mead! That mystical, magical golden drink that so many have heard of,
but so few have tasted. With this work I hope in some small measure to
correct this situation.
I have been making mead for over 15 years. I love the taste of good
mead and enjoy making it. Mead has a history as old as any alcoholic
beverage, and was a mainstay of alcoholic drinks until beer/ale became
popular. It wasn't until the past few centuries that mead's popularity
declined to the point where few people have tasted it.
Regretfully, much of the home brewed meads that are out there are,
well, bad. Occasionally I have been presented with a sample of "mead"
and asked my opinion. I have found there's lots of paint thinner out
there. Must be paint thinner, since mead can't taste that bad. The
reasons for this are simple: there are few commercial meads available,
and few people who produce quality homemade meads. Most people have
nothing to compare their efforts to.
For the mead maker who wishes to make historically accurate meads
another problem arises. There are very few historical references
available on the subject of mead making. One significant reference
source that is available is regrettably late period, that being:
The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened: Whereby
is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine,
& c. together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for
Preserving, Conserving, Candying, & c.
While Digbie is late period, his work does give us a glimpse of what
types of meads were being produced in near late period. One thing of
importance to note about Digbie: it appears from the titles of many of
his recipes that the meads he and his associates made were produced for
the nobility. For example, here are the names of some of his recipes:
* White metheglin of my Lady Hungerford: which is exceedingly praised
* The Countess of Bullingbrook's white Metheglin
* Sir Thomas Gower's Meteglin for health
It therefore appears that Digbie is a poor source of information if
your wish is to reproduce the meads consumed by the common man of his
time. This is further compounded by the fact that by Digbie's time mead
had fallen out of favor as a drink for the masses. If you are going to
use Digbie as a primary reference source in your mead making, you
should always keep the above points in mind.
All references to Digbie in this work refer to the 1669 edition.
In this work we will discuss the ingredients, techniques and equipment
used in mead making. There is a section discussing the life cycle of
yeast during fermentation. Then on to recipes for making your own meads
and mead variations, including several period and near-period recipes.
The work finishes with a discussion on bottling techniques, storage,
ageing and serving tips.
Concerning the Recipes: This
work contains modern recipes, using modern techniques and equipment in
an attempt to reproduce period style meads. Also included are several
period and near-period recipes, along with a translation of those
recipes into modern terms. "Period" refers to the historical period in
which mead was a common drink, from approximately the beginning of man
until the 14th or 15th century. The selection of the 14th-15th century
as a cut off point is somewhat arbitrary, as mead remained popular in
many areas (Africa for one) long after beer and ale had become the
drink for the common man. Also note, while my interest in meads spans
the globe, this work deals exclusively with the meads of Europe and
Great Britton. The reason is simple, there is far more information
available concerning the meads of Europe and Great Britton than of the
fermented honey drinks of Africa, Asia or the New World. It is my hope,
at a future date, to expand this work to include information and
recipies from outside Europe and Great Britton.
My intention in writing this work is to pass on some of the information
I have collected in 15+ years of mead making, and hopefully, in some
small way, to improve the quality of the meads made by home brewers.
My thanks to Lady Tyrca Ivarsdottir for proof reading this work, and to
my Master, Count Finn Kelly O'Donnell for his support and encouragement
of my efforts.
is mead? The simplest answer is this: mead is an alcoholic beverage
made by the fermentation of honey diluted with water. Well, that's
pretty simple. But it doesn't say much.
Most meads will be made with 2-5 pounds of honey per gallon of water.
The yeast used for the fermentation will decide to a large degree how
sweet or dry the finished mead is. A sweet mead is traditional, as our
ancestors did not have the strains of highly alcohol tolerant yeast
that we have. So a dry (low sugar/high alcohol) mead was not what was
usually produced. Most meads were still (noncarbonated), but a
sparkling mead (carbonated like champagne) is quite delicious, if not
strictly all that traditional.
At this point let me say that I like sweet meads. If you like dry
meads, that's great, but dry meads are not as historically accurate, in
general, as sweet meads. Every piece of documentation I have found (and
I have been looking for over a decade) indicate that the meads that our
ancestors made were generally sweet.
Let's start with the basics. Water, honey and yeast are the three primary ingredients used to make mead.
single largest component in your finished product will be water. Some
people consider water to be so important in their brewing that they
have routine water analysis done. You can get deeply involved in the
hardness (dissolved minerals), bio-burden (amount of microorganisms)
and chlorine content of your water. If such is of concern to you, have
fun. I have found through trial and error that if your water tastes
good to drink, it produces a fine mead.
Some brewers/vintners use only bottled water. Unfortunately most
bottled water is just filtered tap water. This filtration does remove
most suspended solids and chlorine. If your water tastes bad and you
can get bottled water that tastes good, use the bottled water.
A good practice is to boil your water for ten minutes before brewing so
as to drive off most of the residual chlorine found in your municipal
water supply. Chlorine can retard or stop fermentation by killing off
the yeast. Most municipalities use so little chlorine in their water
that this is not a major concern.
Hard vs. Soft Water
In the brewing of some beverages (beer is the best example) the
hardness of your brewing water can have a significant effect on the
final product. With meads, however, the hardness of the water used will
have little if any impact on the finished mead.
One notable exception is in the making of a braggot. A braggot is a
cross between a mead and a beer. The hardness of your water can
significantly affect the drink. We will cover this in the section on
my! I could write thirty pages on this subject alone. There are so many
different types of honey available that two very different meads can be
made with the same recipe simply by using two different honeys. There
are light clover, alfalfa and orange blossom honeys available, and dark
honeys (especially some of the honeys from New Zealand) that look more
like maple syrup. Mesquite honey is hard to find, but well worth the
search. It will produce a very unique tasting mead. There are so many
types of honey available to the modern mead maker that we won't be
covering them in detail. In general, if you like the taste of the
honey, you will like the taste of a mead made from it. I recently took
a bronze medal at the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) National
Homebrew Competition in the Traditional Mead catagory (Catagory 25)
The type of honey used is a matter of personal choice. Until you have
had the opportunity to try meads made from different types of honey, I
suggest that you use the less exotic (and less expensive) types of
honey. This will also save you a great deal of money.
Once you have some experience, try replacing one or two pounds of the
less expensive honey with some of the exotic honeys. Using a dark
strong honey by itself will produce a very strong flavored and very
expensive drink. Not a bad thing, just not a good place to start.
Adding a small amount of one of the strong dark honeys to your less
expensive lighter honey is a good compromise.
Purchase your honey in bulk, if possible. Check in the yellow pages
under honey for a supplier. If that doesn't work, check at local health
food stores (this can be expensive) or at a local "warehouse" store.
Another good place to look is at your local farmer's market.
The larger the container, the lower the cost per pound of honey.
Whenever possible, purchase filtered honey. Unfiltered honey will
contain more wax and insect parts (well, it is a natural product). Some
people advocate using unfiltered honey, thinking something essential is
lost from the honey by the filtration process. This is not so.
Filtering removes large items like clumps of wax and dead bees (the
filter is a course screen). The only thing that you will loose by using
filtered honey is aggravation.
Avoid using the table honeys available at your local grocery story, as these honeys tend to be rather bland.
For the novice mead maker I recommend using orange blossom or clover
honey. These are nice medium amber colored, medium flavored honeys.
Avoid using alfalfa honey, as it tends to be very light in color and
flavor, and meads made from it will tend to be rather bland.
Note: in this work I sometimes refer to honey as sugar (which is
what honey is mostly made of, after all). When I refer to sugar I am
referring to honey, not cane sugar.
You might guess that I feel rather strongly about this point. The
strains of yeasts used to make bread have been selected for that
purpose. You can make good bread with bread yeast, but you will make
I've had a few people tell me that they have made wonderful meads using
bread yeast. More power to them, but you won't find it in my meads.
Bread yeast is usually available as a freeze dried powder. As with all
freeze dried yeast, most of the yeast cells in the package are dead
(making initial fermentation sluggish). Also, bread yeast doesn't
settle out very well. The flavor that it adds to mead is, well,
bread-like. It's also difficult to get consistent results using bread
yeast in the production of meads.
Mead yeasts have been selected for the flavors they contribute to the
mead, for their ability to settle out after fermentation so you get a
clear mead, as well as for their ability to produce alcohol. Go to a
local brewing supply shop and see if they stock mead yeast. If they
don't they can usually order it. Mead yeast is your best choice in mead
You will generally find two types, sweet mead yeast and dry mead yeast.
A sweet mead yeast is less alcohol tolerant. As the yeast converts the
sugar in the honey to alcohol, the yeast will die off at around 5-8%
alcohol (the alcohol poisons the yeast). If there is sugar left after
the yeast is done, you will have a sweet mead. A dry mead can be
produced with a sweet mead yeast by using less honey, so more (or all)
of the sugar is converted to alcohol. This is the paint thinner mead I
referred to earlier. A dry mead yeast is just what you suspect, a more
alcohol tolerant yeast (10-15% alcohol before the yeast dies off from
alcohol poisoning or lack of food). As a sweet mead yeast can produce a
dry mead under the right conditions, a dry mead yeast can produce a
sweet mead if you use lots of honey. Mind you, it will be a sweet mead
with a lot of alcohol.
Note: When we discuss a dry mead yeast, we are referring to its alcohol tolerance, not to powdered yeast.
Wine yeast usually produces 12-18% alcohol and is the best choice if a
mead-specific yeast isn't available. The flavor it adds is much the
same as a mead yeast. In fact, many dry mead yeasts you will find are
the same as most wine yeasts.
Your next best choice is ale yeast. Ale yeast is easier to find at a
brewing supply shop than mead yeast. It doesn't add much to the flavor
of the mead, and acts like a sweet mead yeast and will produce a drink
with 5-8% alcohol.
This yeast is highly alcohol tolerant. Under the right conditions it
can ferment as high as 20% alcohol or higher. The flavor it adds to the
mead is noticeable and delicious. If you hate the taste of champagne
you should avoid this yeast, since some of champagne's characteristic
flavors come from the yeast.
Viekra Mead Yeast
If you like high alcohol meads, this is the yeast for you. This mead
specific yeast from Germany is hard to find. The manufacturer is:
7302 Ostfildern 3 (Scharnhausen)
If you can find this yeast, be advised that it
can ferment for a very, very long time. I have produced several meads
with this yeast that were 25% alcohol (50 proof mead!). One batch of
very strong mead that I made with this yeast (6 pounds of honey per
gallon of water) fermented for a year and a half and became known as
"The Mead That Would Not Die." It turned out quite wonderful. It just
had to age for five years before it was drinkable.
How Yeast is Available Yeast is available in three forms: powdered, as a liquid culture, and a powdered yeast packaged with a starter.
This is the most available, least expensive, easiest to store and least
desirable yeast for mead making. Whenever you use powdered yeast you
should prepare a starter bottle (we will cover this in a moment).
Adding powdered yeast without preparing a starter bottle will produce a
slow initial fermentation. Powdered yeast should be stored in a cool
dry place. I keep mine in the freezer (what little I use). Freezing
powdered yeast is not a problem, as the yeast cells are buffered prior
to the freeze drying process.
A liquid yeast culture is what powdered yeast is made from. The yeast
is grown in the lab on a gelatin surface which contains nutrients. When
the yeast is to be used, it's washed off the gelatin surface with
sterile water or a nutrient broth. This culture must be stored
refrigerated to keep it from spoiling. Once the culture is more than a
few weeks old it will contain so few live yeast cells that it will be
nearly useless. When you go to buy a liquid yeast culture, take a
container of ice with you to put the test tube in. Keep it cold until
you are ready to use it, and use it within 2 or 3 days. DO NOT FREEZE A
LIQUID YEAST CULTURE AS THIS WILL KILL OFF MOST OF THE YEAST CELLS.
Liquid yeast cultures are preferred over powdered cultures. The yeast
cells tend to be much healthier than in a powdered culture, thereby
giving you a faster initial fermentation.
Powdered Yeast Packaged with a Starter
The final type of yeast packaging is the one I use the most. A package
of a powdered or liquid yeast culture is placed inside of a sealed
package containing a sterile starter (usually made from barley malt).
The small inner package is ruptured by placing the package on a hard
surface and striking it. The package is then shaken and left out
(un-refrigerated) for a day or two so that the yeast can multiply. The
package will swell since the carbon dioxide produced by the fermenting
yeast can't escape. The package should be used before it becomes over
pressurized (boom!). Follow the instructions on the package for the
Wyeast produces some of the better yeast cultures around, and they have
a wide variety of yeast available. Check at your local brew shop. Click here to see a list of Wyeast cultures.
The single most important thing to keep in mind is to get the freshest
yeast you can. Most brewing/vintning yeast out there will have a "best
if used before" date on the package.
Why make a starter bottle of yeast? When the honey/water mixture
(called must) has cooled below about 170 deg. F it is highly
susceptible to becoming infected with wild yeast (those floating around
in the air, on your skin, on the cat and so on) and/or wild bacteria.
Wild yeast and bacteria can produce strange flavors in the finished
mead. The best way to combat the wild yeast/bacteria problem is to make
sure that everything that comes into contact with the must is sterile,
and to pitch (add to the fermenter) a large quantity of the desired
yeast. This way the yeast will become the dominate microorganism in the
must, and will tend to overwhelm any wild yeast/bacteria that may have
slipped past your efforts at cleanliness/sterilization.
When we use a liquid yeast culture, a starter bottle is not needed. A
liquid culture will tend to contain a large volume of yeast. Packages
of powdered yeast, on the other hand, tend to contain relatively little
viable yeast. Therefore fermentations using powered yeast will tend to
ferment slowly, giving wild yeast/bacteria a greater change to become
plentiful in the must.
When we make a starter bottle using powered yeast, we are in effect making a liquid yeast culture.
How to Make a Starter Bottle
Boil 1/4 cup of powdered malt extract (brew shop again) in two pints of
water for 5 minutes. Be careful, as it will try to boil over on you.
Cover and remove from heat. Let cool to 70-80 deg. F and place in a
clean, sterilized glass jar or jug. Add the powdered yeast and gently
swirl it into the malt/water in the jug. Cover with a double thickness
of paper towel and rubber band into place (or use a cork and airlock.
We will discuss these in the section on equipment). Place in a warm
place (70-85 deg. F) and let it sit for 12-24 hours before pitching.
Use malt, not honey, in your starter bottle because you will get many
more yeast cells with malt. Honey by itself does not have the needed
nutrients for healthy yeast growth, malt does.
Cane sugar should not be used in mead making, as it adds a harsh cider
flavor when fermented. It can, however, be used to make a starter
bottle of yeast, as very little is used (1/4 cup in two pints of water).
Needless to say, it makes sense to prepare your starter bottle the day before mead making.
Short and Long Meads
A short mead (also referred to as a quick or small mead) is a mead with
lower amounts of initial fermentable sugar (say from 1-3 lbs.
honey/gallon) than a long mead. These meads tend to ferment to
completion much faster than a long mead (a mead with over 3 lbs. of
honey/gallon). Short meads can be fermented to completion in a few
weeks, while a long mead will usually take two months or longer to
Most of the recipes in this work are either long meads, or meads on the
borderline between a short and long mead. To convert any of the recipes
to a short mead, simply reduce the amount of honey used to the 1-3 lbs.
honey/gallon range, and use a less alcohol tolerant yeast (or you will
end up with paint thinner mead).
The Life Cycle of Yeast (not as dull as it sounds)
Ya, right! Well, it may not be exciting, but as a mead maker you should
be familiar with the life cycle of yeast. Otherwise, you won't know
what's going on in that carboy.
Yeast is a single-cell microorganism (a fungus), that reproduces by
budding. It will go through four distinct phases in its life cycle.
When the yeast is added to the must (pitched), it will take in what
oxygen is available, some of the sugar that is available and will
produce more yeast. During this stage, there is no appreciable amount
of alcohol produced, just more yeast. For the yeast to reproduce in
large quantities, oxygen is needed.
When the hot must is poured into the carboy, there will be very little
dissolved oxygen in it. Be careful NOT to aerate the must when it is
hot, as this tends to make the finished mead unstable (this is called
hot side aeration, by the way).
When you use the shaker method, you will put much of the oxygen that is
in the head space of the carboy (the space above the liquid level) into
suspension after the must has cooled (this is why we let the mead sit
for a day after pitching the yeast before we start shaking it, to let
it cool), thereby giving the yeast plenty of oxygen to work with.
This stage usually lasts a few hours.
During this stage the yeast will produce more yeast as in respiration,
but the yeast will also begin taking in food (sugar) and putting off
alcohol. This stage can take from several days to several years.
The variables that most affect the length of a fermentation are:
higher the temperature, the faster the fermentation. Up to a point that
is. Most mead yeasts work best in the 55-75 deg. F range. At higher
temperatures they WILL ferment faster, but they may also produce some
nasty flavors. Above 120 deg. F most yeasts die (but who ferments in
the oven anyway?). The fermentation temperature range I shoot for with
most of my meads is 65-70 deg. F.
If your fermenter will be in an area where there are significant
temperature variations (10-15 deg. F changes), move it to somewhere
more stable, or place it in a container filled with water. Or wrap it
in a spare sleeping bag. Any one of these techniques will tend to even
out temperature changes.
Very high acidity can slow fermentation. The next time you make up some
mead, check the pH of the must. You will be surprised.
Some recipes call for the use of acid blend to acidify the must. With
honey sitting at a pH of 4.5 - 5.0 this is unnecessary. Boy is it
Honey does not contain many nutrients. If you don't add some, you can
expect a very slow fermentation. Adding small amounts of yeast nutrient
and yeast energizer will provide the yeast with everything needed to
If you are making a Braggot, you don't need to add any nutrient or
energizer, as the malted barley will provide everything needed for good
yeast growth and fermentation.
Amount of fermentable sugars
If there is no sugar, you get no alcohol (sorry to state the obvious).
If you have excessive amounts of sugar, say over six pounds of honey
per gallon, fermentation can actually be slowed.
Alcohol tolerance of the yeast
The more tolerant, the longer the fermentation.
Amount of oxygen originally dissolved in the must
The more there is the faster it will ferment, as more yeast will have been produced during respiration.
Type of yeast used (powdered, liquid culture)
Liquid cultures tend to start off faster they powered ones. Also, the more yeast you pitch, the faster the fermentation.
When the yeast starts to run out of food (sugar) it will begin to
settle to the bottom of the carboy. Some yeasts tend to stay in
suspension more than others and have to be coaxed out of suspension
with clarifying agents (more on clarifying agents later). Sedimentation
can take from several weeks to several months.
Once the sugar supply is gone, the yeast will begin to digest each
other. Autolysis tends to produce a significant yeasty flavor in the
mead. In general, it is best to get the mead off of the yeast sediment
(also call lees) within a month or two. Once visible signs of
fermentation stops, and a significant amount of yeast has settled (1/2"
or more), rack the mead into a clean sterile carboy, leaving the sediment behind. Once more yeast has settled out, rack
it again. Continue doing this until the mead is clear (this will
usually take 2-4 rackings). To get a truly clear mead, you will have to
sacrifice some of it. When you rack the mead, don't try to get every last drop. If you do, you will most likely get some of the sediment.
If you are making a sparkling mead, the small amount of yeast sediment in the bottles is not a problem.
Brewing/Vintning Techniques In
case you are wondering, brewing is the art of making beer and vintning
is the art of making wine. You will find mead recipes in both beer and
wine making books.
To be accurate, a mead maker is
called a Mazer, and making mead is called mazing. However, most
authorities on the subject refer to the process of making a mead as
brewing. This is the convention used in this work.
Most people consider mead to be a wine, but in the strictest sense it
is not. Wine is made from grape juice (some say from any fruit juice),
and honey is not any type of fruit juice when last I checked. Nor is it
a beer, since beer is made from malted barley (and/or other grains),
hops, water and yeast.
Mead is in a class by itself. It's not a beer, it's not a wine. It's
mead. But many of the techniques used to make beer and wine are the
same as those used in mead making.
Keep it Sterile, Stupid
All equipment used in the production of mead should be clean and
sterile. While you can not keep the equipment used in a kitchen truly
"sterile" let's use the term anyway.
Why, you ask, is sterility so important. Good question. Wild (naturally
occurring) yeast and bacteria are on your skin, your kitchen counters,
inside your nice clean looking glass carboy. In short, they are
everywhere we don't want them to be. If the wild yeast survives and
makes it into the fermenter with your must (the
honey/water/herbs/spices solution is called must), it will convert the
sugars in the honey to alcohol, rather than the yeast we have chosen
doing the job. While some wild yeast can make a great mead (after all,
this is where mead yeast came from) most wild yeast will introduce
flavors that we don't want.
Wild bacteria are not much of a concern to mead makers (though they can
spoil a beer very, very fast). Wild bacteria is usually only a concern
to a mead maker when making a beer mead cross (a braggot). The
techniques listed here for dealing with wild yeast will also get rid of
The items that you need to be concerned with are the ones that come
into contact with the must after it has cooled from a simmer. When it's
simmering, nothing harmful will grow in it. There aren't many
microorganisms that can survive at such a temperature, and none of them
are present in honey or a municipal water supply. Your carboy, funnel,
spoon and any other equipment (which we will cover in the equipment
section) should be clean and sterile.
1/8 cup of unscented household chlorine bleach per gallon of water is
one of the cheapest and most effective sterilizing agents available.
Don't use non-chlorine bleach (usually a weak solution of
hydrogen-peroxide). It may be great to keep your colors colorful and
your whites white, but it's lousy for sterilizing.
When you're filling your carboy and whatever you are going to soak your
spoon and funnel in (the kitchen sink is the obvious choice) you should
aerate the bleach water by using a sprayer. If you get a strong
chlorine smell, then the bleach is doing its job. Let the items your
are sterilizing soak for at least 20 minutes. When you are ready to use
the equipment, shake off most of the chlorine/water. Rinsing is not
necessary (really). Needless to say, you will need to pour the bleach
water out of the carboy before you fill it with the must.
Do not soak items made from stainless steal in a chlorine/water
solution for more than a few hours. Long exposure to chlorine will pit
Sodium or Potassium Metabisulfite (Campdem Tablets)
When crushed and added to a acid solution campdem tablets release
sulfur dioxide gas. Campdem tablets must be used in large quantities
before they will sterilize. At lower concentrations they only inhibits
bacterial growth. Since campdem tablets are less effective and more
expensive than bleach, I don't recommending their use.
A very effective sterilizing agent. Most useful in sterilizing
stainless steal (such as stainless soda and beer kegs), as iodine will
not pit stainless steal the way chlorine does.
Also known as washing soda, sodium carbonate is an alkaline sanitizing
agent. It works very well, but is harder to handle than the other
sterilizing/sanitizing agents listed here.
A commercially available powered no-rinse cleanser for brewing
equipment which contains percarbonates. Very easy to use. Also, a
solution of One-Step and water is a very effective de-labeling solution.
To Boil or Not to Boil?
This is a controversy in the mead making world (yes, we do have a few
controversies). The water from your tap and the honey you use contain
many microorganisms. Wild yeasts, bacteria and even some viruses are
common in honey. They are not a health concern when eating raw honey,
but when you ferment the stuff, you want the brewing yeast you are
using to be the one to convert the sugar in the honey to alcohol. Some
of the wild yeast present in honey can cause some nasty flavors if they
are allowed to do the fermentation. So we have to eliminate them before
we add our own yeast.
The simplest way to kill the bad yeast and bacteria is to boil the
must. Some mead makers feel that boiling the must drives off some of
the most delicate honey aromas.
Here is what I do. Boil the brewing water for about 10 minutes, this
drives off any residual chlorine that may be present. Take the water
off the heat and add your honey. If you add the honey while the pot is
on the burner, the honey may caramelized when it settles to the bottom
of the pot. Mix the honey in thoroughly with a spoon. Return the brew
pot to the heat and bring the must to a very light simmer. After it
simmers for a while a white to tan colored foam will form on the
surface. This is coagulated albumin from the honey. Skim it off.
Continue until no more foam is formed. If the foam is dark tan or
brown, turn the heat down immediately. This albumin will make the mead
cloudy if it's not removed. Watch the must at all times, as it has a
low boiling point and can boil over in a flash. When this stuff hits a
hot burner or stove top, it makes a mess that gives super glue a run
for its money.
When making mead, pitch a large quantity of yeast. Add yeast energizer
and yeast nutrient to your carboy full of must in the amounts listed on
the packages (we'll cover yeast energizer and nutrient in detail in the
section on additives). The next day, shake the carboy hard for five
minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening. Repeat this
shaking every day till you start to get outgassing from the mead (gas
escaping from the airlock). At this point STOP
shaking the mead. If you don't, you will end up with a mead flavored
ceiling. This shaking method is used in mycology labs to grow
production quantities of yeasts.
Why does this shaking
shorten fermentation time? Two reasons. One: shaking the mead will put
some of the oxygen in the head space (the air trapped in the carboy
above the liquid level) into the mead. Two: agitating the yeast by
shaking will cause the yeast to bud more yeast cells. The more yeast
you have in the fermenter, the quicker the fermentation will be
With the shaker method, you can shorten initial fermentation (also
called primary fermentation) time. Without the shaker method the
initial fermentation can take two or even three times as long. The
shaker method does not affect the flavor of the mead at all. I have
done several side by side comparisons, some meads with energizer and/or
nutrient, some without, some with shaking, some without, and
combinations of all of these. No change in flavor or aroma was found.
Feeding a Mead
If you would like to produce a high alcohol mead (15% or higher),
here's what to do. Use a alcohol tolerant yeast (dry mead (not
powdered), champagne or Viekra mead yeast), then add the honey in
stages. This is called feeding.
After fermentation is well under way (a few weeks), simmer some more
honey/water as you normally do (simmering and skimming the scum off),
then add this to the fermenter. I feed my meads with 3-5 lbs. of honey
simmered in 1/2 gallon of water. You don't need to cool the must you
are adding, as you are adding a relatively small volume of hot liquid
to a larger volume of cool liquid. Also, the added heat when you add
the hot feeding must to the carboy will help get the yeast fermenting
You can continue adding more honey this way until the fermenter is full
(I use 7.5 gallon carboys for 5 gallon batches), and/or you achieve the
desired alcohol/sweetness level you are looking for.
Using this method, you can get a higher alcohol content than you could
if you add all of the honey at the beginning. There is one problem with
feeding a mead, it makes figuring out the alcohol content more
Adjusting the Sweetness
If you are feeding a mead to increase the sweetness of the finished
product do this: Taste the mead at the second racking - your first
racking will usually kick off fermentation again, so feeding it then
may not give you the residual sweetness you expect. If it's too dry
(not enough residual sweetness) feed the mead as described above.
When fermentation has not taken place for about two weeks (no gas
blipping out of the airlock), and some sedimentation of the yeast has
occurred (say 1/2" or more) you should transfer the mead to a clean
sterile carboy. This is called racking.
We rack the mead for several reasons:
To get the mead
off the yeast sediment. If the mead sits for prolonged periods of time
on the sediment (more than a month) some yeasty flavors will be
imparted to the mead.
imparts a small amount of oxygen into the mead. While adding too much
oxygen to the mead once fermentation is substantially complete can
cause the mead to become unstable once bottled, the addition of a small
amount of oxygen while racking the mead is desirable. If the yeast has
not reached its alcohol tolerance and there is still sugar present to
ferment, the addition of this small amount of oxygen will spur
additional fermentation. This will help insure that fermentation is
truly complete before we bottle the mead.
To get the mead off of the fruit placed in the fermenter when making a melomel. More on this in the section on melomels.
Note: if you are planning to
bottle your mead sparkling, ignore reason 2. When bottling a sparkling
mead, some fermentation must still be taking place when the mead is
bottled to provide the carbonation. See the section on bottling for
I use a racking cane and 5 feet of
clear food grade plastic tubing to rack my meads (see the equipment
section for more information). You can use a piece of clear plastic
tubing by itself for racking. However, you will tend to get more of the
yeast sediment into the new carboy if you use tubing without a racking
Technique Place the
"from" carboy (the one with the mead and sediment in it) on a counter.
Let it sit for one or two days to insure the sediment has settled from
your moving the mead to the counter.
Place a clean sterile carboy of the same size as the "from" carboy on the floor.
Sterilize your clean racking cane with attached tubing. Flush it out
with clean water. Fill the tubing/racking cane with clean water. Hold a
clean finger over the end of the tubing that is going into the new
carboy (this will keep the water from running out of the tubing/racking
cane). Remove the airlock from the "from" carboy (if you don't have
three arms, it's a good idea to have some help at this stage). Slowly
insert the racking cane into the "from" carboy until the end of the
racking cane is 1" above the sediment. Insert the other end of the
tubing into the new carboy and remove your finger (diagram 1). Since
the tubing was filled with water, you don't have to suck on it to get
the siphon started.
When the liquid level in the "from" carboy is about 2" above the
sediment, slowly tilt the "from" carboy (diagram 2). This allows you to
rack more of the mead. Tilt the carboy very slowly so you don't disturb
the sediment. Don't worry if a small amount of the sediment gets into
the new carboy.
Once you are done racking the mead, remove the tubing from the new
carboy and place a clean sterile cork and airlock on the new carboy.
You should clean the "from" carboy immediately. If the sediment is
allowed to dry it starts to resemble concrete.
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