So we’ve made cider and wine, let’s move on to what is commonly claimed to be the oldest fermented beverage in the world, Mead. What is mead? Mead is a fermented beverage where the majority of the sugars are coming from honey. Honey is naturally antibiotic, and is unique in that it doesn’t spoil (while it will crystallize, it stays edible). So, since we want the yeast to survive, we’re going to need to water it down. There’s several different paths you can go to add water to the honey, each with different drawbacks:
- Boiling – Get water up to boiling, then add in honey. This runs the risk of scorching the honey, as well as driving off aromatics, but will ensure that the honey is equally mixed into the water. You’ll also need a way to cool the must before putting it into a fermentor and pitching yeast.
- Hot water – Get water up to ~160 F, and mix in the honey. This will help the honey dissolve, but will drive off some aromatics. This also may require some method of cooling before putting it in a fermentor and pitching yeast.
- Cold water – Mix water with honey. This will require more mixing and more stirring to make sure the honey is fully dissolved, has the highest risk of infection (still not a high one), but preserves the honey aromatics the best.
You won’t need any new equipment for making mead, but you may need a couple of additional ingredients. Yeast nutrients and yeast energizer. Fruit (and barley) have the compounds that yeast need naturally occurring in them, honey does not. While you can make mead without yeast nutrients and energizer, using both will help the yeast do well and convert the sugars into alcohol. With the cost of honey, it’s well worth the extra couple of dollars to ensure a good ferment.
There’s an ongoing debate in most of the mead forums about the best way to use yeast nutrients, with everyone certain that their way is the best (sound familiar?). You can either add it all in at the beginning of fermentation, you can do step additions (add 25% at the beginning, then an additional 25% each following week).
For those who think there’s too many different styles in beer, there’s a large list of different types of mead. For those of you here, I’m guessing the most popular will be:
- Braggot – A mead made with malted barley and honey
- Capsicumel – A mead flavored with chili peppers
- Cyser – A mead that users cider instead of water to dilute the honey
- Hydromel – A light/low alcohol mead (think around 5% ABV)
- Pyment – A mead that uses grape juice instead of water to dilute the honey
- Sack mead – A strong mead with more honey then a standard mead (to get to ~15% ABV)
For your standard mead, plan on between 2.5-4 lbs.of honey per gallon. Adjust as you wish for higher/lower ABV, and based on if you’re using a fruit juice to dilute (which will have sugar of its own). Be aware of the different types of honey, and realize that they will have different flavors when the fermentation is done. I recommend starting with small batches until you find something you like, then ramping that up to a higher volume.
Now for the recipe of a mead I made that came out really well, and should be ready for your next Thanksgiving. Yes, I’m talking about the one in 2019, most meads do well with a lot of mellowing and aging on them. Since it’s a 1 gallon batch, I generally bottle this into about ten 375 ml bottles instead of risking only getting four and some change into 750 ml bottles (remember that there’s sediment you don’t want in your bottles).
Cranberry Mead (1 gallon batch):
- 1.5 lbs Cranberries – Reduced to juice (or just buy cranberry juice)
- 3.5 lbs honey
- Water to top off to one gallon
Blend the cranberries (or buy juice) and run the resultant liquid through a filter. Mix that with 3.5 lbs. honey and top off with cold water to get to one gallon. Shake it up (which will both aerate it, and make sure that the honey is mixed in with everything else) until the honey is dissolved. Figure out what nutrient schedule you want to use, and pitch a white wine yeast. Fermentation will take at least a month, so be patient with this one. After fermentation is done, wait for it do drop clear (sediment will settle at the bottom of the carboy), then bottle it up.