Five Minutes of Mead

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I just realized that for all of my talk about brewing, I’ve neglected to talk about meads. While the majority of my mead recipes are for a full 5-gallon batch, I’ve recently discovered the joys of micro-batches. Here’s an article I wrote up for the newsletter of my local beekeeping association, discussing the process and providing a recipe for them:

Five Minutes of Mead with Misha

An issue many people have with making meads is finding vessels to use for the fermentation. As a homebrewer, I have a plethora of glass carboys of various sizes, from 7 gallons down to one-gallon. While convenient for me, they have a number of drawbacks: they tend to be large; they are heavy (especially when full of liquid); they are fragile, and tend to cut people when they break; and they can be expensive. A less-costly option would be fermenting buckets, made of food-grade plastic. These also come in a range of sizes. Plastic, however, scratches readily, meaning that they’re only really worthwhile for a small number of batches. Then there’s the issue of batch size: while you can brew a 1-gallon batch in a 5-gallon carboy or bucket, the extra airspace can be problematic for the brew. And brewing a 5-gallon batch requires a lot of honey: ten to fifteen pounds, or even more.

A simple solution is the use of pickle fermenting kits (readily found on Amazon; I think I saw a kit in Wegman’s, a while back, as well) and Mason jars. The kits consist of a Mason jar lid, which has been drilled and fitted with an o-ring to hold a standard homebrewing airlock. These are available in both wide- and narrow-mouth styles; I’m fond of the wide-mouth, for ease of adding things to the mead as I feel the urge. Quart jars are readily available, easily cleaned and sanitized (sterilized, even), and make the recipe math fairly easy.

Generally speaking, the amount of honey used will have the largest impact on the final sweetness of the mead. All other things being equal, using less than 2 ¾ pounds of honey per gallon will give you a dry mead; using more, up to about 3 ¼ pounds per gallon, yields an off-dry to semi-sweet mead. Going above that, up to about 4 ¼ pounds per gallon, gives increasingly sweeter meads, then above about 4 ½ pounds per gallon yields what is called “sack” mead.

Honey weighs about twelve pounds per gallon, give or take. Given that there are 16 cups to a gallon, a little kitchen math shows that four cups of honey would weigh three pounds. This means, conveniently, that one cup of honey in a quart is the equivalent of three pounds per gallon—a nice, semi-sweet mead. Want to drop it to two pounds per gallon? Only use 2/3 cup. Four pounds? 1-1/3. Little tweaks beyond that are a matter of tablespoons.

With all that said, here’s a fairly simple, “basic sweet mead” recipe, given in volumes for a quart; everything scales up directly to a gallon, or even five:

1 ¼ cups honey

Hot water to 1 quart

¼ packet of dry wine yeast (I recommend Lalvin K1V-1116, available here or here.)

  1. Put the honey in your fermenting container.
  2. Heat the water to a boil, then let it cool to just off the boil.
  3. Pour the hot water into the container, stirring to dissolve the honey.
  4. Let the liquid cool; when it reaches lukewarm (or below 100º F), add the yeast.
  5. Put the lid on the fermenter, and add water to the airlock.
  6. Give the vessel a shake twice a day for the first week.
  7. Leave the fermenter alone for about a month, then carefully decant the contents into a new fermenter, leaving behind as much sediment as possible.
  8. Once the mead is clear enough to see through, decant it once more.
  9. Let it sit another six months, then decant it a final time; now, you can put the “sealing” lid on the jar (ideally, not too tight-just enough to barely seal). The mead is ready to drink! It should keep a year or more in the refrigerator.

I’ve got another couple of articles that I can clean up a little bit and post, but this should be enough to get even the newest mead-maker started. Enjoy!

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