In Principio: Before Wine, There Was Mead
Mead is thought to be one of, if not the oldest alcoholic beverage on earth. It was most likely discovered by accident, when thirsty hunter-gatherers happened upon an upturned beehive filled with rainwater. They drank the sweet water and experienced the first intoxication. Thus, the quest to recreate that glorious feeling began, and early humans began seeking out the secrets of fermentation.
The drink was called Ambrosia in ancient Greece, and was often referred to as “Nectar of the Gods”. Mead continued to be a popular drink in Northern Europe, where the cold and harsh landscapes could not support vine fruit. In Norse culture, it was said to be offered to brave Viking warriors upon their entrance to Valhalla. In the middle ages, it was a prominent drink of royalty, and mead-makers were held in high esteem among nobility. They began adding fruit and exotic herbs to make more complex meads for kings and queens.
Mead continues to be enjoyed by people of many different cultures thousands of years later. Even though we now fully understand the process of fermentation, mead still has a mysterious, almost spiritual, quality to it – possibly due to its ancient origins.
What You’ll Need:
Though a good mead is rich, complex, and delicious, it is surprisingly simple to create.
- (x1) 1 Gallon Food Grade Bucket Fermenter
- (x2) One Gallon Glass Jugs
- 6.5 Size Drilled Rubber Stopper
- 3 Piece Airlock
- Mini Auto-Siphon & 3 Feet of Hose
- Triple Scale Hydrometer
- Wine Thief
- Sanitizer / Cleanser
- 3.5 lbs. Raw Honey (Any Type)
- 1 Gallon Spring Water
- Lalvin D-47 Dry Wine Yeast
- 3 tsp. Malic Acid
- 1.5 tsp. Tartaric Acid
- ¾ tsp. Yeast Energizer
- ½ tsp. Potassium Sorbate
Step 1: Sanitization
Be sure to PROPERLY SANITIZE everything that will come in contact with your mead! This includes all of your equipment, your work space, and even yourself! Sanitization is the most important step when fermenting anything. Failure to thoroughly sanitize can not only ruin your mead, but waste your valuable time and materials! Remember that there is wild yeast and bacteria living on virtually everything in our world, so you can never over sanitize.
Step 2: Primary Fermentation
1. In your 2 gallon bucket fermenter, dissolve honey in ½ gallon of WARM spring water. Note: there is no need to boil in FDA approved honey and fresh water. Only warm the water to make the honey easier to mix in.
2. Stir in both Malic Acid and Tartaric Acid.
3. Stir in Yeast Energizer.
4. Use your hydrometer to check the fermentable sugars present in your honey mixture. Write down the specific gravity and save for later. For a sweet mead, it should be somewhere between 1.120-1.135.
5. Cover primary with lid, and wait 24 hours. DO NOT PITCH YEAST YET.
6. After 24 hours, pitch yeast. No need to stir, just sprinkle on top of honey mixture.
7. Cover primary with lid and place your airlock. Don’t forget to fill the airlock to the halfway mark with water!
8. Stir daily and continue to check the specific gravity. When it reaches 1.030 (in 5-7 days), begin secondary fermentation.
Step 3: Secondary Fermentation
1. Use your mini-auto siphon (or any siphoning equipment you already have) to transfer your mead off the layer of sediment and into a clean, sanitized 1 gallon glass jug.
2. Insert your #6.5 rubber stopper and attach your airlock again.
3. Secondary fermentation has begun. Wait about 2-3 weeks.
4. After 2-3 weeks, check specific gravity again. When it reaches 1.000, your mead is complete.
5. If your mead is cloudy or hazy, you may repeat the process of racking/transferring off the sediment layer into sanitized jugs as many times as you wish.
6. For especially stubborn haziness, use a fining agent such as Isinglass, Chitosan, or FermFast Dual Fining Agent.
Step 4: Bottling
1. When your mead has achieved the clarity that you desire, it’s time to bottle.
2. Choose your bottles. Mead is traditionally placed in wine bottles, but this is entirely up to your preference.
3. Sanitize enough bottles for 1 gallon of mead.
4. Add ½ tsp of Potassium Sorbate. Mix well. This will stabilize your mead and prevent re-fermentation inside the bottles.
5. Siphon mead into sanitized bottles. We recommend using a bottle filler wand.
6. Sanitize corks and insert into bottles by hand or with a corker.
7. Store upright for 1-2 days, giving the cork time to expand.
Step 5: Aging
1. Choose a dark, temperature controlled area to store your mead. Bottles can be stored upright or on their sides in a wine rack.
2. It is recommended to wait at least 6 months – 1 year before enjoying mead. Mead will only get better with age, so the longer you wait, the more your hard work and patience will pay off!
3. After aging is complete, enjoy is an egg shaped, stemmed wine glass.
You have now participated in a centuries old process. Invite your friends, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Imagine for a moment that you are an ancient Grecian enjoying a play in a beautiful amphitheater, or perhaps a great Viking warrior returning from a raid to enjoy a celebratory draught. Cheers!