Beginner's Guide to Making Mead
Mead is beautiful honey, mixed with water and fermented with yeast. It can also be flavoured with herbs, fruits, spices, or hops. We keep bees and we make Mead. Let's talk first about 'the' way to make mead.
There really isn't just one way.
You will find endless blogs, books and advice out there. They will all differ. I had my first go at making mead from scratch a long time ago. But I used the cheapest supermarket honey I could find to make it. I ended up with what was, in effect, sugary water. I then faffed about for a year before trying again, because I didn't want to use 'good' (aka expensive) honey, mess it up and waste it.
If that's how you're feeling: I hear you. However if your ingredients are good quality and you sterilise all your equipment properly, you have nothing to fear.
What does Mead taste like?
Well that depends on the Mead. Just like wine, Mead can be sweet or dry, still or sparkling. It can be made with fruit, flowers, vegetables, herbs and/or spices. And it doesn't always taste of honey. If you have tried mead before and weren't that keen, try a different one. Just like beers and wines, there will be one for which you have a preference. And of course, it's great fun working out which one that is.
Sourcing Quality Honey
Clearly keeping bees isn't the only way to ensure a plentiful supply of quality honey for meadmaking, but we started to keep bees with mead in mind. If you're not sure where to buy quality honey locally, contact your local branch of the British Beekeeping Association. They should be able to point you in the direction of a beekeeper near you. If all else fails you can buy British Honey online.
Cleaning and Sterilising
If you have good quality honey available, then really the only thing that could mess up your mead is by not cleaning and sterilising your equipment effectively. As always, which ever home brew you are making, clean & sterilise all equipment that will come into contact with your brew. Fermenting liquids are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, and unwanted bacteria will spoil your mead. There are a variety of cleaners and sterilisers to choose from, all of which are simple to use. Simply follow the instructions on the packaging.
Regardless of whether the instructions say to rinse off the sterilising liquid, we always rinse everything thoroughly in cold water after sterilising and just before use. Some don’t. It’s down to personal choice.
Equipment needed to Make Mead
You don't need much equipment.
- A 1 gallon (5 litre) fermentation bucket. You can also make your mead in a PET demijohn, or a glass one for that matter (more here on glass demijohns and where to find them)
- If you're using a for bucket to ferment your mead rather than a demijohn, then you'll need it to have a bored hole, fitted with a grommet to keep an airlock in place
- 1 Bubbler Airlock with cap (and a bung if you're using a demijohn)
- (optional) a thermometer.
We sell a Mead Starter Kit which includes the equipment you need, together with steriliser, yeast and a recipe.
Other things you'll need to Make Mead
- Cleaner/Steriliser (as above)
- Quality honey (as above)
- A pack of Mead Yeast
- Some fruit, depending on the recipe
- A recipe. There are masses out there. A good place to start is Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead Recipe (also known as JAO). This is the mead recipe you’ll find all over the internet. It was originally posted by Joe Mattioli on website Got Mead many years ago and went viral. The JAO recipe is perfect for beginners, and it produces a really nice mead. There's no boiling or pasteurising required, it's really straightforward.
Making Mead - basic method
As I said earlier, there are endless recipes out there. Some will seem complex, some more simple. But most of them follow the same principles. These are the steps for making a simple, still mead:
- Mix honey and water together in a your container of choice, whether that be bucket or demijohn.
- Add mead yeast and some sort of additional nutrition to the honey water mixture. The added nutrition might be fruit, such as raisins.
- Fit the airlock to your vessel and wait. The yeast will start to work, turning the sugar into CO2 and alcohol. The airlock ensures no contaminants get in but the CO2 gets out, making a satisfying 'bloop'. This first fermentation could take anything from 2 weeks to a month depending on the recipe and the temperature.
- When the bubbling stops, that tells you the first fermentation is finished. Transfer the mead to a second bucket or demijohn, leaving the sediment behind. Store in a dark place for about 2 months.
- Bottle and label.
Like a lot of brewed drinks, mead improves with age. How soon you decide to drink it is entirely up to you. We generally leave it for at least 3 months. If you decide to drink straight away, as some do, don't be surprised if the mead tastes different a couple of days after bottling. This could be Bottle Shock at work.
If this sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. It's easy, and the more you do it, the quicker you get at it. The only hard and fast rules are: effective cleaning and sterilising, and using good quality honey. Beyond that, it's simply about finding the recipe that you like.
Other Mead Making Inspiration
Check out the following books:
Making Mead: A Complete Guide by Bryan Acton & Peter Duncan (the first one we bought and the best to start with, in our opinion)
The Big Book of Mead Recipes by Robert Ratliff
Make Mead Like a Viking by Jereme Zimmerman
Or if you learn better by being taught, then see whether anyone is running Mead Making classes in your area. For example, Mantel Farm in East Sussex runs Traditional Mead Making Courses. They are taught by Steve the Mead Guy, and we provide the equipment.
Wye Valley Meadery also runs Mead Making courses.
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Other Almost Off Grid Favourites:
Elderflower & Lemon Mead
Joe's Ancient Orange Mead Recipe
Brewing Tips: Is it ok to use Yeast which has Expired?