Sunday, February 26, 2017

Me(ad), a Primer

A bit about me

For anyone that knows me on social media (Google Plus) you'll know that I talk about mead (and beer and coffee liquor), and it has become, in the 5+ years that I have been making it, a passion of mine. Now that I have worked the bugs out of the process of making wine, I wanted to take some time to discuss mead and the process of making it, and possibly pass along my passion for this wonderful liquid to others.

I am a bit of a mad scientist in the kitchen, with everything containing a "little of this" or a "little of that" and very few recipes actually followed directly. I see them as mostly guidelines. And, if I do say so myself, it works for me. The trick to any kind of cooking, in my opinion, is to know flavors and understand how they interact. A touch of Worcestershire sauce (go ahead, say it a few times, I'll wait) will add smokiness to a sauce. Molasses will add a touch of sweetness. That type thing. Something the average person can pick up if they spend enough time in one of my favorite rooms of the house. With all that being said, I also travel for a living, so being home for set times to bottle, or even spend an entire day brewing beer, is not always in my time-budget. But I wanted to make alcohol, so I got looking into what I could make that would not require a lot of time away from all of the other activities I do. 

First came a Kahlua clone that I then went mad scientist on. I think at one point in time I had ten bottles of Kahlua, with slight variations on the recipe written on the bottle, before we sat down and settled on what would become the final version. That recipe is now six or seven years old and has been stably producing bottle upon bottle with only one slight hiccup. The United States distributer of the Rum I used had some distribution problems so I had to find a suitable replacement. Fair enough, replacement found, and it is still just as good. The future for this may be bright as I have plans to reach out to a distillery currently under construction near me.

Then came Mead. To be honest, I did not know quite what mead was when I thought about making it either. After the research though, and trying it, I knew it was something I wanted to try.

A bit about Mead

What is mead? Simply put, mead is honey wine, possibly probably the oldest alcoholic beverage. Many people have written about the history of the beverage, and if you really are interested, I suggest this book by Robert Gayre for a very detailed history, or for more of a cursory history, check out this book by Ken Schramm. Both books are well very written and I would recommend both (although the second might be more accessible to starters). 

Mead can be sweet, dry, spicy, fruity. Hell, I've even had a smoky one.  It can be made with fruits or blended with other liquids. As with all recipes, it depends on what goes in to the mead, and the saying "Garbage in, garbage out" really does apply here. Meads come in different forms and can be found on the shelf in many of the liquor stores across the country, and as the beverage witnesses its current revival, restaurants are offering it as well.

But what IS mead?

The easiest recipe for mead is just honey, water and yeast. I typically use about three lbs of honey per gallon of mead. Oh. And time. Lots of time. Mead (or any kind of wine) making is not for the impatient. Your fermentation process can take around a month by itself. Then, depending upon your desires, you could be going into a secondary fermentation, or a clarification stage, and then aging. Some meads may be drinkable right after clarification, but that last step, the aging, will produce a far better result, I promise.

What do I need to make my own?

A gallon of mead averages me about $30 (US) and produces about three 750 ml bottles (I reuse liquor bottles that I cork typically and then screw the top on over the cork). This is typically a night or two's worth of mead, about four - eight ounce glasses. There is usually also just enough left over to taste at every step of the way, which is good for quality control, but there is just no replacement for proper aging, so expect the flavor to change quite a bit!

Basically, aside from raw ingredients (again: honey, yeast, and water) you will need a carboy - a container to ferment your soon to be tasty beverage in, a rubber stopper, and an airlock. These last two items allow gas from the fermentation process to escape but prevents other things, such as bacteria and dust, from getting in to the must, or fermenting. You can find a cheap kit at Amazon here that has all of those things. That is all you really need to make mead. Now, there are different methods that involve more equipment, and I used one in the pictures above for my very first batch (more on that first picture in a moment), but that is really all you MUST have for your must.

Now anyone that is familiar with fermenting can point out my first two mistakes with my first batch, but I was inexperienced, and it showed. The pot and the wooden spoon. Use stainless steel for all brewing. ALL BREWING. If you are going to heat anything for your concoction, stainless steel will not impart any flavor to the final product. I've used both glass and plastic carboys, and plastic fermentation buckets, and have not noticed a huge difference in taste, but that is me.

We'll talk about actually making the mead later, but lets talk about two of the ingredients right now. I will spend a whole separate post on the third, and most important ingredient, Honey, at a later date.


Your mixture is going to be about two thirds H20, so make sure you choose good water. Your tap water is designed to kill biologicals in it, and the chemicals in it MAY kill your yeast. I recommend a bottled spring or distilled water.


Yeast is what does all the work, turning all of the sugar into alcohol. You can use the same yeast you use to make your bread, but you will end up with a bready-tasting mead. I recommend Lavlin D-47 or Lavlin EC-1118 personally.

Next week, we will talk about some honey.

Please feel free to drop me a line here or on Google Plus with comments or questions. You keep it civil and so will I.

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