Mead Day is celebrated on the first Saturday of August every year. It’s a day to celebrate this fermented beverage made of honey. Historians believe that mead, or fermented honey, first appeared around 8000 BC. Although mead is referenced in old tales and is commonly depicted in medieval depictions mead would not have been that common of a drink. Just like present day, there are cheaper fermentable other than honey and most are easier to come by than raising bees for honey. So while mead may be mentioned multiple times in literature and historical records the actual consumption was more than likely just for the wealthy.
Honey possesses a natural anti-bacterial characteristic due to the low moisture content of the very concentrated sugars. While like all ingredients it is best to be used immediately, honey can be stored for extended lengths as long as it is kept in a container that keeps the elements out. Once moisture is introduced the microbes are released and fermentation can begin.
Whenever someone ask me about brewing I always recommend that they try and make mead if they even have the slightest interested brewing. The reasons are simple. Most people can find the ingredients in their local grocery store and the brewing supplies can be found in the common kitchen. The only thing that someone may need is a fermenter, but mead can always be fermented in the gallon jug of water purchased for making mead.
Using one to five pounds of honey per gallon of water will give you either a dry (1 lbs of honey) or sweet (5 lbs of honey). After honey is dissolved into water you should add a yeast nutrient. This is due to the fact that the yeast will need some proteins and minerals to begin multiplying before fermenting the honey water. There are yeast nutrients that can be purchased from a homebrew supply store, but for the beginner you can also use about 12 raisins. The microbes on the skin of a raisin will provide enough yeast starter for the honey water mix. Once the nutrients are added to the honey water it is time to add the yeast. There are mead specific yeast (White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead, Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead, Lalvin D47) that can be purchased in homebrew shops but in a pinch bread yeast will also ferment mead. This will not produce a high alcohol content mead and some argue that using bread yeast gives the final product a bready flavor. My thoughts are if you are just looking at seeing if this will actually work the beginner won’t notice or care if there is a lower ABV or if off flavors are present.
There are some resources that I would encourage the beginner mead maker to look into. For the mead maker that wants to make award winning perfect mead you cannot go wrong with The Complete Meadmaker by Ken Schramm. For those that are more flying by the seat or your pants, come what may, and throw it all at the wall and see what sticks I would read Make Mead Like a Viking by Jerome Zimmerman. For those that want to get into judging meads and mead competitions there is the Mead Certification through the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). All of these resources will help fan the flame of your mead making interest.
Simple Mead Recipe:
- One Gallon of Water (no distilled water, your mead will actually need some of the minerals and chemicals found in tap water or spring water).
- Honey (2 lbs for dry mead) (5 lbs for sweet mead)
- 12 raisins (0.5 tbsp of yeast nutrient)
- 1 packet of yeast (Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast, White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead, Wyeast 4184 Sweet Mead, Lalvin D47)
- 1 gallon pot (0.5 gallon will work but batch will be needed to be split in two)
- 1 gallon fermenter (could be as simple as a one gallon water jug)
- Airlock (ballon can be used in a pinch)
- Warm 0.5 gallons of water to 170º to 180º F.
- Turn off heat and add honey.
- Mix until completely dissolved.
- Add honey water into fermenter top off with cool water.
- Cool honey water mix to 80º.
- Once the mix is cool add yeast and yeast starter (or raisins).
- Put airlock on top of fermenter (a balloon can be put on the top of the fermenter if you do not own an airlock).
- Set in cool dark place.
- After six months decant mead off the trub on the bottom of the fermenter.
- Mead can continue to sit until it reaches the clarity you desire.
- Bottle and enjoy.
I have made mead on three continents; North America, Asia, and Africa. These were all made using very different equipment and environments. All turned out drinkable and the batch I made in Africa was brewed in the most austere location and I enjoyed it the most due to its rarity. I mention this to make my final argument that you should try to make mead. In 15 years of home brewing I have not made a bad batch of mead.