Mead is a fermented drink made from honey. It is thought to be the oldest fermented drink made by man. The Phrase "Nectar of the Gods" refers to Mead. Mead is also considered to be the source of the phrase "honeymoon" - a woman's dowry was meant to contain enough mead to supply the new husband for a month (perhaps by that time it'd be too late to back out?).
In any case, if you wish to get started with basic mead, there's a step-by-step guide here: http://www.taryneast.org/hobbies/mead.shtml
This should get you started if you've never brewed before or if you've only brewed beer. For those in the latter category, mead-making is very different to beer-making - for one thing, while a beer could be done in 4-6 weeks, mead really should be left for a *minimum* of 6 months. Any less than that and you end up with the rocket-fuel specials or honey-water horribles.
Broken down to its most basic, mead is simply honey, water and yeast mixed and left for a period of time - as determined by your own personal taste. If you add anything else to the above mix, it becomes something slightly different, and can roughly be split into two main categories:
If you add spices or herbs to mead, it becomes metheglin/metheglyn. This word is related to the current-day word for medicine - adding Welsh llyn (liquor) to the latin: Medicus (medicine). This relation is due to the fact that many medical herbs/spices could be easily kept for long periods in the mead - which acts as a great preservative... not to mention its benefits in making it go down easy.
When you add fruits or berries etc to the mix, it becomes a melomel. There are *many* different, very successful, melomels around; and these old favourties often have their own, special name - strawberry (or any other berry) is oft-used, though I don't know a name for it, grapes (pyment), and apples (cyser) are also pretty common.
Sure, there are always a few things that fall through the holes too. Hydromel seems to be like that - which is a mead that has a higher percentage of water. I believe this was often used more as a medicinal, but can't be sure. Hippocras was apparently a hydromel/melomel.
Sack is also fairly well-known as a type of mead and simply refers to a very thick, syrupy wine - easy enough to do when you add lots and lots of honey (usually about 12kg to the imperial gallon).
Honey: where, what type?
The biggest issue generally facing a prospective mead-maker is what type/where to get your honey. Really, as with most things, it's a matter of taste. If you're making a basic mead, the taste of the honey is the most important thing (as it's really the only thing in your mead that gives it taste). Go to the honey-making places and do all their free tasting (yum). Try the different varieties and see what *you* like best (presumably you'll be drinking most of your mead so you'd better like it).
A few things to be aware of are:
- supermarket honey is generally cut with glucose - some of them up to 30-50% (or so I'm told) - and that means sweet but no flavour.
- if it has a nasty aftertase, it'll be horrible in mead - go for something smooth.
Raw honey, straight from an apiarist is my preference - it's often the cheapest too - especially if you can buy in bulk. Don't forget, honey doesn't go "off" so you can buy yourself a 27kg food-safe bucket full and stick it under a table somewhere and use it for years as long as you keep in covered. If it's a good honey, it's generally worth it, and you might have a store of honey to offer other mead-makers if there's another drought/worldwide shortage (like there has been recently).
How to find someone that sells honey in bulk? there are several ways to go about this:
- join the local brewers guild and ask.
- look at the supermarket honeys and see where they came from then go on the internet and look if these companies do bulk honey
- look in the phone book under "bee products" or "honey" or "apiarists", or do an internet search for any of these terms. :)
Do not, I repeat *DO NOT* use beer yeast in mead. yes, there's a recipe below which does - but that's meant to be an ultra-fast brew and not a "pinnacle of the meads" type of recipe.
The best yeast to use depends on what type of mead you are aiming at. You can make mead sweet, dry or... in between. So you can choose yeast that:
- ferments out every last iota of sugar = dry mead = a champagne yeast or "dry white wine" yeast
- is very gentle and doesn't ferment much at all = sweet mead = something like "white labs"s "sweet mead yeast"
- something in the middle that will depend on how much honey you put in.
Personally i prefer option 3 - as that way i myself can determine the sweetness of the mead by how much honey i use. I'll give you some ideas of yeast I use - but don't take this as read - there are many very good yeasts out there. I use: Lalvin EC1118 or Gervin Wine yeast #3 (depending on what's in stock at the local shop). These are both a type of yeast labelled S. cerevisiae (bayanus), so I guess they're both the same type of yeast from different companies. As I said, though - there are many types and if you are really getting so good at mead-making that you are worried about what type of yeast you use - you probably are better at it than me and can find all the yeast-debate websites that are out there.
Where do I get: yeast/demijohn...?
At a brew shop - look online or in the phone book for "homebrew wine". WRT demijohns - don't get the beer ones - your mead is goign t sit in them for 6months to a year, beer only sits in them for 4-6weeks. you don't want plasticy-tasting mead, so invest in a glass one if you can - it's worth it in the long-run. The 1-gallon ones don't cost that much more for glass and they're the best for beginning mead - by the time you're sure you want to go the whole hog you can have saved up enough for the 5/10-gallon ones.
Honey: How much to use?
Three main factors determine approximately how much honey you should use:
- how sweet/dry you'd like your mead
- if you will be using a specialty yeast (eg champagne)
- if you will be adding other sugar-carrying ingredients (eg grapes)
tackling these in reverse order: 3. if you're making a pyment or melomel, I can't help you - the amount of variation is very wide and you really have to consult the individual recipe you are using, or, if you aren't using a recipe, make a guess based on what percentage of the mel will be "mead" and what will be "your-fruit wine" and use the honey-ratios (below) for the mead bit and a "your-fruit" wine recipe for the other
2. it's another guessing game depending on how sweet/dry you want it to end up. I've experimented with all three and to give a basic idea - if you're using champagne yeast add a kilo or two, if you're using sweet yeast, take one away... however - that assumes you want a medium mead. Maybe you want it dry as a desert or dickly-dweet... really it's a guesing game. Just remember, thoguh - you can alwasy add more honey if it's not sweet enough... but you can't take it out again if it's too sickly. So if in doubt, add the lower amount and add some more later. it'll make the ferment a little longer, but if that will make the end result drinkable, then it's worth it!
1. ok, I've never made a really dry mead as i personally can't stand the stuff, so I can't reliably comment on the amount of honey to use. I generally make sack meads - which means they're quite sweet - but not sickly. base don this I'd give the following *VERY* approximate guide:
kg honey per imperial gallon:
- dry mead - 7.5kg
- medium - 8-9kg
- sweet - 10-12kg
Be aware that when you get to about 12kg of honey, youy are running dangerously close to creating a stuck ferment, so a beginner would be safer with about 10kg for a sweet mead - and maybe adding more later if they felt the need.
Another complicating factor can be the "strength' of the honey itself. When i switched from supermarket honey to the real stuff, I noticed a *huge* difference in how strong/sweet the mead I made was. Pure honey is much stronger in flavour - though I'm not sure what the concentration-difference (fi any0 of the sugars is between pure honey and honey-glucose supermarket mixes.
To sterilise or not to sterilise
I've heard arguments both for and against sterilisation. Sure, they didn't do it in period. Sure, some batches may have been lost. Sure, the initial busrt of yeast-activity generally kills off most competition. For me, it came down to personal laziness.... sterilising everything takes time, smells bad and is actually bad for you - especially when the metabisulphate sets off your migraine (like it does for me). I've been brewing for two years since i stopped asterlising (5 years all up so far) and I haen't lost a batch yet... that doesn't mead I won't ever, but I've put out at least 21 gallons in that time without losing anything yet and I think that's a good enough ratio for myself. However, if you have a messy kitchen or you're just beginning or just don't trust fate as much - feel free - many people do sterilise and most people swear by it. I do sterilise in some cirumstance - eg where I'm using second-hand bottles that haven't been washed out and the dregs may have gone vinegary... not good. My advice is to read all your options and decide based on your own abilities.
However - if you choose to sterilise, make sure you use common sense and *BE CAREFUL*.
- metabisulphate must always be used out in the open or at least with the windows open and try real hard not to inhale the stuff - it's nasty!
- don't use anything apart from proper brewers steriliser. Bleach is not good for you when you finally have to drink the stuff!
- read the instructions on the packet/bottle. Especially as regards the dilution-strength nd whether to rinse the bottles out afterwards or not.
To boil or not to boil
Another case of personal preference. People have always told me to boil the honey, they tell me I should spend ages bent over the pot scooping scum off and desperately trying to pull it off the stove before it boils over. This is probably do-able if you have only a gallon, but it becomes a chore when you do five 1-gallon pots-worth for your 5-gallon demi-john.
The argument for boiling is that the "scum' you pull out would otherwise make the mead cloudy and ick.
My feeling is that, sure, in period, this was great advice - your honey would normally be full of pollen, bee-bits and random bits of suspended beeswax. However, these days your local supermarket honey is pasteurised and homogenised as well as filtered, so highly unlikely to be of the random "raw" quality of the 1600's. I get my honey "raw" from an apiarist and even they filter it very finely out before handing it over.
The main argument against boiling is that boiling "boils off" the volatile components of the honey - and destroys natural enzymes any "wholesome goodness" stuff (that I have so far been unable to find anyone to fully describe to me).
Personally I'm not so certain of either argument, and therefore i go with my gut-instinct for laziness... again.
If you're making show-quality mead, maybe you'd like to be certain that it'll be clear and go with boiling - but then maybe you'll be worried that you'll boil off the more complex flavours... i personally don't boil. If my mead ever goes cloudy because of it 9hasn't yet) I'll throw in some dolomite - which is the usual way to clear suspension hazes anyway.
To stop the ferment or not
Stopping a ferment is absolutely *NO WAY* in period. Besides which, the longer you leave your mead, the nicer it will taste. i personally never bottle before a year, even if the ferment finished in 6 months. the only reason I can tell to stop your mead early is if you've absolutely, positively got ot have your mead by xyz time. However if you're on a tight schedule i'd much rather recommend you make some nice cider or perry or something instead - and leave that mead a few months more and take it to the following year's festival :)
= Basic sweet mead
- Water to fill to 1 gallon (Imperial, not US)
- 10-12kg of honey (depending on *how* sweet)
- two lemons (or other favourite citrus - I like Limes)
- If your yeast is dry, you will need to "Start" the yeast by mixing up some honey in some warm water (a cupful will be fine) and carefuly pouring the yeast on top. Make sure it sits for at least half an hour so it really has a chance to wake up - but htere should be instructions on the packet for the best time-length. If you have liquid yeast, don't bother... already done for you.
- Mix your honey with *some* water (not all - you'll fill it up in a bit). This step is often easier if you heat the honey, but not necessary (see controversies above).
- Make sure the honey/water isn't hot or you'll either break/melt your demijohn 9depending on whether it's glass/plastic) and pour it into your brew-bottle.
- juice your citrus fruit and pour it in too.
- When the honey-water is no more than tepid (room-temp) pour the yeast "starter" in on top.
- Fill up to the shoulder - possibly below that if it's summer and the temps are warm (the brew can sometimes bubble yucky froth and spew out the top, so leave a gap).
- Fit with an airlock and wait...
- After 6 months or so, 'rack' the mead by syphoning off the good stuff and leacing the lees behind. if the mead has been sparkly-clear for about a month (you should be able to read a book through a glass bottle), it's probably safe enough to bottle.
SAFETY NOTE: if you bottle too soon and the ferment hasn't stop, you could end up with glass grenades = bottles that explode with the pressure. This is a Bad Thing(tm), so it's better to wait than be sorry.
Syr Michael of York Mead
Syr Michael of York, raised in the East Kingdom, wrote the original article in the Knowne World Handbook on brewing. He has won East Kingdom brewing competitons several times with this recipe. This recipe is interesting because it doesn't involve a very long "working" time (many meads can require a period of around 5 or 6 months before they are good for drinking). THis short working time probably means that this mead isn't as period as it could be.
- 1 Gallon Water
- 2 1/2 lbs Honey
- 1 Lemon
- 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
- 1 pkg Ale or Champagne yeast (ferments quickly)
- Boil the water and honey.
- Add the juice of the lemon and the nutmeg.
- Boil, skimming the foam that rises to the surface, until it stops foaming.
- Let cool to blood temperature, actually under 90 degrees F, then pitch the yeast.
- Let it work two and a half weeks, bottle it and let it age two weeks.
WARNING: Make sure you put it in the refrigerator, as it can become explosive if left out after this.
Drink at your leisure!
- The greydragon website (where some of these recipies came from). This site seems to have vanished but in the hope that it will return the link remains - http://www.greydragon.org/library/basic_mead.html