Making Mead: Liquid Gold in a Bottle

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As urban homesteaders, we keep bees; two hives to be precise.  Two hives for two people is more than enough honey for a couple to eat.  If conditions are right (good nectar flow and ample pollen) we can harvest approximately 90 pounds of honey.   Even if we gift honey to friends and family, eat fresh honey, and use it in baked goods, there is still plenty of honey for one of our favorite beverages… mead!

Raw honey frame

Raw honey frame

For those of you who are not familiar with mead, it is a fermented beverage made from water, yeast, and honey.  Pretty basic ingredients, right?  Other ingredients may be added and they in turn will add their own characteristic flavor to this wonderful beverage.  Or in the case of the following recipe, yeast starter and yeast nutrient were also added to get the yeast off to a good start.  Adding hops can instill a beer-like flavor while adding spices can produce a warm, holiday note.

We are purists and enjoy the taste and aroma that our honey brings to the glass.  If it is a great fruit year in our gardens, the honey has a berry-like flavor.  If it is a great year for herbs, the honey takes on an herbal tone.  You get the idea.  Our raw honey adds it’s own unique flavor which can vary from year to year.  And to me, that is a flavor we want to shine on it’s own.

The latest batch of mead we made was from adapting a recipe in The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm.

Medium Show Mead Recipe

  • 3 pounds honey
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast energizer
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast nutrient
  • 1/2 pkg. of Lalvin D-47 yeast

Sanitize must (unfermented honey and water), we used 1 campden tablet to perform this task.  Then pitch the yeast starter at 60 – 70F.  Stir vigorously to oxygenate.  Ferment completely, watching for signs of slowing fermentation.

We use an airlock on the fermentation container and wait a minimum of three weeks after the bubbling stops.  (It is especially important that fermentation is complete prior to bottling.  One of the by-products of fermentation is carbon dioxide.  The corked bottle could explode from the build up of carbon dioxide gas.)  Once the water, honey, and yeast have completed the fermentation process, the mixture is transferred from a fermentation container into a carboy.   We siphon the liquid into the carboy to ensure that we leave as much sediment (inactive yeast) as possible behind in the fermentation container.

Carboys with airlocks

Carboys with airlocks

We go one step further once we have transferred liquid into the carboy.  We add an airlock to the top  just to ensure that all of the carbon dioxide is able to escape long before we move onto the bottling stage.  In the photo to the right is an example of various-sized carboys with airlocks.  Each carboy contains a different type of fermented beverage.  For us, we leave the mead in the carboy for 12 months.  We do this for two reasons.  For starters, additional sediment will settle out of the mead, leaving a very clear liquid.  Next, the flavor of the mead will improve as it ages.  In our experience, a very young mead (or wine) tends to have a harsh alcohol note.  But aging mellows out that note.

After the mead has aged for 12 months, it is time to bottle.

To ensure cleanliness, we sterilize the bottles, corks, siphoning tube, and nitrile gloves that we wear.  After all the time spent aging, you don’t want to risk contaminating the mead with dirty equipment.  There are many sterilizing agents on the market designed for the mead, beer, and wine market.  Follow the manufacturer’s directions provided on the container.  We use a liquid concentrate and that is poured to a large bucket.  Next, the required amount of water is added along with the items we wish to sterilize.

To transfer the mead into bottles, set up the carboy with a siphon tube placed into the neck of a bottle (we use wine bottles).  Make sure that the carboy is elevated above the bottle as this will ensure proper draining.  Be sure to have your next empty bottle waiting as the mead level reaches the bottom of the neck of the bottle you are currently filling.  Lift the siphon and place it into the empty bottle.  Set aside the newly filled bottle and grab your next empty.  Believe me, this process is much simpler than it sounds.  Usually, we treat this as a one-man process.  After all of the mead has been siphoned into bottles, it is now time to move onto the corker!

Now while very few people have their very own corker, local home brew stores carry them.  You can either buy or rent.  We generally go with a one-day rental and if we have timed our meads and wines correctly, we can do one big day of bottling, rather than renting the corker each time we have a batch of wine or mead ready.

And folks, that is it.  Making mead from scratch is not hard to do.  With good ingredients and proper timing, you can be enjoying a mead of your making in just a little over a year. Believe me, once you taste your liquid gold in a bottle, you know that it was time well spent.

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4 responses »

  1. I had mead for the first time at a beekeeping class. The taste of that mead settled it – we are definitely getting bees! We want to have bees to pollinate our orchard, herb and vegetable crops and also for their honey to eat, but now we will have another reason to keep bees – Mead! Question: you said that some people add spices to their mead. What kind of spices?

    • It is all a matter of personal preference, but some spices that have been added to mead include: ginger, cloves, star anise, and mint. It is best to use dried herbs since fresh herbs may harbor some wild yeasts which could throw off your recipe. And for the record, I have had mead with coffee added to it. I hope this helps. If you are uncertain about whether or not you will like it, make a small one gallon batch to test out different spices.

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