, dry meads, and Metheglins. When I began meadmaking this was my yeast of choice, I have since moved on to D-47 for its slower fermentation process.
Lalvin ICV D-47 - Medium Fermentation Speed, Low Alcohol Tolerance
This yeast won't give you the rocket fuel that 1118 will, but it will give you nice mild flavours and a smooth end result with much fewer fusels. Fusel alcohol is what causes alcohol to give you headaches and in wine causes certain off notes. While the stated alcohol tolerance is only 14% that's still fairly potent and with the right nutrients and environmental conditions you can get 16%. Ideal for dry to sweet meads of all varieties.
This is one of my personal go to yeasts. I use it more often now than any other strain.
White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast - Medium Fermenter, Low Alcohol Tolerance
This yeast comes as a liquid and can spoil in transit, but it is one of the few yeast strains specifically bred for meads. It has an alcohol tolerance of 15% and likes high sugar content. Ideal for sweet meads.
Wyeast 4632 Dry Mead - Fast Fermenter, High alcohol tollerance
Like EC1118 this is a fast fermenting yeast that is pretty tolerant of a variety of environmental conditions. Its also one of the few yeast strains designed for meads. This one is, as the name suggests, ideal for any dry mead.
Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead
This is also a yeast specifically designed for meads, Wyeast brand is fond of mead specific yeasts. It will tolerate up to 11% ABV and is ideal for braggots, metheglins, and any sweet meads.
Coopers Ale Yeast - Slow Fermenter, Low Alcohol Tolerance
This is an ale yeast, ideal for making braggots which are beer based meads. Coopers ale yeast should tolerate up to 10% alcohol without trouble making a very nice and potent braggot.
Why Include Champaign Wine and Beer Yeasts?
You may note that I have listed several yeasts that are specifically designed for mead from Wyeast and White Labs. so you might be asking yourself why I would bother including the other yeasts that were not designed for mead at all. Wyeast and White Labs yeasts are well regarded in the homebrew arena for making mead, but truth be told they are hard to get a hold of, especially White Labs liquid yeast since it is so prone to spoilage, the champaign, wine, and ale yeasts are extremely easy to find, almost any you brew shop will have them in stock, and quite frankly depending on the type of finished product you are aiming for then the mead specific yeasts may not be what you are looking for at all.