The Art of Mead Making
Mead is a wine that is brewed from honey rather than grapes. It is a very old tradition and is thought to possibly be the oldest alcoholic beverage to have been brewed by people. Part of the reason why it is so old as an art is that it is so easy to make. There isn't a whole lot you need to do or know to make a successful batch of mead. Here you can learn some of the basics of the interesting hobby with a very nice benefit - you end up with bottles of delicious honey wine!
This picture shows several batches of my mead both in the 5 gallon
and 1 gallon sizes. One thing to note is the different flavors!
About the Hobby
Centuries ago Mead was the predominant beverage that was made and imbibed. But a few factors brought about its downfall including the rise of grape wine and the rise of sugar plantations that shipped sugar around the world at reasonable prices. Honey, understandably so, takes time to get. You have to raise bees to get it and this takes skill, time, and patience. So, financial and economic factors forced Mead honey wine into relative obscurity. It did survive and there has always been a small following and a few different meaderies that kept the art alive such as Lindisfarne Mead in England.
But today there has been a very large revival of all kinds of medieval things from movies to weapons, swords, armor, reenactments, renaissance faires and so much more. So mead has survived and it has gained a wonderful momentum and more and more people are trying it, liking it and making it themselves!
And the craft has changed a bit over the past few years. Traditionally wine makers and mead makers would make five gallon batches and this is a lot of wine! There is nothing at all wrong with that except that it can be daunting to a newcomer. A 5 gallon glass jug can cost 30 dollars or more and typically you would use about 15 pounds of honey in that batch of mead. Well, that's a lot of honey. If you include the various other things you need like 20 bottles, a corker and more you are talking about a fair investment for a beginner who has never made mead and isn't even sure if a first batch will come out ok!
But that has changed. Now there are lots of recipes and processes for making a one gallon batch of mead. And this will yield you about four typical bottles of wine which is a nice, and inexpensive, way to start out in the hobby.
So, lets launch into what the hobby of mead making is and how you make some!
How Mead is Made
Mead is really quite easy to make. All you have to do is mix honey, water and yeast together then set it aside and drink it in about six months. Really! That was how they did it for centuries and for a time they didn't even add the yeast. They relied on natural yeasts floating around in the air! But nowadays we do it much better and we take a few basic steps to insure the quality and taste of the mead. But all of this doesn't take a lot of work and it doesn't cost much money at all.
Here is a look at the basic steps in mead making. In the first step you mix up the various ingredients and let it ferment in a pail for 2-4 weeks. This is the primary ferment period during which the yeast transforms much of the honey into alcohol. In the second step we transfer the mead into another sanitized jug so it can go into a longer secondary ferment. After 2-4 months in this process we bottle it for aging. The length of time varies but typically it is about nine months between first mixing and when it is ready to drink.
Equipment & Expense
If you are just starting out in the hobby you will probably want to make a one gallon batch of mead. It is easy to handle and inexpensive to start.
- a 1 Gallon Jug ( 10 dollars)
- 1 airlock (cost about a dollar)
- a small container of wine Nutrient (cost about 2 dollars)
- a small container of yeast energizer (cost about 2 dollars)
- 1 drilled rubber stopper
- 1 solid rubber stopper
- 3 pounds of honey
- 1 packet of wine yeast (5 grams and cost about 1 dollar)
- 1 gallon of water
- A few other miscellaneous common kitchen items like a spoon and pan
The picture above gives you an idea of some of the equipment and supplies. There are variations on how you can make mead but take note of the jugs, brown yeast package, white chemical container, the two brown rubber stoppers.
This picture on the left shows the most mysterious part of the whole process. It is the airlock and two rubber stoppers. You fill the airlock half full with water and push it through the drilled rubber stopper and then put it on the jug. What the airlock does is allow the gases to escape from the fermenting mead while not allowing any impurities to get in. An airlock will cost you about a dollar.
How Mead is Made
Step One: Mix the honey and water in your pail or jug. Mix it really well by stirring and shaking. Add a teaspoon of energizer and a teaspoon of nutrient.
Step Two: prepare your yeast by pouring it into a cup of warm water and letting it sit for fifteen minutes. This activates it. Then you pour it into your mead. The yeast will come with directions for this.
Step Three: Put the airlock on and set it in a dark place (or cover it) and let it ferment. The airlock will start bubbling within 24 hours. Let it continue for 2-4 weeks.
Step Four: Siphon it into a new sanitized jug and put the airlock on it. Now it is in the secondary ferment period. It should stay here for 2-4 more months. You can optionally siphon it into a new jug every 30 days. This will help it clear up fast. This siphoning is called "Racking" and it removes the mead from all the sediment that has formed. This sediment is dead yeast.
After approximately 4 months it will be ready to bottle.
That is it! That's pretty much the whole process. And one important thing to note is that sanitiation is the most important part of the process and you should clean all the equipment with wine makers sanitizer. Something like EasyClean or iodophor is recommended.
Books and More
A Video that shows you how to easily and cheaply make one gallon of Mead Honey Wine
Links and Resources
- A series of youtube videos all about mead making, making it, bottling, clarifying, racking and more
- StormtheCastle.com Section on Mead Making with everything you need to know about making mead
- Need equipment and supplies? Here is a page with a list of mead making supplies and equipment.