I don’t drink much, but I love making stuff, and one of the reasons I got bees was that I was intrigued about how you could take a material with natural antibiotic properties (honey) and make something that required growth of “germs” (yeasts in alcohol) – I wanted to make mead. My local beer mentor told me that he did not make a lot of mead because it was expensive (Using store bought honey), took a lot of time (he quoted a year), and it had a distinctive taste not everybody liked. He said if I really wanted to invest in mead making, I should go to the store and buy some wine to see if really liked it.
Apparently beer stores consider mead a fortified wine, and liquor stores consider it a beer, so it took me much wailing and gnashing of teeth until I could find someone to order me some. It was pretty good, and reinforced my desire to brew some.
If you’re going to make mead, here are some things to think about:
Pure honey does not have enough moisture to keep bacteria alive- it won’t ferment until it is mixed with water.
Honey does not contain a lot of the nutrients yeasts need to grow rapidly, while the inverted sugars are great for making alcohol, you will need to add nutrients, either store bought, or through natural means like raisins.
Time is an ally, while mean will be technically ready at about 2 months, the flavors won’t develop into something “good” for 8 months to a year.
Here is the basic recipe I used for my first attempt at mead making
- 1 gallon spring water
- 2 to 3 lbs of unprocessed honey (2 makes a dry wine – 3 makes a sweeter wine)
- 1 package of active dry yeast (you can get away with bread yeast – I used a lavin – a brewing yeast)
- 1 small box of raisins (20 or so)
- 1 orange cut into eights
- Gallon glass jar (I got mine from a restaurant supply store – it held apple cider)
- Bung (I used a rubber 8 ½ bung which fit my jug)
- Airlock (though if you’re really cheap you could use a balloon with a small hole – but a bung and airlock are $2.00 and works much better and lasts infinitely longer)
- Make sure everything is clean and sterile – while you can use natural yeasts (ever had sweet tea ferment on you?) You are rolling the dice and can end up with nasty mold and gunk instead of clean alcohol.
- Gently heat your honey in a double boiler, or in a pot of hot water. The warmer it is, the easier it will flow.
- Empty half of the water out of the 1 gallon jug into a large bowl or pitcher. The honey takes up a lot of space. Don’t pout the water out though, because you might need some of it to top the jug off.
- Pour in the honey – make sure not to waste it and get it on the sides of the jug. Honey is sticky and expensive – each drop of honeys is hours of bees work and hundreds of trips to flowers.
- Add the yeast
- Add 15 to 20 raisins and screw the cap pack on the jug.
- Drop in the oranges (optional)
- Vigorously shake the jug for several minutes to thoroughly mix and aerate the must.
- Remove the cap and add just enough spring water to leave an inch or two of head space.
- Stick the airlock in the hole in your rubber bung
- Fill the airlock halfway with water (vodka, or pure grain neutral sprit works better, if you can stand to “waste” it.)
- Install the rubber bung with airlock in the top of the jug
- Set the jug of must in a cool dark space and wait…
Within 24 hours fermentation should begin and you will see bubbles climbing up the sides of the jug.
After 7 to 10 days of fermentation (depending on temperature warmer is faster, too hot kills the yeast, too cold the yeast go to sleep), you should no longer see bubbles.
If you see bubbles rising wait a few more days to ensure fermentation has completed.
The mead should be racked (transferred) into a different sanitary container (jug, bottle, etc) taking care to leave behind the sediment and raisins.
An additional 6 to 10 months storage in a cool dark place, will result in a tasty mead from this very simple recipe.