How To Make Your Own Mead
The process of making mead by changing honey into wine is simple, it’s controlling your patience that will be the difficult task. Mead goes by a hose of different names, such as "Mead", "Honey Wine", "Ambrosia" and "Nectar of the gods". And mead is frequently referred to as the oldest fermented beverage, with evidence that can put Mead Making back as far as 15,000 BC. Today, however, mead is still misunderstood, even with its long history. Fortunately homebrewers and Winemakers like yourselves have helped to bring back the interest in Mead.
To get started in Mead Making, some basic equipment is needed. If you are already a Homebrewer or a Winemaker, you should have most of the equipment already. Austin Homebrew Supply has a couple of Beginner Kits that will have everything you need to get started. We’ve included a list of the basic equipment you’ll need at the end of this how.
Honey is the main ingredient in mead making. It is important to get your honey from a reputable source, like Austin Homebrew. All the honey that AHS sells is ideally suited for mead making. Have you ever seen honey that has crystallized? Many assume that when the honey has crystallized, that is has spoiled or "gone bad". This could not be further from the truth. The crystallization process is natural and spontaneous. Pure, raw and unheated honey has a natural tendency to crystallize over time with no effect to the honey other than color and texture. The honey you get from Austin Homebrew, will probably come crystallized. What's more, the crystallization of honey preserves the flavor and quality characteristics of your honey. Some honey users even prefer it in this state as it is easier to spread on bread or toast. Austin Homebrew Supply offers wildflower honey in 1 lb, 3 lb, 5 lb & 7 lb jars, and AHS also offers Buckwheat and Orange Blossom honey seasonally.
Mead Making Instructions
(general instructions for a 5 gallon recipe)
1. Sanitize: You must always start out making sure all your equipment is clean and sanitized. Anything that touches the must (unfermented honey and water mixture) should be sanitized, this will of course include the brew pot. If you are a homebrewer, you may depend on the boil to "sanitize" your brew pot. But with mead, we will not be boiling. So, it is crucial that you clean and sanitize everything.
2. Heat the water: If your honey is crystallized, you can liquefy it in a hot water bath. To do this, placed the sealed container in hot water until it liquefies enough to pour out of the container. In your brew pot, heat 2.5 Gallons of water to 170°F. Remove the brew pot and water from the heat source. You will be adding the honey to this water, but you do not want to do that while the brew pot is still on the heat source. The honey will sink to the bottom of the brew pot. If the brew pot is still on the heat source, there is a high risk of the honey scorching to the bottom of the brew pot.
Many mead recipes call for boiling the honey during preparation. This was done for a couple of reasons. The first would be to remove unwanted elements from the honey, such as cappings, dead bees, wild yeast and debris. Honey today, will not come with these unwanted components and wild yeast will be driven off by heating the honey to 150°F for about 5 minutes or to 140°F for about 20 minutes will kill off wild yeast. In an effort to preserve as much of the aromatics of the honey as possible, boiling the honey should be avoided. Boiling the honey will strip it of all the desirable aromas and flavor compounds.
3. Add the honey: Pour the honey in the brew pot. The honey will sink to the bottom. If you are as frugal as Hop Head Jon, you will want to get all the honey out of the containers. Use a ladle, sanitized of course, and remove some of the hot water from the brew pot. Pour the hot water into the honey container, replace the lid and swirl around. Now pour the remaining honey into the brew kettle. You have just created a must…Congratulations!
4. Add Sulfites: Add 5 crushed campden tablets to the hot water. Stir the mixture into a uniform solution. Potassium metabisulfites are commonly used by commercial mead makers and home mead makers for sanitization. Sulfites are added when the water and honey is first mixed. The most convenient way to add Potassium metabisulfite to your must is with crushed campden Tablets. Potassium metabisulfite is the active ingredient in campden tablets. One campden tablet is added per gallon. So, 5 campden tablets for a 5 gallon batch. By using sulfites, the mead will have the stability it needs to protect itself from infection, even over long aging times.
5. Temperature: Take a temperature reading. You should be around 140°F to 150°F. Use caution handling and moving the brew pot at this point. It will be very hot.
6. Add Water: Add 3 gallons of cool water to your sanitized plastic fermenter. You fermenter is now ready to receive the must. Pour the warm must into the fermenter and stir into the water.
7. Additives: It is time to add certain additives. Mead kits from Austin Homebrew Supply will come with pre-measured add packs for select meads. Fruit (Melomel) Meads will come with a Fruit Mead Additive Pack that you will add at this step. The fruit mead add pack includes an acid blend, yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme. All other meads will include a yeast nutrient vial that is added by pulling the capsule apart and stirring its contents into the mixture.
Pectic Enzyme is the compound in fruits that will turn into a gel when heated. The melomels in pectin can be a cause of haze in your mead or wine. The pectin begins to gel around 180°F. Pectic Enzyme will work to break down this pectin haze. It can be added with the yeast.
Acids such as Citric, Tartaric, Malic are used to add a subtle tartness and works to balance and residual sugar in the mead. Citric is the acid produced in citrus fruits. Tartaric is the acid from grapes. Malic is the acid found in apples. An acid blend is a good blend of each of these and is the preferred mixture for mead making.
8. Fruit: Some of the best meads are made with a combination of fruit and honey. Austin Homebrew Supply has numerous fruit mead (Melomel) kits that are as delicious as some of the best commercial meads available. Although fresh fruit may be used, the kits from Austin Homebrew Supply come with 96 oz (6 lb) of whole fruit suspended in a light syrup (of the same fruit). The benefit to using the whole fruit wine base, is that they are sanitary and can be added directly to the must. If you are going to use a fruit base, it is to be added now.
9. Yeast: It is time to pitch the yeast. Follow the pitching instructions for your chosen yeast. Typically, the must will need to be below 80°F before the yeast is pitched. Once you pitch the yeast into the must, stir well (with a sanitized spoon) to make sure it is well mixed. Yeast will need oxygen to aid in its reproduction and to get fermentation off to a healthy start. Stir the must vigorously for at least 5 minutes. Click here to see a list of our recommended mead yeasts
10. Gravity: Take a hydrometer reading at this time to record the Original Gravity.
11. Fermentation: The fermentation temperature should be between 65-75°F for the duration of fermentation. Be sure to keep your fermenter off of cold floors and away from fluctuating temperatures.
12. Daily Maintenance: Stir for 2 minutes twice a day until fermentation begins, usually within 24 to 48 hours. When using fruit make sure to dunk the fruit below the surface Once a week.
13. Finishing Gravity: When fermentation is complete, take a hydrometer reading to confirm. This can sometimes take up to a month so do not rush this step. The target gravity for an Austin Homebrew Mead recipe will be included on your instruction sheet and in the description of the recipe on our website.
14. Secondary: After confirming fermentation is complete, transfer to a sanitized 5-6 gallon glass carboy for secondary. Once in secondary, stir vigorously or use a wine whip, until all of the sulfur dioxide is released (sulfur dioxide smells like rotten eggs) from the mead. Put the airlock in place and let the mead to clear for at least 2-3 months. This can sometimes take longer. Be sure to keep your airlock filled during this time. Once all of the sulfur is released then you can also use Isinglass in the secondary, this will speed up the clarifying process, usually about 3 to 7 days.
15. See “How to Back Sweeten Mead Below”
18. See “Clarify the Mead Below”
19. Bottling: Before you proceed to the bottling step, ensure fermentation is complete via use of Hydrometer reading. When your mead has cleared, and you have not seen signs of fermentation for two weeks, it is probably time to bottle. Once in the bottle, some of the best meads are aged 6 to 9 months for best drinkability. Now is the time to decide whether you want a still mead or sparkling mead.
Still Mead: if you do not wish to have carbonation in your mead, you will need to add Potassium Sorbate before proceeding to the bottling process.
Sparkling Mead: if a Sparkling Mead is desired, omit the addition of Potassium Sorbate, then follow normal bottling procedures for beer. If you are want to use the proper bottles for Sparkling Mead, you will want Vichy Bottles.
20. Patience: Here comes the hard part, letting the mead mature or age in the bottle. Mead will improve dramatically with age. Letting the mead sit for 6 months to 1 year before opening is ideal. Be patient and it will really pay off. Enjoy!
How to Back Sweeten Mead
One of the common misconceptions in mead making, is that mead should be sweet due to the fact that honey is being used. The reality is that honey is more than 95% fermentable and all of the sweetness of the honey is all but gone after fermentation takes place. That is why we suggest Back Sweeting for those that prefer a sweat mead.
What is back sweetening? Back sweetening is adding some type of sugar after your mead is already fermented to sweeten the taste of your mead. The proper way to do this, is with honey. However, we do not just dump honey into the fermenter after your mead has fermented. This will cause the fermentation to restart.
15. Stabilize: Make sure your mead is completely finished fermenting. Take hydrometer readings to confirm. Pour Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Metabisulfite into your mead and stir it in lightly. For Austin Homebrew Supply Mead Recipes, a mead stabilization pack is included for both 1 & 5 gallon kits. Add the stabilization pack at this juncture.
16. Wait: Let the mead sit for two days.
17. Sweeten: Pour your honey into your mead. Stir lightly to mix the honey. That’s it, Enjoy your sweeter mead!
Clarify the Mead
To get a nice clear mead, the easiest method is to let the mead age until it’s clear. The unwanted haze in your mead can be the result of suspended yeast particles, protein or polyphenols. Adding clarifiers to your mead can help to eliminate the haze. Clarifiers bond to these particles and precipitate them out. Clarifying agents or clarifiers are often referred to as fining agents. The reason we use these additives is it remove the haze from our wine or mead. Positively charged fining agents, such as Gelatin, Isinglass and Sparkolloid work by bonding with negatively charged substances in the must. Gelatin will bond with tannins, clump together and drop out of suspension. Isinglass is actually derived from fish bladders, and can be effective on slight hazes. Sparkolloid will require some prep work before it can be used, but is very effective on stubborn hazes. Negatively charged fining agents, such as Bentonite precipitate out yeast and proteins. Bentonite is basically dry, powdered clay. Using Bentonite is very effective, but may require an additional racking to eliminate excess sediment.
18. Clarify: For Austin Homebrew Supply Mead Recipes, a clarifying pack is included for both 1 & 5 gallon kits. Add the clarifying pack at this time and stir vigorously.
Follow these instructions, and your mead will be awesome!
Hop Head Jon