Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage that some experts believe predates wine. If you ever want to have fun with a group of wine connoisseurs, just ask them what came first! The story goes that a tree with a bee hive cracked, allowing rain water to seep inside where natural yeast caused fermentation. A honey-gatherer brought some of this liquid to a village and after trying it, everyone wanted more. I can’t tell you if this is a true story but technically, it could occur.
Mead ages gracefully, picking up sherry and port flavors. My favorite mead is from Poland and is aged 25 years!
Some societies make mead when a baby is born, sharing it when the child enters adulthood. Other societies have similar traditions for marriage. The term “honeymoon” is found in the Fifth Century and refers to the first moon cycle of marriage. The parents of the newlywed couple provided large quantities of honey mead hoping the aphrodisiac qualities would help produce grandchildren.
Regular mead, consisting of honey, water, and yeast, has some amazing options. The flavor of the honey shines through the beverage so honey selection controls one major flavor component. The ratio of honey to water causes variations in body, alcohol, and residual sweetness, allowing the vintner to create anything from a light dry beverage to a sweet, full-bodied dessert cordial.
Yeast selection also has a major impact on body, flavor, and residual sweetness. Mead has a large range of options and is a great place to experiment. Common alcohol content is 12 percent to 14 percent but it can reach 20 percent. Because our area has so many apiaries, mead is a great beverage to consider making as it only requires a clean fermenter, honey, pure water, and yeast. If you have or can find some honey, consider making a batch. Old crystalized honey works very well.
Before sharing a grand mead recipe, here are a few of the many interesting mead varieties.
Melomel is mead with fruit. Black currants, blueberries, raspberries, pears, and blackberries all contribute nicely to honey flavor and make excellent mead. Almost any wholesome frozen fruit works. Grind the frozen fruit and dump it into the must allowing the yeast to extract as much flavor and color as possible. Canned fruit also works but avoid fruit with preservatives or fruit sprayed with copper sulfate as those chemicals halt the yeast action.
Pyment is mead made with grapes. Most mead makers use grape concentrate for grape flavor. It can be wonderful.
Braggot is mead made with barley. Try mixing some thick dark porter with light colored mead.
Metheglin is honey and spices. I personally recommend medium-hot dry peppers, roasted oak chips, and cardamom. It only sounds strange until you try it. Pull a small sample every few days to ensure the flavors are correct. Rack the beverage off the spices when satisfied with the flavor. Primary fermentation lasts three weeks and final aging lasts for a year.
Here’s a simple melomel mead recipe for about five gallons. Use the yeast and nutrient mix exactly. Other ingredient quantities are guidelines.
15-22 pounds wildflower honey (15 is dry and 22 is sweet)
8 pounds black currants or other frozen fruit
3 gallons water (must taste good)
3 Tsp Yeast Energizer from schedule below
2 packs Lalvin Yeast 71B-1122 and/or 1118 Champagne
Heat water to 165 degrees and dissolve honey. Cool to 115 degrees. Grind frozen currants (or fruit) and add to must. Cool to 95 degrees (not hotter). Rehydrate and pitch dry yeast and add first nutrient addition. Mix well, seal fermenter using sanitized airlock. Ferment in a dark, warm, and dry location like a furnace room at 70-75 degrees. Add the next three nutrient additions per schedule stirring well after each addition. Use a sanitized wine thief to sample occasionally and a hydrometer to measure sugar level. Finished mead usually has an ending specific gravity below 1.00
Rack (siphon) the mead into a sanitized secondary fermenter. Use a large sanitized wine funnel and screen to extract liquid from fruit residue. Bottle or keg when fermentation is complete and mead falls clear. Enjoy as needed.
Yeast Nutrients: Blend one teaspoon Fermaid-K and two teaspoons DAP per 5 gallon batch of mead to help fermentation. Mix into must using the following schedule. Remember, stirring fermenting must creates foam so stir slowly.
Add ¾ teaspoon nutrient mix with the yeast.
Add ¾ teaspoon nutrient mix 24 hours after fermentation begins.
Add ¾ teaspoon nutrient mix 48 hours after fermentation begins.
Add ¾ teaspoon nutrient mix 5-7 days after fermentation begins.
May the beer be with you.
A homebrewer and beer judge with 25 years of experience, Rick Oftel escaped the Twin Cities and moved to a Bayfield house with a detached workshop. A sealed area holds the brewery used for beer, mead, maple syrup and for coffee roasting.