A Recipe for Mead
This is a good recipe for beginners – the quantity fits in an empty gallon wine jug, and you won’t spend a fortune on ingredients or equipment. I can’t take credit for the recipe, since it came from a newsgroup called ‘mead-lovers-digest’, which I can’t find anymore. It’s attributed to Cher Feinstein, late of the University of Florida, so it has a good university pedigree, and is dated September 1989. I took that recipe, tried it a couple of times, and made it ‘my own’. Enough history.
Basic concepts about making mead:
Making mead is really very simple. You combine water and yeast with some ‘food’ for the yeast (honey) and flavoring agents. The yeast bubbles away in an anaerobic environment, turning some of the sugars into alcohol, and you get a nice beverage at the end.
When you add spices to the basic honey/water/yeast mixture, it’s technically called a metheglin. Don’t count on anyone outside of the local Renaissance Faire or homebrew shop knowing that, though.
You will be adding wine yeast (or sherry or champagne yeast) to do the fermenting. You want to keep all of the other ‘wild’ yeasts in the air out of your mead, since they may sour it. Therefore: wash everything with a mild bleach solution and rinse it very well before you use it. This includes pots and pans, funnels, and especially glass jugs. (Some people say this isn’t necessary, including some well respected mead-makers, but I don’t have their confidence yet, so I’m careful to keep things clean.)
2 or 3 cloves, lightly cracked
2 sticks of cinnamon, cracked
dash of cardamom
2 to 4 teaspoons fresh lemon zest (just the thin yellow part, not the white part of the peel)
2 lbs. raw honey (get this at a health food store – don’t use a processed honey like “SueBee”)
1 packet of wine yeast*
¼ cup vodka or grain alcohol
*Get this yeast at a homebrew shop. I have tried several kinds with good results. Some to try as a beginner: Flor Sherry, Cotes des Blancs.
large stockpot, 4 quarts or larger with lid (or use plastic wrap to cover)
strainer or sieve
1 glass wine jug (but 2 will make it easier)
4 to 6 feet of plastic tubing (1/2” or so) OR a large funnel
Optional Equipment: (definitely not necessary, but more “techie”)
rubber stopper and airlock to fit the glass jug
specific gravity indicator
commercial “yeast nutrient”
wine bottles for serving (or sharing!) the mead more easily
Day 1, preferably during a waxing moon, to encourage the mead to ripen: Clean the stockpot with a bleach solution and rinse well. Put cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and lemon peel in about 2 quarts of water and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the spices have scented the water. Add water to bring the volume to about 3 quarts, and return to a simmer. Add the honey, stirring constantly, and heat but do not boil. Skim off white scum as it forms. If the scum is yellow, reduce the heat. When no more scum forms, remove the pot from the heat, cover it to keep out airborne yeast, and leave it overnight. It must reach room temperature before you continue, or you will kill the yeast.
Day 2: Strain the mixture to remove as much of the spice particles as possible. You will have to strain it into something, so use another (cleaned and rinsed) pot, or the (cleaned and rinsed) wine jug. The mixture should end up back in your large stockpot. Add the packet of yeast, stir it in, and put the cover back on.
Day 3 or 4: (when the yeast has formed a thick foam on the surface of the liquid. Preferably before this foam sinks like a rock to the bottom of the pot. But if the foam does sink, it’s not a big deal, but it’s time to proceed with this step.) Rack the mixture to a jug, leaving the foam and dregs of yeast behind. (“Racking” is the techie term for transferring liquid. Use a clean funnel or plastic hose.) Add enough boiled, cooled water to reach the neck of your jug. To seal the jug but allow gases to escape, cover it with a double layer of paper towel, held on by a rubber band. (Techie option: use an airlock with water to allow the bubbles to escape.) Leave the jug somewhere at room temperature, and watch it to make sure the paper towel doesn’t get fouled with foam. (If it does, just replace the paper towel with a clean one.)
Two to four days later: Wait until the vigorous foaming stops, or at least 2 days. Make sure the paper towel is clean, and move the jug to the refrigerator (or the porch, if the weather is predictably 45°F).
12 to 24 hours later: Rack the mead (it’s becoming mead now!) to a clean jug, put on a clean paper towel, and return it to the refrigerator.
12 to 24 hours later: Rack the mead to a clean jug again, and add ¼ cup of vodka or grain alcohol to kill the yeast. Put on a clean paper towel, and return the jug to the refrigerator.
Keep the mead in the jug in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days. Then bottle the mead, using a clean funnel or plastic hose. The mead is supposed to be drinkable in 10 days, and really pretty good in about 2½ weeks. (I find that I can start this mead about a month before I want to serve it, and it turns out fine.) Keep the mead refrigerated, and don’t let it get too old – drink it within 6 months or a year. It’s not a fine wine, and it doesn’t age like one!
Keep in mind that you’re dealing with living yeast and wild honey. Your results won’t be entirely predictable, and you should adjust things as you see fit. Occasionally, things just won’t work the way you expect them to (so I’ve heard – it’s never happened to me, of course! J). It just happens, so don’t be discouraged and try again. And if you have a question along the way, ask someone who’s tried home brewing, or call your local homebrew store – they’re usually very helpful. Finally, don’t think that homebrew stores are only found in the suburbs. A great one is right in center city Philadelphia – Home Sweet Homebrew.