Mead has gained a lot of popularity over the last decade or so thanks to an uptick in availability and presence in popular TV shows. But what is mead, and how is it made? With just a few tools and ingredients you can actually create this ancient alcoholic beverage in the comfort of your own home. Let’s take a look at what mead is and what makes it such a unique drink.
What Is Mead?
Mead is a type of wine made by fermenting honey. Unlike traditional red or white wine, which uses grapes as a source of sugar for yeast, mead uses honey as a source of sugar. The most basic type of mead only calls for three ingredients. Honey, water, and yeast. However, there are several other ingredients you can use to spice up the mead and add flavors to your taste.
Most commercially available mead will be on the sweeter side, but mead can be made to be as dry or sweet as you prefer your wine to be.
What You Need To Make Your Own Mead
Making your own mead is surprisingly simple once you break down the entire process into easy to digest steps. The very first thing you’ll need to do is gather some necessary supplies and ingredients. The best way to start off is by making small, one gallon batches, which will provide three to four finished bottles of mead.
In regards to equipment, you’ll need a handful of items, the majority of which can be used again and again in future batches of mead.
- a whisk for mixing
- a big mixing pot. For a 1 gallon batch, a large spaghetti pot will work very well.
- new beer bottle caps -OR- new wine corks
- beer bottle capper -OR- wine corker
- any clean container with a spigot (such as a glass tea container or bottling bucket specific to homebrewing)
- no-rinse sanitizer
- a drilled stopper that fits the glass jug
- auto-siphon and ? inch siphon tubing
- hydrometer testing tube
- one gallon glass jug
All of these supplies can be found at just about any retail or online homebrewing supply store as well as Amazon. You’ll likely also find starter kits available which include these items as well.
The most basic mead requires the fewest number of ingredients. It is called a traditional. As you add other ingredients such as spices or fruits, the mead’s style changes. In grape wine, the style is often defined by the variety of grape used to make the wine. In mead, the ingredients you use dictate the style.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make a basic traditional mead:
- A small bottle of yeast nutrient, sometimes labeled as yeast energizer.
- The wine yeast of your choice. Do not use bread yeast.
- Good clean water free of chlorine or other harsh flavors. It’s easiest to buy gallons of spring or purified water at the grocery store for this.
- 3 pounds of honey per gallon of mead you want to make. You can use more or less. More honey will result in more alcohol with 3 pounds per gallon equating to between 12-14% ABV.
A wide selection of wine yeast strains and yeast nutrient brands are available online and at all homebrew supply stores.
How To Make Your Own Mead
Now that you have all your ingredients and equipment on hand, it’s time to make some mead!
- First, you’ll want to mix up some no-rinse sanitizer. I like to keep mine in a spray bottle for easy application and it also prevents you from wasting a lot of the product unnecessarily. There are different brands of no-rinse sanitizer, so be sure to follow the dilution instructions on your specific product. Spray down anything that you use with sanitizer and place it on some laid out paper towels. This includes the large pot, whisk, and glass jug.
- Next, fill the large pot with about half a gallon of water. Mix in your three pounds of honey with the whisk until it’s completely dissolved. Add some more water if the mixture is too dense to dissolve all your honey. Once the honey is dissolved, pour the honey and water mixture (called a must) into the glass jug through the funnel. Fill the rest of the jug close to the top with water, allowing for three to four inches of room at the top.
- Now, carefully swirl the jug to get an even mix. Sanitize your hydrometer and hydrometer testing jar if you haven’t already. Carefully pour in some of the honey-water mixture into the testing jar. Look to fill it about three-quarters of the way. Carefully place the hydrometer into the testing jar. Most hydrometers have three different measurements on them. Specific gravity, Brix, and potential alcohol. Take note of the specific gravity. This will help you later on.
- Remove the hydrometer from the testing jar and pour the contents of the testing jar back into your jug. Open the packet of yeast and pour it in. Give it a good swirl. Locate your yeast nutrient bottle and see how much they want you to add per gallon. It’s usually around one teaspoon. Divide that amount by three. So for one gallon, you’d get a third of a teaspoon. If you were making three gallons it would be one teaspoon instead of three. This is because we are going to be adding the nutrient in steps instead of all at once. Now, add your third of the required nutrients to the mead.
- Sanitize your airlock and stopper if you haven’t already. (Since you sanitize so much, the benefits of keeping it in a spray bottle have likely paid for itself already) Fill the airlock with water to the line specified on your airlock. The airlock is designed to let gas created during fermentation escape while keeping bugs and oxygen out of your mead. Affix the stopper and airlock to the jug, and set the jug aside in a cool dark place. You want to keep the fermenting mead under 70 degrees if possible. Fermenting it while warmer than that can create harsh flavors that take a long time to mellow out.
- After one to three days, you should start to see some activity in your airlock. Bubbles will be working their way through the water and there’s usually a blipping sound too. This is good news. It means two things. One: Your vessel is sealed so that air isn’t getting in another way. Two: The yeast you added is working to convert the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is what’s bubbling out of the airlock. You may also see small bubbles rising to the surface of the mead.
- Once you see this activity, open the airlock and mix another third of nutrient with a bit of water, then add it to the mead. It’s very important that you dissolve the nutrient before adding it this time, otherwise, you’ll see a reaction similar to mentos and diet coke. Re-affix the airlock and return the mead to it’s a cool and dry place.
- After another couple of days, repeat the nutrient addition with your third and final addition of yeast nutrients.
- After three to four weeks, you’ll notice the activity in the airlock has died down significantly or stopped altogether. At this point, the fermentation is likely complete or close to it. You may be tempted to open it up or take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Instead, it’s best to let it sit. Right now, there is a blanket of carbon dioxide on top of the mead in the space between the mead and the top of the jug. This blanket of CO2 protects the mead from oxygen damage, so the longer you can let it sit the better.
- After two to three months, you’ll notice a lot of sediment at the bottom of the mead. At this point, you’ll want to get comfortable with your auto-siphon. Practice with a few jugs of water before trying to transfer your mead. Once you’re comfortable with how it works, carefully siphon the mead from the glass jug to a sanitized one-gallon water jug. Leave the sediment behind. Wash the sediment out of the glass jug. Once it’s clean, sanitize it again and siphon the mead back into the glass jug. Re-affix the airlock, and let the mead sit another few months. During this time, more sediment will drop out of the mead and the mead itself will become more and more clear. Don’t worry too much about removing this sediment. Once you’re happy with the clarity of the mead, or you simply can’t wait any longer, it’s time to bottle.
Bottling Your Mead
Now it’s time to bottle your mead. Sanitize your auto-siphon, bottling bucket, and your bottles. You can buy brand new wine or beer bottles, or simply wash and re-use amber pry-off beer bottles or wine bottles of your choice. (The YEBODA 12 oz Amber Glass Beer Bottles linked above do not require you to own a bottle capper or purchase individual caps). Do not try to cap the screw-off style beer bottles. The necks are very weak and the glass may break.
Take a final gravity measurement of your mead using your hydrometer. It’s likely somewhere between 1.000 and 1.010 if you used three pounds of honey. Search online for an ABV calculator. There are dozens of these tools online. Simply put in your starting gravity reading that you took in the beginning and the new gravity reading you just took. It will figure out the ABV for you. No math required.
Carefully siphon the mead into the bottling bucket. Then carefully fill the bottles to just an inch or so from the top. Affix the beer caps or corks using either a wing capper for beer bottles or a simple lever corker for wine bottles. If you bottled the mead in beer bottles, store them upright. If you bottled the mead in wine bottles, store them sideways. Your mead is now ready to share, enjoy, or continue aging for a later date.
Making mead is a fun and easy hobby that’s incredibly rewarding. As you get better at it, you can begin to experiment with different ingredients and there’s no limit to what you can create. Happy brewing!