The Need For Mead
Considered the grandparent of fermented beverages, Mead and its offshoots have been around almost as long as recorded history.
Honey is a truly remarkable substance. It has anti-bacterial qualities that can preserve it for decades. A crystallized batch can be restored to brilliance on a warm water bath or even the microwave. Honey, water, and yeast are all that is required to make this phenomenal beverage. The bee itself is an amazing insect that is the cornerstone for most of our agriculture.
If you make your own wine, the transition to making Mead is easy, and the equipment needed is the same.
To be considered a Mead the majority of fermentables must come from honey. There are distinct types of Mead – Classic Mead (honey, water and yeast), Melomel (fruit or fruit purees), Metheglin (spices or herbs), Pyment (grape juice) and Braggot (malted grains and hops).
The variety of honey is as important to Mead as the grape varietal is to wine. Northern Brewer carries a nice selection of honey, including Clover, Wildflower, Amber Blend, and-- my favorite -- Orange Blossom. Honey adds a subtle flavor quality to the final product.
The yeast you choose will go a long way in determining the type of Mead you produce. For a sweeter Mead, I prefer Wyeast 4184, Lalvin 71B-1122, or Lalvin ICV-D47. These are white wine strains and will leave a little residual sweetness in your Mead. Wyeast 4632 and Red Star Premier Cuvee will dry out your Mead a bit. For the driest Mead, go right to the Cannibal Warlord* of the yeast world and use a champagne strain. I prefer Lalvin EC-1118 or Red Star Pasteur Blanc.
My base recipe for 5 gallons of still mead (non-carbonated) is as follows:
- Use 3 lbs. of Honey per gallon of finished Mead desired. In this case, 15 pounds.
- Warm the sealed jugs of honey in a bath of hot water to make the honey easier to pour.
- Add 2 gallons of lukewarm water to your fermenter, then pour in the honey and mix well.
- Top off with water until you reach your target volume of 5 gallons.
- Once the temperature reaches about 70°F, add the yeast of your choice and the nutrient blend, following the directions on the label. Add nutrient four times: at pitching, then again at 24, 48, and 72 hours. This is called a staggered nutrient addition. Once fermentation has started, it is recommended to slowly stir the mead before adding the nutrient to help release CO2. This will prevent excessive foaming.
- After two weeks in primary - or once the mead has fully fermented - transfer to secondary.
- To aid clarification, the Mead may be transferred numerous times after secondary. This allows expired yeast to settle and be left behind on each transfer.
- When satisfied with your Mead, stabilize it using Potassium Metabisulfite and Potassium Sorbate, again following the directions on the labels. These additives neutralize the yeast still suspended in the Mead and also act as an antioxidant.
- I filter my meads using the Buon Vino filter. This polishes the Mead making it sparkle. It also helps to remove any trapped gas still in suspension. Bottle your Mead as you would a wine, but be sure to use capped beer bottles for the ones reserved for competitions.
- Now is the waiting game. Mead improves with age. A six-month old Mead is a very different beverage than a Mead at two years in the bottle. Reserve some so that you can experience the difference as the alcohol fades and other flavors emerge.
Experiment with small batches and big batches, add fruit, add hops – make it yours!