Mead the Honey Wine
Mead may be the first fermented (alcoholic) drink ever to get the party started with records reaching as far back as 7000 BC. Also known as honey wine, everyone from Aristotle (322 BC) to Dostoevsky has savored this sweet lightly carbonated beverage. Mead lays between the land of beer and wine with an alcohol content of 9-11%. Complex and sweet like a dessert wine, but with a lighter body. Honey and fruity notes are some of the foremost flavors with hints of yeast. I like to think of it as the brandy of beers on the flavor chain. Mead's sweetness will pair well with spicy food (curries) or strong umamis (mushroom dishes). Mead cocktails are spreading too. My epicurean cousin John Raley introduced me to his home brewed mead and took the time to detail how how he makes it. A delight I continue to thank him for.
5 gallon carboy
large soup pot
wooden spoon (for authenticity)
yeast nutrients or Yeast extract
So, I've been brewing beer for about 2 years now, and I decided it was time to tackle the oldest alcoholic beverage made by man. In its simplest form it is made with just honey, water, and yeast. The yeast ferments the sugar in the honey which out gasses carbon dioxide, and leaves behind alcohol. When all of the sugars are fermented you are left with the drink of the gods.
In order to make mead some specialized equipment is needed. The most important are a 5 gallon carboy and an airlock. A carboy is simply a big glass or plastic jug. They are available for purchase at any brew shop. Do not use just any old plastic water jug. If you use plastic it has to be a food grade plastic that will not let any gas permeate through. If you use a low quality jug things can seep in and ruin your mead during fermentation. Better Bottles is the primary manufacturer of plastic carboys for brewing. The other thing to pick up is an airlock. This is simply a water filled device that fits in the mouth of a carboy. It allows carbon dioxide to leave, and allows nothing in during fermentation. The rest of the tools needed should be located in your kitchen already.
A few notes on ingredients
A true ancient mead would be made with wildflower honey. Most honey available in bulk is clover honey. If you use one type of honey instead of another the only difference will be a slight change in aroma and flavor. Any honey you chose will be perfectly tasty.
You must use a yeast such as Champagne. Mead is High in alcohol. If you use a beer yeast the alcohol will kill the yeast before it has finished fermenting all of the sugars. Different yeast will also impart different flavors. Mead is so light that you do not want your yeast to overpower the delicate aroma of the honey. Do not use bread yeast or any other type of non brewing yeast for the same reasons. A selection of yeast is also available at any brew shop.
Yeast Nutrients or Extracts can be added to mead to help boost your yeast. Honey is lacking in essential nutrients needed by yeast to ferment sugars. Yeast Nutrients or Extracts are not necessary for making mead, but they will reduce fermentation time from around 6 months or a year down to as little as 3-6 weeks.
Acid Blend is a blend of acids that will help complement the flavor of your mead. it will add a citrus tang to the palate. Again Acid blend is not necessary for making mead.
Sanitize your carboy by soaking it with a brewers cleaner, or use a little laundry bleach (about 2 tablespoons for 5 gallons of water).
To make your mead fill your soup pot with 1 gallon of water. As water is heating pour in all 14lbs of honey stirring to keep the honey from burning on the bottom of the pot. This mix of honey water is called a "must." Bring your must to a boil. As the must heats up a foam will develop. Skim this foam off with your spoon. When the must begins to boil set aside you spoon. Do not use the spoon again, because the wood can contain bacteria and yeasts that will ruin your mead. Boiling the must for 15 minutes will kill these bacteria and wild yeast. Do not boil your must longer than 15 minutes, or you will boil off the pleasant floral aroma of the honey. Add any acid blend or yeast nutrients at this point.
While your must is boiling add 2 gallons of cold water to your carboy. This keeps the glass from shattering when you add the boiling must. After the must has boiled for 15 minutes insert your funnel into the carboy, and pour your must in. Top off the carboy with more cold water leaving 6 inches or so of air at the top for fermentation to occur. Attach your airlock.
Wait for the must temperature to come down to around 75 or 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Pitch your yeast. Either pour it in, or rehydrate it in a sanitized container with a cup of water for an hour before adding it to the must.
Place your fermenter in a dark cabinet that is around 70 to 75 degrees.
If you have not used yeast nutrients be prepared after 3 weeks to rack your mead into another container. This is when you siphon the mead into a second carboy leaving behind the yeast sediment at the bottom of the first carboy. If you do not do this the sediment will begin to breakdown, and will affect the flavor of your mead. After return the mead to a dark place and check it again in 6 months. When it clears so that you can see clearly through it it is ready to drink.
If you used yeast nutrients your mead may clear in as little as 4 weeks. If it has not cleared in 4 weeks rack it to another container, and let it sit another few weeks till it clears.
After that use a siphon bottle it into air tight bottles. I use beer bottles and a bottle capper. Chill the mead and enjoy.