What is mead? That is a question I surprisingly get by a few veteran Neo-Pagans and not surprisingly get from many new ones. Mead is arguably the oldest of all fermented beverages. We honestly have no idea when it first appeared, but there is archaeological evidence that it was made at least 5000 BCE, and it can easily be believed that it is older than that.
What exactly is mead? Well, the most basic definition is a fermented beverage that uses honey as the majority of the fermentable sugar. Yes, I know, that is a very broad definition, so lets narrow it down into the four general kinds of meads.
First we have our straight meads. The ingredients allowed to make these are honey, water, and yeast. When making these, all your color, flavor, and aroma comes exclusively from your honey. There is a subcategory of straight meads where you use a honey from one flower source, this is called varietal honey, and hence we have varietal meads.
If we use this straight mead as our basic mead, we can then add all kinds of things to it. If we add things to the mead that do not add any sugar (adjuncts) then we have whats commonly referred to as spiced meads. The proper term is Metheglin. Common adjuncts that are used in various combinations are ginger, lemon, rose petals, hops, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, peppers, etc.
So, if instead of adding just adjuncts, but we add fruit juice to the mead, we now have what is commonly known as fruit mead. The proper term is Melomel. This is in essence a combination of wines and meads. As long as you have the majority of your sugar coming from the honey, it is this, otherwise its a variety of wine. You can use any kind of fruit juice you want, and many have been used throughout the years. The most popular ones commercially are grape (pyments) and apple (cysers).
We have now made a wine and mead combination, how about a beer and mead combination? Those are called Braggots as long as the majority of your sugar comes from honey and not the malt. Braggots can be hopped like beers, or they can be unhopped. They can be light, but most are dark. If you can find one of these commercially, try it. From my experience, they are not commonly found outside of brewpubs.
Now that we know what mead is, lets brew a small batch. Here is what you need to make a 1 gallon batch:
- Large pot with lid (1 gallon minimum)
- Funnel (if possible)
- 2 milk jugs
- Tin foil
- 2-3 lb of honey
- 5-10 raisons
- Wine or Champagne yeast (not bakers yeast)
First a note on honey. Its highly recommended that you find honey from a local beekeeper or a local homebrew shop. The bears you can buy in the grocery store tend to be more than just honey, often containing corn sugar or other non-honey sweeteners in them. They also may contain preservatives which are detrimental to fermentation.
Take approximately œ gallon of water and start heating it in a pot that can handle at least twice that amount. To this, add your honey with stirring. If you want a dry mead, use less honey (2lb/gallon), if you want a sweet mead, use more (3lb/gallon). Bring this all to a boil. Be careful, this can boil over and be a big pain to chisel off of the stove. If foam forms on the top, this is just proteins and impurities from the honey. I personally remove the foam, but you can keep it in. Removal will give you slightly clearer mead. Boil for ten minutes and then turn off the heat. Put the top on the pot, and allow it to cool. You can do this by putting it into a tub of cold water, put into the refrigerator, or just letting it cool on the stove.
While this is cooling, sanitize your milk jug. Take a cap full of bleach and put it into the milk jug. Fill the jug with water and shake. Rinse the jug until you can no longer smell the bleach, and rinse two more times. Cover the jug with a fresh piece of tin foil. If you are paranoid about sanitation (like most brewers) you can sanitize the foil too.
Once the honey-water (must) is cool to the touch (under 80 oF), pour into the milk jug, add clean water to raise it up to approximately 2/3 to Ÿ of a gallon (right below where the top bends in). Shake this up well to aerate the must, add your raisins and yeast and cover with foil again. Instead of foil, you can use a sanitized balloon as another method to keep stuff out. The purpose of the raisins is to provide nutrients for the yeast to use. You can use commercially available yeast nutrients instead if you desire. If you want sweet mead, use a wine yeast, if you want dry mead, use a champagne yeast. Let the fermentation happen at room temperature (ie leave it in a closet, in a heated basement, etc. just dont let it get below 60 or above 80). After 24 hours, there should be fermentation going on. Be aware that the jug may ferment so vigorously that it may spill over.
Once this vigorous fermentation is over (2-4 weeks), carefully decant your mead off the solids on the bottom and into a new, sanitized milk jug. Raise this to almost a full gallon with clean water, and cover again with tin foil (or balloon). Let it continue to sit at room temperature to age. Meads are commonly aged for a total of one year like wines, but they can be drinkable after the vigorous fermentation is over. The best way to know when its done is to just taste it. When it tastes good, you can again, decant the liquid off the solids into a new, sanitized milk jug or other bottle (20 oz soda bottles work well), chill, and serve.