I thought I’d stay in the sweet area for a little longer and move from discussing sugar to more natural ingredients, like honey. And what’s honey great for? Mead of course. Also known as Honey Wine, mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to man. This is due to the easy making process but also availability of ingredients and great taste. If you want to give your copper pot still a break, all you need to brew some tasty mead of your own is honey, water and yeast.
Honey fermentation is a really easy process, even for beginner brewers so it’s worth trying out. If you don’t have access to large quantities of honey, buying some good, natural stuff can be expensive, which is why I recommend you start off with a smaller quantity, until you get the hang of it and perfect your own recipe.
The first step is getting your honey. It’s very important that you get some clean, natural honey and not the processed type you find in supermarkets, although the latter is usually cheaper. Try beekeepers directly, a farmer’s market or an organic shop for the real stuff, otherwise you might have trouble with it fermenting badly or having a poor taste. Depending on the predominant flower source around the hives, honey comes in different flavors. They’re all great for mead but some might taste better than others in combination with additional flavorings, such as fruit and spices, if you choose to add any.
Once you’ve got your honey, mix it with clean or distilled water. Quantities will vary depending on recipe but a good generalization is part honey to 3.5 - 4 parts water (although there are also European recipes which use only two units of water for one of honey). For mead, there is no need to heat the mix, this can alter the nutrients and flavor, and is unnecessary if you’ve used clean water, as honey is naturally anti-bacterial. Place your mix in a fermenter and then add yeast. As with most homemade drinks, the yeast you choose can influence the fermentation process and the taste of your final product. Bread yeast and white wine yeast work well. Place an airlock and let it ferment.
Fermentation can take somewhere between 2-8 weeks, depending on the honey, the yeast and the general environmental conditions. As the yeast eats the sugars, alcohol is produced. You can decide to end fermentation depending on how sweet or strong you want the mead to be. For this, use a hydrometer to measure the gravity and how much sugar is left. If you think it’s reached the strength you wanted, you can add preservatives to stop further fermentation, such as potassium sorbate. When the mead is clear and there are no more gas bubbles, fermentation is done.
Next step is transferring the mead into a second container to separate it from the yeast. You can use a siphon hose for this to make sure you leave as much sediment as possible in the fermenter. If you want to flavor your mead, this is the time to add additional ingredients. There are plenty of recipes with hops, fruit: berries usually work great or spices: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg are common, especially for making mulled mead in wintertime. If you want to add flavorings, you need to let your mead absorb them for a while, weeks up to a few months.
Opinions on ageing are very different when it comes to mead. Most home-brewers I know don’t have the patience to wait for it to age. But there are some who say it’s worth waiting at least a few months before bottling, as this makes it a lot better.
The alcoholic content of mead can range from 8% to over 20% abv. You can also find it in a wide variety: still, sparkling, dry, semi-sweet or sweet. Because it’s had centuries of evolution, there are hundreds of mead recipes from America, Europe, Africa and Asia, each with its unique fermentation process and additional ingredients. But the great thing about it is that it kept its simplicity and more or less the same making process as hundreds of years ago.
Posted by Jason Stone on