Mead, a drink made from honey, was the ancient drink of most of the Aryan (Indo-European) peoples. Everyone from India to Poland to England drinks or drank mead at one time. Unfortunately its consumption has declined in the past few centuries. It is now beginning to come back as mankind realises that there is more to drink than water, wine, beer and soda (although why anyone would drink water or soda is beyond me).

Mead is one of the most wonderful things on this earth, IMHO. Here is the recipe I use to make it. It's sorta rough, but I'll try to improve it as I remember / find out how to do it better. This is a pretty quick recipe for mead.

To make 5 gallons of Mead

What you need:

  • 8-10 pounds of honey
  • 5 gallons of water
  • yeast
  • yeast energizer / fertilizer
  • clarifier
  • a 5 gallon brewing vessel
  • an air lock

Optional

How to get this Stuff:

Go to your local brew store. There are home brewing stores in most areas, run by people who love to brew and know a lot about it.

Yeast - Champagne yeast works well. If you want to increase the amount of alcohol in the final product you can put Sherry yeast in after a few weeks, instead of champagne.

Air lock - allows gas out but not impure, germ filled air in

Brewing Vessel - You can use just about anything - 5 gallon water jugs like they use in office water coolers work well and are easy to find - but a pain in the butt to clean out.

What to do:

The most important part of brewing is to keep everything clean. Sanitize everything you use to brew.

Take a large pot and fill it with honey and put some of the water ( about 1/2 gallon - gallon). Put it on the stove or other source of heat and start bringing it to a very gentle, slow boil. As it starts to bubble up wax, bee parts and other impurities will come to the top. Skim those off. (It works better to let it all come up then start skimming it off.) Be careful not to let it boil over. This soupy mess of honey and water is called the 'must' (called 'wort' if you use malt instead of honey).

When it looks good (most of the bee parts are gone) dump it into the brewing vessel and let it cool to room temperature.

After the wort cools add the rest of the water, until the brewing vessel is full. Then put in one or two packets of yeast. Also put in the yeast energizer / nutrient (how much depends on what kind it is - read directions / ask the guys at the brew shop) If you so desire you may add acid blend now.

Then put the air lock on it and put in in a dark, non-extreme temperature place. For the first few days you may need to gently shake it, until the air lock starts bubbling.

Leave it there for a few weeks, of course you have to check on it to make sure it's still bubbling, talk nicely to it, show it off to all your friends, etc. etc.

You can now add more yeast and/or yeast energizer if you desire. Doing so will result in a faster batch.

The next step is to rack the mead. Basically all this is, is moving to another vessel so that you can get rid of the sludge on the bottom. The more times you rack your mead the better and clearer it will be. It's generally a good idea to do it once or twice. Before actually transferring the mead from one vessel to the next add the clarifier. This clumps up with the particles floating in the mead and helps them settle to the bottom.

While racking the mead you will probably want to taste it, Go ahead. You will almost definitely be able to taste the yeast in it - it's the odd aftertaste. If you think it's too dry you can add extra honey to sweeten it.

After racking the next step is to bottle the mead. The bubbling should be finished by now, lest the mead explode in the bottle. Ideally you want to use regular beer bottles and cap them, but washed out liquor bottle and/or anything else will work. However, if they don't have an air tight seal the mead will not last long.

After this you can let the mead age and improve it's taste or you can drink it right away. I usually strive for the former and end up doing the latter.

This will produce a regular, non-flavored mead. If you want to make something different there are a couple things you can do:

  • Use apple juice instead of water. - Make sure you get apple juice with out preservatives. This tends to produce a dry mead, so you might want to sweeten it with apple juice and/or honey. This kind of mead is called a cyser.
  • Spiced Mead - add a few spices to the mead when you start brewing it. It's best to put them in the spice bags you can buy at brewing shops. Popular spices include: Clove (Don't use much), Ginger, Grains of Paradise (Pepper) and several others.
  • Other Fruit flavors are also good with mead. The easiest way to add a fruit flavor to mead is to add fruit flavoring to the batch before bottling.
Historical trivia note:

In England, mead was produced mainly in monasteries. Monks kept most of the bees in England--not for honey but for wax, which they used to make the many candles that were an important part of medieval worship (candles were commonly given as donations to churches in the Middle Ages in lieu of money). The demand for honey as food was apparently limited, but the monks discovered that by converting the honey to mead, they could make a profitable product.

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries after the English Reformation, the hives kept in the monasteries were largely destroyed and so the amount of mead produced in England declined greatly. At the same time, brewers began adding hops to ale, producing beer. Hops acts as a preservative to ale and so it became possible to transport beer across longer distances. As a result, beer became the dominant alcoholic beverage of the English.

Mead is generally considered to be the first widely consumed alcoholic beverage, probably originating in prehistoric times. Mead enjoyed popularity for many centuries, before falling out of favor during the last few hundred years. Mead was well known throughout Europe, Asia and Africa as well as in New World civilizations such as the Incas and Aztecs. In Europe, several variations were know:

In addition to its impact on the culture of the day, mead has left a lasting impression on the English language. The modern English word medicine is derived from metheglin, and the word honeymoon takes its name from the custom of drinking mead for the first month after marriage, a practice though to increase virility.

Here is a recipe for a very strong (~15% alcohol by volume), very sweet version of hydromel. The amount of honey can be reduced if you prefer a drier beverage, but keep in mind that historical literature indicates that mead was traditionally a very sweet drink. It is unlikely that you would want to increase the amount of honey in this recipe.

Mead (Hydromel)


Ingredients:


15 Lbs. honey, preferably clover or other light, mild honey
Enough water to make 5.5 gallons
4 teaspoons acid blend (available from homebrew shop)
2 packets dry Pasteur Champagne yeast (also available from homebrew shop)
2 teaspoons yeast nutrient (optional- homebrew shop)

O.G. 1.120-1.130
F.G. 1.020-1.030

You can purchase honey in bulk from most supermarkets, but be prepared for strange looks from the cashier when you purchase 15 pounds of it. Combine the water and honey in a big pot. Ideally, you should have a pot that will allow you to boil the entire 5.5 gallons, but if not, find one that will hold all the honey plus at least 2.5 gallons of water. You can add the rest of the water to the fermenter. Some folks say that boiling kills the subtle flavors of the honey, but in the good ole days, all mead was boiled. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and skim off the copious scum that forms. The scum is mostly proteins that would be detrimental to the finished product if not removed. Boil for about one hour. Add the acid blend (or one cup of fresh sqeezed lemon juice) and yeast nutrient if used. Again, some folks object to using acid, but most traditional recipies include some sort of acid source, or at least would have been soured somewhat during the fermentation (pure yeast cultures were not available back then, and bacteria such as Lactobacillus would have been present in fermenting mead) and the finished product tends to taste like cough syrup without it. Also, the yeast will benefit from the addition of acid. Once you are finished boiling it, cool it (preferably with a counterflow chiller if available) and transfer it to a large glass carboy. Pitch the yeast when the temperature is below 85°F, and seal with an airlock.

Primary fermentation may take about six months when this much honey is used, so patience will be required. When all signs of fermentation cease, the mead should be transferred to another carboy to clear. Fining agents such as bentonite are often added at this point to help clear the yeast from the mead. When the mead is sparkling clear, 5 crushed Campden tablets (a form of sulfite available from homebrew shops) should be added as a preservative. The mead can then be bulk aged in the second carboy for another six months, or bottle immediately in wine or champagne bottles. (I prefer champagne bottles as I can get them free from any number of restaurants that serve a champagne brunch.) Allow a total of two years before your mead is drinkable. Anything shorter than this, and your mead will taste like medicine.

Once your mead is properly aged, and you crack open the first bottle, you may be tempted to celebrate by getting sloshed on the stuff. If you do, this will be the last time such a though ever crosses your mind. When you are able to get out of bed several days later, you will have gained a healthy respect for this most ancient of alcoholic beverages.




Homebrewing 101: Getting Started contains explanations of brewing terms like O.G. and F.G.

Seems like our home brewed mead here in Finland differs from that described above. Surprisingly, Finnish mead is not necessarily alcoholic! And we don't use honey but sugars.

Ingredients:

How to:

Bring 2 litres of water to the boil. Mix sugars with boiled water. You may replace white sugar with brown one if you want to have darker mead. Add rest of the water and ensure in the end the temperature meets the requirements of rising powder (i.e. ~37C). Add rising powder. Extract juices from lemons and add juices to the pot.
Let the mixture stand still until the next day.
Embottle the mixture and add a tablespoonful of sugar into each bottle. You may also add few optional raisins if you want to. Don't screw the corks too tight because the pressure inside the bottles will increase.
Mead will be ready for drinking after 3 days if you keep the bottles in the room temperature (~20C) but it will take about a week if you store them in cold. Mead should be consumed within a week.

Enjoy!

Mead has many different meanings. In Finland, it is a drink made of white or brown sugar and lemon. It is merely carbonated by fermentation, so that its alcohol content is neglible. The fermentation changes the taste of the lemon from sharp to soft. Mead is drank only on May Day, much like mämmi is eaten only in Easter.

This recipe can be found from all packages of brown sugar.

The sugar can be brown sugar, but you can mix white sugar with it or even make the mead of white sugar only. Taste is better with 100% brown sugar.

First, boil a part of the water and pour it on the sugar. Wash the lemons carefully from the outside. Then cut them up, with the peels, into thin slices above the mead, such that the juice isn't lost. You can squeeze some of the juice out. Leave also the peels in to give taste. (Don't cut them up elsewhere - the juice is lost. Don't use anything else than fresh lemons. I've tried lemon concentrate once, and that batch tasted bad.)

Pour the rest of the water in. When it has cooled down, insert the yeast. Do not kill it by putting it into hot mead. It may be tempting, but don't exceed 1/4 tsp, because the taste will be affected. (If you want alcohol into it, use a better yeast than baking yeast.) Let it ferment (covered) for 24-36 h.

Then remove the pieces of lemon and bottle the mead. Put some raisins into each bottle. Leave them into a cool place, like a cellar. When the raisins gather enough carbon dioxide to rise up to the surface, the mead is ready. This takes about a week. The bottles gain enough pressure to eject a rubber bottle top.

A fun fact: As you know, raisins are dried grapes. When you put them into the mead, they get their moisture back. The carbon dioxide is evenly spread to the whole volume, including the inside of the raisin. So, when you open the bottle, bubbles form inside the raisins, and they rise to the surface fast. When you bite the bloated raisin, it sizzles.


Don't drink the sludge of yeast in the bottom. If you have done so, eat 1-2 dl of blueberries or a cup of blueberry yoghurt immediately. Other yoghurts may also help. Blueberry has some medicinal properties, which can cure or ease stomach pain.

The Old Ways

A lot of quality nodes on mead are present on E2, but most appear to reflect techniques inherited from the beer brewing community. Not to say I am not a fan of beer brewing - it led me into mead making and the product is certainly as delicious as mead. Suffice it to say, though, beer brewing and mead making are about as similar as the making of ketchup and mustard. Both have vastly different requirements at each step and there is no reason for the techniques from brewing to take precedence over new knowledge that is specific to mead.

How did I learn the new ways and their merits? By trying the old ways and failing miserably! I made a batch according to a recipe the local homebrew shop gave me. They instructed me to use acid blend up front, put in Irish Moss, possibly to put in Gypsum (memory fails me), to boil it, then to pitch low-quality yeast without any rehydration or fermentation nutrients.

None of this would be a problem with beer. Acid blend isn't normally used. Irish moss and gypsum are standard protocol. Boiling is outright required. Yeast nutrients are unnecessary. Gypsum solves hard water; Irish moss helps bring things out of solution. Boiling allows you to extract hop oils and sanitizes the wort. Yeast generally don't come up against high fermentable content or high alcohol content and, therefore, generally don't require much attention, other than good rehydration. Overall, brewing is a very end-heavy process: Brew day is intense, bottling is intense; the middle is just watching the airlock blip and racking it once in a while.


The New Ways

Mead is a different beast altogether. Completely. It's only similar in that there is controlled fermentation taking place and it is measurable with a hydrometer. Time-wise, mead is a more consistent effort, requiring greater attention for the first several days, then less as time goes on, until bottling.

First off, my biggest mistake: Adding acid up front! Do not add acid up front! If someone says to add acid blend or juice a lemon in, disregard that bit of advice. Why? The acid will drop the pH of the must. Even without the acid, the must will experience pH changes (eg it will become acidic in the process of fermentation). Generally, without acid blend, it will not drop to a level that is detrimental to the yeasts' performance. However, adding in acid blend, as I did, will allow it to drop to a level that harms the yeast. It can result in off flavors from stressed yeast. A low pH can also inhibit the yeast to the point of being stuck, stopping fermentation.

Boiling is unnecessary for a multitude of reasons. Anything that is suited to living in honey must contain little water. Honey absorbs water, which dehydrates and kills most bacteria with ease. The things which can live in honey are unsuited to living in water. Mix sanitary water with honey and you've finished off the bacteria in the honey. Boiling also drives off the flavors that honey imparts. If you're using low-quality honey, this doesn't matter so much. If you're using high-quality honey, though, boiling removes most of the value. There is also talk of bee parts and 'scum' in the honey: These bits are generally unfermentable. If you rack your mead, it will leave these parts behind and they should not affect flavor to a perceptible degree.

Irish Moss and Gypsum are not necessary when making mead. I didn't find any evidence that gypsum will hurt the mead, but I haven't seen it specified in any recent recipes. Irish Moss, however, is seaweed and may impart such a flavor to the mead.

Also, yeasts for mead are somewhat more complicated to pick out than yeasts for beer. Ketchup and mustard, again. Beer yeast selection style-dominated: If you want a weizen beer, use a weizen yeast. Mead making tends to utilize wine yeasts, though, so selection is more difficult.
It's not as simple as saying a style - you have to determine several characteristics before beginning. Say yeast A has a 18% alcohol tolerance and yeast B has a 12% alcohol tolerance. (Simply put: Yeast A will die out once the must is at 18% alcohol; yeast B will die out at 12%.) More fermentables mean more potential alcohol. So, to get a sweet mead - which has a higher potential alcohol than the yeast can handle - yeast A will require significantly more fermentables than yeast B.
Another factor with wine yeasts is their need for nutrients. Beer yeasts typically can get enough nutrients from the wort; honey is vitamin-deficient and the yeasts will have to have nutrients. Nutrient schedules are fairly standardized and are referred to as Staggered Nutrient Additions, should you wish to google it.

Finally, the brew shop's directions essentially treated the mead must as one would beer wort: Make it, inoculate it with yeast, oxygenate it, then forget it. Wrong. Dead wrong. The yeast should be rehydrated with rehydration nutrients (in the correct proportions, of course). Mead should be oxygenated every 12 hours up to the first sugar break.The first sugar break occurs when 1/3 of the fermentables have been fermented. Then it should be aerated one last time and fed nutrients. Again, correct proportions. At the 2nd (2/3) sugar break, it should be fed fermentation nutrients again. Gravity readings must be taken regularly to determine when these breaks occur.


A comparison in recipes

A more in-depth writeup will be available over at How to make mead, so this is a shortlist of the steps involved in making mead. Both old and new recipes call for heavy sanitation regimens, so I will skip over those steps, as they are generally identical. First, a simplified hydromel recipe:

  • Honey, to bring it to a specific gravity
  • Water, to bring it to a specific volume
  • Yeast
  • Yeast rehydration nutrient
  • Yeast fermentation nutrient

Here are the differences at each step of mead making:

  1. Recipe design
    • Old: Include Irish Moss, gypsum and acid blend.
    • New: Only honey, water, yeast and nutrients.
  2. Must preparation
    • Old: Heat water, add gypsum and dissolve honey in it. Skim off scum. Rehydrate yeast separately. Prepare an Irish Moss slurry. Move to fermenter, top off with sanitized water to target volume. Add yeast slurry.
    • New: Put honey in fermenter, add water to target volume. Use a lees stirrer and drill to mix honey and water together. Rehydrate yeast separately with rehydration nutrient. Pitch yeast slurry.
  3. Fermentation management
    • Old: Let it go. Eventually, rack it and let it clear, then age.
    • New: Aerate every 12 hours until it hits the 1/3 sugar break. Add nutrients at that point, aerate one last time. Let ferment unattended until 2/3 sugar break. Add nutrients again. Take gravity readings regularly from the initial mixing to the 2/3 sugar break. Eventually, rack and age.

Finally: Form your own informed opinion.

Don't trust me. Don't take my word for it. Research. A lot. Find award-winning homemade meads and see if they boil. Some do, some don't. Some honeys are so incredibly aromatic that their flavors can survive boiling. Some meads break all the rules. Look up Joe Mattioli's Ancient Orange Mead. It's foolproof iff you follow the directions and will make a decent mead. Yet, he specifies bread yeast. There're 30+ pages of discussion on the GotMead forum about people doing this recipe. The few responses that say it is bad tend to include, "Well, I did this differently..."

One great resource, by the way, is GotMead.com. They're a very active mead making community and have information by the boatload, as well as very dedicated administrators.

Go make a batch. Screw it up like I did. Make every wrong move you can, then come up with a new one. You should, seriously. Do it with a one gallon batch, so it doesn't hurt your pride and pocketbook as much. Mine was on a ten gallon batch. I'm out a goodly amount of cash and mead because of it. Then do it their way - the new way - and you will begin to understand why it is the new way.

If you follow no other advice here, heed this: Do not add acid up front. It is nothing but trouble.

Mead From Somewhere

Compared to the other meads on here, this is an extremely primitive setup, and probably produces a pretty inferior product - I've got no way of knowing how strong it is, for starters. On the other hand, it's a nice way to find out if you like making your own alcoholic drinks, and it's my first foray into home brewing, so it's here for fun and posterity.

One lemon
One and a half pounds of dark, clear honey (I'm going to start using stuff from my own hives as soon as I can get a happy swarm)
half and ounce of hops
Yeast - Preferably brewers' (Champagne yeast is really, really nice), but I've just been using whatever's kicking around the lab
A really big bucket.

Peel the rind off one lemon, avoiding the white pith. Save the juice in a teacup. Dissolve one and a half pounds of dark, clear honey in a pint and three quarters of water in a really really big bucket. We mean it about the big bucket. Put six and a quarter pints of water in a pan with half an ounce of hops and the lemon rind. Boil this for half an hour. Sieve this into the really really big bucket with the honey. Add a teaspoon of yeast, and the lemon juice. Use a bit of clean cheesecloth (I sterilise it in the pressure cooker) to keep the dust and general unpleasantness out. If you're feeling clever and/or rich, invest in a really big bottle with a swan-neck water filter instead of a bucket.

Ferment in the warm for four days, then set aside for three weeks somewhere cold and dark somewhere before drinking. Drink with caution. Feed with gleeful abandon to an unsuspecting a consenting lab rat.

**

I have no idea why this recipe is in here, since I very rarely made this, but it’s very good. It does, however, tend to stink out the kitchen/cellar/attic or wherever one decides to make it.

Part of Devilfloss' Vegetarian Cookbook: A Simple and Accurate Guide To The Revolution

Mead (?), n. [OE. mede, AS. meodo; akin to D. mede, G. met, meth, OHG. metu, mitu, Icel. mjor, Dan. miod, Sw. mjod, Russ. med', Lith. midus, W. medd, Gr. wine, Skr. madhu honey, a sweet drink, as adj., sweet. . Cf. Metheglin.]

1.

A fermented drink made of water and honey with malt, yeast, etc.; metheglin; hydromel.

Chaucer.

2.

A drink composed of sirup of sarsaparilla or other flavoring extract, and water. It is sometimes charged with carbonic acid gas.

[U. S.]

 

© Webster 1913.


Mead, n. [AS. md. See Meadow.]

A meadow.

A mede All full of freshe flowers, white and reede. Chaucer.

To fertile vales and dewy meads My weary, wandering steps he leads. Addison.

 

© Webster 1913.

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