This text was written by John Dilley, Dick Dunn, Thomas Manteufel, and Michael Tighe. The document is maintained by Dick Dunn.
This document is a list of basic information about mead and mead making for the beginner. It is intended to get you started and answer your initial questions about mead and mead making.
There is a mailing list about mead, the "Mead-Lover's Digest". To subscribe or unsubscribe, send mail to email@example.com. Please feel free to post any questions you have after reading this document to the digest at firstname.lastname@example.org. For comments/suggestions/corrections to this document, contact email@example.com
You can buy honey in bulk from roadside stands or health food stores. You may be lucky enough to live near an apiary and be able to buy right from the beekeeper. Look in the phone book for honey, health food, or beekeepers. Sometimes, exterminators will remove hives, give the bees to beekeepers, and sell the honey. University agriculture departments occasionally sell honey. Be inventive. If all else fails, you may have to buy it from the grocery store.
The honey will be either raw or processed in some way. Raw honey has bits of wax, bee parts, dust, pollen, microorganisms, and the like in it. You have the most control in how you process raw honey, but you also have the most to do. Honey may be filtered, or blended, or even heat pasturized to make it clearer and less likely to crystallize. The more processed it is, the milder it is likely to be and the less character it will give to your mead. Processing also evaporates some of the honey's aroma. Commercial, grocery store honey is the most processed and is generally not a good choice for meadmaking.
Crystallized honey is just fine for mead. In fact, it has two points in its favor: First, it generally indicates less processing, since one of the reasons for processing honey is to keep it from crystallizing. Second, it may be cheaper because it's less appealing to the average consumer. To re- liquefy crystallized honey so you can pour it, just heat it gently.
Acid can be added in many forms. Winemaking suppliers sell acid blends, powder or liquid. Acid is measured in "as tartaric", or how acidic the must is compared to pure tartaric acid. For example, if the must is 0.5 percent acid as tartaric, it is as acidic as if 0.5 percent of the must were pure tartaric acid. Inexpensive test kits will let you measure the acidity so that you can adjust it. Acid blends are a combination of tartaric, citric, and malic acids. You may be able to get the individual acids used in blends. Each contributes a slightly different taste in addition to acidity. The natural acid in fruits and berries will also acidify the must, for which reason melomels often need no additional acid.
Some mead recipes recommend only heating the must enough to pasteurize it. This is because boiling mead will drive off some of the delicate honey flavors. Refer to the recipes from the mead-lovers digest or the other references (below).
If scum rises while heating or boiling the must, skim it off. It consists of wax, bee parts, pollen, etc., which don't help the flavor of the mead.
An alternative preparation method involves the use of "Campden tablets" or "sulfiting" to sterilize the must. If you're a winemaker, you'll recognize this method. With the use of Campden tablets, it is not necessary to heat/ boil the must at all first, although some mead-makers do so anyway for the sake of clarity of the final mead. If you use Campden tablets, follow a recipe or instructions for quantity, preparation, delay times, etc. Heating is probably easier than sulfiting for the beginning mead-maker.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Each yeast will impart its own unique characteristic to the mead. Champagne ferments out very dry and has a high alcohol tolerance. Epernay has a fruity bouquet. Flor Sherry has a high alcohol tolerance and contributes a flavor that goes better with sack meads. Prise de Mousse is particularly neutral and fast-fermenting. Some yeasts will produce noticeable levels of phenols (the throat-burning part of cough medicine), which age out eventually in bottle conditioning but are an un- necessary complication since there are yeasts that don't produce them.
There are several kinds of nutrients. Most winemaking shops will sell various salts designed for grape musts. While this is helpful for mead, too much can leave an astringent metallic flavor that will take months or years in the bottle to age out. Yeast extract, pulverized yeast, is also available. Dead yeast are exploded ultrasonically or in a centrifuge, and sold as a powder. Yeast extract will not leave the same metallic flavors as nutrients, but may be more difficult to find. It is not possible to make your own yeast extract at home.
Initial fermentation of melomels made with fruit (not just juice) is easiest in a food-grade plastic pail so that you can strain out the fruit before racking. Except for this, glass carboys with fermentation locks are the best fermentation vessels.
To be sure the mead is done fermenting, take hydrometer readings spanning a week or more and be sure the readings are not still falling. Dry meads will also finish at a gravity below 1.000. As a mead finishes, it will "fall clear"--the initial cloudiness will settle out. Be careful, though, because being clear is not enough.
Choose appropriate bottles for the type of mead. Sparkling mead (carbonated, like champagne) will require a sturdy bottle, either sparkling wine (which are thick enough to take the higher carbonation) or returnable beer bottles. Beer bottles should be crown-capped. Sparkling wine bottles can be corked if you use champagne corks and wire them down. American sparkling-wine bottles can be crown-capped just as beer bottles can. European sparkling-wine bottles cannot be reliably crown-capped--they have a crown-cap lip, but it's the wrong size for standard caps.
Still meads (uncarbonated, like normal wines) may be bottled in regular wine bottles with standard corks, or in crown-capped bottles as above. Since pressure isn't an issue, almost any bottle with an airtight closure can be made to work. Bear in mind, though, that the appearance of your bottles is part of the first impression when you serve your mead.
Mead that has finished fermentation and is then bottled will be "still" (flat). Sparkling mead is "primed" by adding a small amount of sugar at bottling time to produce a short renewed fermentation so that it is carbon- ated. For predictable results (again, to avoid "glass grenades"), you should first let the mead finish fermenting in the carboy, then add just the amount of sugar needed to carbonate it. Bottling a mead before it finished ferment- ing (in hopes of capturing just the right amount of carbonation in the bottle) can lead to under- or over-carbonation, and even in the best case won't give the mead a chance to finish clearing before bottling. A normal amount of priming sugar is about 4 ounces by weight for five gallons.
Store the bottles in a cool dark place. Mead is not as sensitive as beer to light (unless you have hops in it), but should not be left in bright light.
While reading the mead-lovers digest you will occasionally see the word "Wassail". It's a toast, an expression of good will, much as a beer drinker might offer "Prosit" or "Cheers". The word derives from Old Norse through Middle English, and means "be healthy". The dictionary lists two pronun- ciations (wahs'ul, wah-sale').
* Honey Bee Growers Digest: firstname.lastname@example.org * Home Brew Digest (beer): email@example.com * Lambic Digest: firstname.lastname@example.org * Cider Digest: email@example.comWhen you're just learning a new hobby, it always helps to find other, more experienced folks, both for guidance and to join "the community." Check for homebrew clubs in your area; they often have subgroups interested in mead.
Beyond this basic information you should refer to recipes and further reading for details on how to make mead. Thanks to the gracious efforts of Stephen Hansen, we have a mead archive site. The archives are: