Make Award-Winning Mead

Mead and wine glass

Making mead is more like making wine than brewing. If you've never made wine before, the processes will seem a little strange at first. The whole affair is over in about an hour, but not to worry, there's still lots to do and it won't be finished for a long time.

So what is the definition of mead?  Mead is an ancient alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey and water.  Mead sometimes has added  fruits (melomels) and / or herbs and spices (metheglins).  Mead can also be made by fermenting honey with beer (braggot).  

The alcohol range of meads runs from about 8% to more than 20%, from dry to sack (very sweet) and can be still, petillant (slightly effervescent) or carbonated.

I've been a meadmaker for about 6 years now. One thing I've learned, and tell all brewers wanting to become meadmakers, is that you must have patience, lots of patience. You won't be able to make a batch this weekend and have it ready in less than 6 months. It's more like a barleywine in that respect. Age and patience is your friend in meadmaking.

There has been a lot of work behind the scenes by a lot of great meadmakers in coming up with recipes and instructions which make it easy for anyone to make great mead. 

Don't let the fact that it's new and strange to you stop you from learning how to make mead. You have to start somewhere. I'll give you a basic mead recipe for a dry, traditional mead. Then I'll expand on that later on other pages to show you how to add fruit and spices to make the other styles.

Equipment You Will Need to Make Mead

Most of the equipment you will need, you probably already have:

  • 6.5 gallon plastic primary bucket with lid and airlock
  • at least a 5 gallon glass carboy, stopper and airlock 
  • Erlenmeyer flask for your starter 2000ml-5000ml with stopper and airlock or foam stopper
  • Wine thief for procuring samples to test
  • Hydrometer with hydrometer cylinder and thermometer
  • Long-handled spoon / paddle for mixing and stirring
  • Racking cane with transfer tubing or auto-siphon
  • Sanitizer (I like StarSan)
  • 750 ml wine bottles and corks

MoreBeer.com has a good equipment kit which has just about everything you will need to make award-winning mead at home. If you will bottle in 12 oz beer bottles then you are set. But if you want to bottle in wine bottles, you will need to buy a corker. This is the one I use and you will be surprised at how well it works. No more dents or indentations on the top of the cork and no more "floaties" in your mead. To purchase everything you need (except the upgraded corker) in one kit at MoreWineMaking.com, Click Here

 Basic Dry Traditional
Mead Recipe

Mead Recipe for a Basic Dry Traditional Mead
OG-1.100 FG-1.000 or less

  • Honey (your choice) 14 lbs
  • Water 4 gallons
  • 10g ICV-D47 dry yeast (or your choice of liquid mead yeast)
  • Yeast Nutrient-ie. Fermaid-K or your choice
  • Yeast Energizer-Diammonium Phosphate (DAP)
  • Go-Ferm-Rehydration Nutrient (only if you are using dry yeast)
  • 2000ml of 1.040 OG wort from 200g light DME for a starter (only if you are using liquid yeast)
  • Acid Blend (if needed to taste)

Mead Making Steps-Intro

Here are the steps I go through when I make mead. I have to give credit here to a few meadmakers who have done a lot of work helping others make great mead. The first is Ken Schramm, author of the book The Compleat Meadmaker. Ken is like the Godfather of meadmaking. His book is the definitive guide and is a must read if you really want to get serious about making great award-winning mead. At least check out this article by Ken called Optimizing Honey Fermentation.

My BOS pyment (a mead made with grape juice and honey) was made following along with Hightest's group brew of a Riesling Pyment on the Northern Brewer Forum. I learned a lot making that mead.

The other meadmaker is known as Oskarr, or P. Bakulic on the Gotmead.com forums where he is (at the time of this writing) the moderatoror. I think he may be going by the latter moniker now on his posts.

In further articles on meadmaking, I'll be quoting Oskarr quite a bit as he has quite a bit of great information that he has given to meadmakers on the forum. All have helped the meadmaking community and their work shows up throughout this article. If you would like to learn how to make a fruit mead, or a melomel, click here.

Note: Sanitize everything that will come in contact with the must (same as wort in brewing-honey and water mixture) including your hands.

Make the Yeast Starter

Making a yeast starter is a little different for wine and mead than it is for beer.  Here is a rundown:

If you are using liquid yeast from Wyeast, smack the pack at least 24 hours in advance. One day before you plan to make your mead you can make your starter with either the swollen Wyeast packet or a vial of White Labs liquid yeast. Click here to learn how to make a starter. 

Here is how Ken Schramm makes his starters in his book The Compleat Meadmaker

Boil 6 cups of water with 1/4 tsp of yeast nutrient and 1 Tbs of Dried Malt Extract for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of honey, stir and remove from the heat.

Cover the starter and allow it to cool to room temperature. When the starter has cooled, sanitize an Erlenmeyer flask and funnel and pour the starter through the funnel into the Erlenmeyer flask. 

Either cut the corner off a packet of Wyeast or shake the vial of White Labs liquid yeast vigorously to suspend the packed yeast, then pour it into the flask of starter solution. 

If you plan to use pure oxygen, oxygenate the starter now. If you plan to shake the starter to introduce oxygen, put a stopper in the flask and shake and swirl the starter to aerate. 

You should see signs of active fermentation soon. Ferment your starter for 24-36 hours, then put it into the fridge to settle (if using DME for your starter solution). If you are using a honey and water solution with nutrients as your starter, you can pitch the entire contents into the must. 

If you want to grow a larger starter for high gravity musts, above 1.100 OG, repeat the process of making the starter and repitch the slurry from one starter into another. This will produce enough healthy yeast to ferment the high gravity must to completion. 

When you get ready to pitch the yeast, pour off as much of the "starter beer" as you can (if using DME for your starter solution) so you don't affect the flavor of your mead. If you do not see any signs of life on the day you want to make the mead, don't ferment with the inactive yeast. Instead, have a few packets of dried yeast available just in case. 

Many meadmakers will make their starters with tepid orange juice to a SG of about 1.030 to 1.040.

Whichever starter medium you choose, maintain good sanitization.

It is best if you can use a stir plate as it will significantly increase the amount of yeast growth you can expect for a given volume of starter. 

If you plan to use dry yeast, rehydrate the 10g packets of dry yeast using Go-Ferm in your rehydration water (pre-boiled and cooled to remove chlorine). Use 167 ml of water with 12g Go-Ferm. DO NOT ADD ANY OTHER NUTRIENTS TO THE YEAST (such as fermaid-K or any other yeast nutrient or energizer), the Go-ferm supplies everything the yeast need to form strong cell walls and get ready to ferment.

Prepare Your Honey and Water Must-The "No Boil Method"

You will see several different ways of preparing the must with the honey. I use the no-boil method which keeps all the aromatics in the honey intact. I assure you, many thousand gallons of mead have been made this way with no ill effects. 

First, prepare your must by adding 2 gallons of good quality water to your sanitized plastic primary bucket. Then heat another 2 gallons of water on your stove to 115°F (46°C) and remove it from the burner.   If you forget to remove it from the burner, you may end up scorching the honey on the bottom of the pot. 

Add all the honey to the heated water and mix well, mix very well, then mix again. Pour or ladle some of the hot honey and water into the honey container, put the lid on and shake and swirl until you get all the honey off the sides, then add this to the must.

Repeat if you are not satisfied you have all the honey out. You can get by without heating the water, but it makes it easier to dissolve the honey and get every last bit out of the jars. 

Add all the warm honey/water mixture to your plastic fermenting bucket. Then add the Stage 1 nutrients and stir well to dissolve them into the must. 

This is the point you would add your herbs, spices or flowers to make a Metheglin, which is a traditional mead with herbs or spices added. If you would like to know more about how to add spices or herbs to your meads to make a Metheglin, click here.

Check the OG or °Brix

You should now have about 5 gallons of must. Use the thermometer to check the temperature. When the must has cooled to below 80°F (27°C), measure the SG and or °Brix (if using a refractometer). Make sure you record these in your log book. Put the lid on with an airlock and keep the must isolated this way from now on.

Aerate or Oxygenate Well

Aerate or oxygenate the must well. This can be done several ways. Use a lees stirrer and a drill and whip the heck out of it for a couple of minutes, or use an aerator for several minutes, or add pure oxygen for about 90 seconds to two minutes.

Oxygenate daily for the first 3 days but be careful because aerating, stirring, or adding oxygen may cause the CO2 to come out of suspension and foam severely. 

Start out slowly and be ready to stop, let it die down, then continue. This has the added effect of degassing the mead which removes CO2 that can be toxic to yeast.

Pitch Your Yeast

Pitch your yeast into the must when it is below 80°F (27°C) (not warm to the touch), mix the yeast into the must well.  Add the Stage 1 Nutrients now ( 4.5g Fermaid-K and 4.5g DAP).  Put the lid and airlock on and walk away (OK, you can sit there and watch, but it is going to take a while before it starts fermenting).

Note: If using liquid yeast, sanitize the packet if you decided not to make a starter then pour the yeast into the must, add some distilled water and wash out all the yeast. Otherwise, pour the starter into the must and rinse it out with a little distilled water. Then proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Lag Phase-First Few Days of Fermentation

Wine and mead yeast are very temperature sensitive. Meads ferment best between 65-75°F (18-24°C).

If you used a starter, you will notice a very short lag phase, ie. fermentation will commence in a very short time. 

Check your specific gravity frequently, when it drops 2 or 3 points, you can consider your mead in active fermentation. Add the stage 2 nutrients now. (2.8g Fermaid K and 2.8g DAP).

1/3 Sugar Break

Let the fermentation continue, oxygenating daily for the first 3 or 4 days. You should have the 1/3 sugar break calculated (OG-[(OG-FG) *.33]) and written down in your log.

When you reach that point as determined by your hydrometer readings, add the third and final nutrient edition, stage 3 (1.8g Fermaid-K and 1.8g DAP).

Ferment to End Point of Primary Fermentation

Let the fermentation continue to the end point. To find the end point, after about 2 weeks, start taking a specific gravity reading. When the reading remains the same for two consecutive days, you have reached the end of primary fermentation. 

For this mead, your SG should reach about 1.000 or less. When you reach the end of primary fermentation, rack the mead from your primary bucket into a clean and sanitized 5 gallon glass carboy. Be sure to top up with a similar mead, wine or good quality water. Install the airlock and stopper and wait about 3 months. 

I know it's hard. You can visit your mead as often as you like but resist the temptation of removing the airlock and smelling or tasting your mead. You should notice a fine layer of sediment on the bottom of the carboy.  Every time you rack your mead, you are leaving behind the sediment that contains finer and finer particles of dead yeast and other products of fermentation.  

It's better to let your mead bulk age and get clear than to bottle too soon and have it settle out in your bottles.  

How to Make a Sparkling Mead

If you want to make a sparkling mead, you will need to prime with more fermentable sugar and bottle just like you would with your bottle conditioned beers.

You should combine 5 oz. of corn sugar with 1 pint of water in a small saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes to sanitize, then pour into a bottling bucket and rack your mead on top. 

When you bottle sparkling mead, treat it as if it were a highly carbonated Belgian Ale, bottle in heavy champagne or Belgian bottles.

If you want to use smaller bottles, use the same beer bottles you would use for competition, ie. pry-off bottles and not the twist off kind.

Bulk Aging and Deciding When to Bottle Your Mead

Now the hard part is deciding when to bottle your still mead. I tend to take the lazy route. I just let the mead bulk age, sometimes for up to two years, racking every 3-6 months to get the mead off the sediment.    (Okay, I'm really lazy...I have mead that is still bulk aging since 2007 and it's now December of 2016...Do you think it's time to bottle yet?  It's all good, as long as I keep the airlock full and the headspace purged with CO2, I can age as long as I want with no ill effects.)

Just make sure to keep the airlock full of cheap vodka. For those of you that don't want to take the lazy route, I'd suggest racking every two to three months until you feel the clarity is good and the mead has no more dissolved CO2 in it.

As you gain more experience, you will be able to tell. At some point you either fine (clear) the mead with one of several available products such as sparkalloid, bentonite, gelatin, etc. and bottle, or wait until it quits dropping the fine lees, and then bottle.

Time to Bottle Your Mead

You bottle mead just like you bottle wine.  But since this article will be read mostly by homebrewers who may not have ever made wine, here is a link to a great (if rather long) article on how to bottle your home made wine by Winemaker Magazine.

Once you bottle the mead, let it condition for 6 months to a year. It only gets better with age. And as many great meadmakers say, "Make mead, age mead, drink mead... repeat."

If you would prefer to make a sweet mead, MoreBeer.com has a nice kit with everything you will need.

Click here to purchase MoreBeer.com's Sweet Mead Kit.

Staggered Nutrient Addition Schedule (NAS)

For 5 gallons of mead, cider or perry, use the following
Nutrient Addition Schedule (NAS) (sometimes called SNA or Staggered Nutrient Additions):

  1. Stage 1 nutrients: added at yeast inoculation (or pitching) add 4.5g Fermaid-K and 4.5g DAP
  2. Stage 2 nutrients: added when you notice active fermentation (When OG has dropped 2-3 points, usually 12-24 hrs.) add 2.8g Fermaid-K and 2.8g DAP
  3. Stage 3 nutrients: added at 1/3 sugar break OG-[(OG-FG)/3] add 1.8g Fermaid-K and 1.8g DAP

If you don't have scales, here are some rule of thumb numbers: 1 tsp of Fermaid-K weighs about 4.0 grams, 1 tsp of DAP weighs about 3.9 grams. If you don't have access to Fermaid-K, use the same amounts of whichever yeast nutrient you can find. Most homebrew and winemaking supply stores will have quality yeast nutrients to choose from.

That's it for a basic mead. I'll post more pages about mead making in the future. Be sure to check back. Wassail!!

References: I relied heavily on the FAQs from Hightest's website entitled How do you make a Basic mead?. I also used information from a post on the Gotmead.com forum entitled Oskarr in a Nutshell and of course from the book by Ken Schramm entitled The Compleat Meadmaker.

Go From Making Mead Back To Home Page

Learn How To Make Fruit Meads or Melomels

Learn How To Make Spice Meads or Metheglins

Go Back To Brewing Science

If you find this site helpful, please link to us!

AHA BANNER



New! Comments

If you like what you just read, let everyone know. Leave comments below,
and share on your favorite social media site!