This study guide is not intended to be a complete reference on mead making. However, good judges need to understand the production process so that any potential flaws can be diagnosed. Having a good understanding of how raw ingredients are transformed into the final product makes it easier to offer comments on individual components or steps that may have been used to produce the mead. Knowledge of the process is one thing, but actually having experience making mead and seeing each step is quite another. There is no substitute for actual experience.
This section covers the basics of mead making as understood today, and discusses alternative methods that people may use. The basic process discussion describes making traditional mead, and then highlights the differences involved in creating other mead styles.
Traditional mead consists of honey, water, yeast, and optional additives; each represents a specific control point.
Honey is the main flavor component of any Traditional Mead and should be carefully considered. Some of the best honeys can be found at local farmers markets or from local beekeepers (get to know them at county fairs, local festivals, or arts-and-crafts shows), but many varietal honeys can be found on the internet (try www.honeylocator.com). Homebrew supply shops may stock some honey (try your local shop first, then check larger Internet-based retailers). The honey found at local grocery stores or (worse) at national supermarket chains and big-box discount retailers has most likely been repeatedly heated decreasing both the honey aroma and flavor considerably, and may have been obtained from questionable sources.
Start with fresh honey that has undergone the least amount of processing possible. Commercially blended honey may be a good, consistent base for fruit meads, but far more interest, variety and complexity can be achieved through the use of pure varietal honeys. Honey is best stored cold to reduce enzymatic action and prevent degradation and color changes.
Select the honey for the type of mead being made. Use the honey references to understand the varietal character of particular honey. Taste the honey and think about how the honey character will pair with any added ingredients, or whether the honey would make a better varietal mead. Cost is a factor; an expensive varietal honey is best showcased as a varietal mead, rather than covering up the character with other ingredients. Honey with less of a varietal character can be used as a base for a mead with other strong flavors.
Put simply, good honey makes good mead. You can screw up good honey, but you aren’t going to make something wonderful using bad honey.
A good source of water is critical to making great mead. Any water that is clean, tastes good, and is free of chlorine and bacteria will work well. Carbon-filtered, pre-boiled tap water will work fine, but if you have hard water, consider using bottled spring water. Do not use water that has been processed through a home water softener as this often leaves a salty taste in mead. If you live in a rural area with a well, your water should be tested for mineral and bacteria content. Avoid water high in minerals or containing any iron. Naturally soft water or reverse osmosis
water will also work well.
Note that water obtained from wells or from municipal water supplies may vary in mineral content, bacterial content and/or chlorine based on the time of year.
A wide variety of yeast can be used to ferment the must, but most mead makers use wine yeast strains. Ale yeast might be used to make a braggot, but typically doesn’t have the alcohol tolerance for stronger meads.
The varieties of yeast available to the consumer have grown greatly in the last decade. Major yeast suppliers include White Labs and Wyeast (both well known to homebrewers as suppliers of liquid yeast), and Red Star (commonly available dry yeast). Several wine yeast strains are available through online retailers such as MoreBeer and Northern Brewer.
When evaluating yeast for making mead, there are a few characteristics to note: flavor profile, alcohol tolerance, temperature range, nutrient requirements, and flocculation. Most manufacturers and retailers make this data available. Select a strain that has the necessary alcohol tolerance for the style of mead being made, and that generally fits the other environmental characteristics (temperature and nutritional requirements).
Most yeast will list their country of origin and type of wine typically made with the yeast. Those are important clues; think about the aromatic and flavor properties of the honey being used and the overall style of mead being made. Try to match the mead with the type of wine. Look at the flavor and aromatic profile of the yeast. Match the strain of yeast to the type of mead being made. If making a pyment, select a yeast known to produce a pleasant profile for the dominant grape variety used.
Some of the more popular yeast strains for mead making include:
Kept refrigerated, active dry yeast loses only 4% viability a year.
Check the recommended usage of liquid yeast before using; a starter is likely to be necessary. A starter isn’t necessary for dry yeast if sufficient yeast packets are used. However, dry yeast should be rehydrated properly prior to use. Lallemand GO-FERM is an excellent product to use while rehydrating the yeast, as it provides necessary micronutrients and properly prepares the yeast for fermentation. To use GO-FERM, rehydrate the yeast in 104 °F water with GO-FERM at a rate of 1.25 grams nutrient per gram of yeast. Measuring nutrients by weight is more
accurate than volume, but this is approximately 6.25 grams (2.25 tsp) per 5g yeast packet.
There is no Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Beer Purity Law) when it comes to mead. There are certain additives that are important to creating great mead, and some additives that are useful if the balance of the finished mead needs adjusting. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, just coverage of the common additives that you may see in recipes.
Honey is notoriously deficient in nutrients necessary for fermentation, particularly nitrogen and phosphate. If sufficient nutrients aren’t available, the fermentation will be sluggish and the mead may have off-flavors that take a long time to age out (if they do at all). Darker honeys (e.g., buckwheat) contain more nutrients than paler honeys. All honeys have varying acidity levels. When additional ingredients (especially fruit) are added, the acidity and tannin levels can change dramatically.
When to use additives is just as important as the type of additives to use. Adding these ingredients at the wrong time can do more harm than good. Understand the purpose of each additive and under what circumstances to use it, and you will see better results.
GO-FERM. Lallemand’s proprietary micronutrient blend containing vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Use when rehydrating dry yeast. Improves yeast viability and encourages a stronger fermentation with a cleaner fermentation profile. Providing the micronutrients to the yeast in a non-stressful, non-competitive environment allows the yeast to take up the nutrients quicker and be better prepared for the stress of fermentation. This is really the only additive to use during yeast rehydration. The dosage rate is 1.25 grams of GO-FERM per gram of yeast. 1 tsp of GOFERM weighs about 2.8g.
Diammonium Phosphate (DAP). Sometimes called Yeast Nutrient, DAP provides the nitrogen necessary for yeast growth and a proper fermentation. Look for pure DAP and avoid products containing urea, which can lead to off-flavors (salty, metallic) if not completely used by the yeast. Urea is a precursor to urethane, a carcinogen; the wine industry has stopped using it. Many commercial yeast nutrients are a blend of DAP and urea—read the label. Do NOT add to the yeast while it is being rehydrated. Ammonia salts are toxic to yeast at high levels. Used in conjunction with Fermaid-K to supply nutrients necessary during fermentation. 1 tsp of DAP weighs about 3.9g.
Fermaid-K. Lallemand’s proprietary yeast nutrient blend, provides nitrogen, key vitamins and nutrients and inactivated yeast hulls. Sometimes known as Yeast Energizer. The manufacturer recommends adding in two additions, the first being at the end of the lag phase (6-12 hours after pitching yeast) and the second being around 1/3 sugar depletion (the end of exponential growth phase). See the discussion of staggered nutrient additions for other recommendations; DAP and Fermaid-K are used together to supply the nutrients necessary during fermentation. 1 tsp of Fermaid-K weighs about 4g.
Yeast Nutrient. An unregulated name; can mean anything yeast need for healthy growth. May mean something similar to DAP, but could contain other ingredients. It’s best to understand the formulation of the specific products you are using. Don’t rely only on this name when selecting your ingredients.
Yeast Energizer. An unregulated name; can mean anything yeast need for healthy growth. May mean something similar to Fermaid-K, but could contain other ingredients. It’s best to understand the formulation of the specific products you are using. Don’t rely only on this name when selecting your ingredients.
Potassium Carbonate (K2CO3) or Potassium Hydroxide (KOH). Minerals play a large role in buffering the must. Potassium levels above 300 ppm are critical to maintaining proper pH. Food grade potassium carbonate and potassium hydroxide can provide this potassium. Adding 5g K2CO3 to a 5 gallon batch of mead adds about 136 ppm of potassium, while the carbonate raises the pH of the honey. Potassium hydroxide is stronger, but requires careful handling. Both can add necessary potassium. This is a recent innovation (since 2005), and is not widely discussed. Add to the must before pitching the yeast.
Acid Blend. A blend of citric acid, tartaric acid, and malic acid. Used to adjust acidity of the mead. Do NOT add before fermentation, as this can lower the pH below the range of healthy fermentation. Add after the mead has conditioned and before packaging to adjust the final acidity level and to achieve a proper balance for the level of sweetness. Each of the acids in acid blend is also available separately and may be used individually. Citric acid is derived from citrus fruits, tartaric acid is derived from grapes and malic acid is derived from apples.
Grape Tannin. Derived from grape skins, adds tannin. At low levels, provides structure to mead. At high levels, adds astringency. Useful for balancing a finished mead, in a similar manner to acid blend. Tannins can help the aging properties of a mead, and can also assist in the clarification process by binding with proteins and precipitating.
Pectic Enzyme. Pectinase, used in some melomels to reduce pectin haze. Use at the beginning of fermentation to help break down fruit and increase extraction. An optional additive, but sometimes encountered in melomel recipes.
Potassium Sorbate. A commercial food preservative used to inhibit mold and yeast growth. Sometimes labeled as Wine Stabilizer, in mead and wine it forms sorbic acid which prevents yeast from budding (reproducing). It will NOT kill yeast or stop actively fermenting yeast. It must be added after fermentation is complete. Sometimes it is used to make sure sweetening a mead won’t restart fermentation. Sorbistat-K is a common brand of potassium sorbate. Usage rate is .5g to .75g per gallon.
Potassium Metabisulfite. Also known as Campden tablets (avoid sodium-based Campden tablets, since they can sometimes give the mead a salty taste). Can be added before fermentation to kill off any wild yeasts or after fermentation to stabilize the product. Also has preservative effects, protecting color. Known as “sulfiting,” this is primarily a winemaker’s technique that many meadmakers do not use. It is often used in conjunction with potassium sorbate to stabilize a mead.
There are certainly other additives that are used, particularly when the meadmaker comes from a winemaking background. Some proprietary products are mentioned, but there are competing products that do similar functions. Look for products that say they are equivalent to the listed proprietary products.
Basic Mead-Making Process
This process covers making traditional mead using what we consider to be best current practices. This is not the easiest way to make mead, but it is what produces the best and most consistent results. You can obviously mix water, honey and yeast and then hope for the best, but this process is tried-and-true. Alternative process control points are discussed in the next section.
This method describes making a five-gallon semi-sweet traditional mead, but identifies where in the process fruit or spices would be added.
- If using fruit, wash, chop and freeze the fruit ahead of time. Thaw before using. See Melomel instructions for further detail.
- Combine the Fermaid-K and DAP. Measure or prepare the potassium source.
- Warm up honey by putting the honey containers in hot water.
- Sanitize a fermenter (carboy or bucket) and any equipment used (wine degasser, stirring spoon, airlock).
- Rehydrate the yeast in water supplemented with the organic nutrient GO-FERM. Dissolve the GO-FERM in 1 pint of 110 °F spring water. When the temperature cools to 104 °F, sprinkle the yeast evenly over the surface of the water without stirring. Wait 15 minutes before pitching.
- While the yeast is rehydrating, combine the 3.5 gallons of spring water and 18 lbs (1.5 gallons) of wildflower honey in the fermenter. Whip the must together using a drill-mounted wine degasser (Mix-Stir, or equivalent – basically a long rod with paddles on the end that can combine the must).
- Oxygenate the must with pure O2. The length of time will depend on your oxygenation system. You don’t need to fully saturate the must.
- Add ¾ tsp of the Fermaid-K/DAP mixture to the must.
- Pour the yeast solution into the must, stir gently but completely to mix. Install the airlock. Ferment at 65-70 °F.
- After 24 hours, add ¾ tsp of the Fermaid-K/DAP mixture and 2g of the K2CO3 or 10ml of the KOH solution.
- Stir into the must, aerating. If making a melomel, punch down the cap.
- After 48 hours from pitching, add ¾ tsp of the Fermaid-K/DAP mixture and 2g of the
- K2CO3 or 10ml of the KOH solution. Stir into the must, aerating. If making a melomel,
punch down the cap.
- After 72 hours from pitching, add ¾ tsp of the Fermaid-K/DAP mixture and 2g of the
- K2CO3 or 10ml of the KOH solution. Stir into the must, aerating. If making a melomel,
punch down the cap.
- Ferment until activity stops, which should be within 1-2 weeks.
Finishing and Stabilizing
- Transfer to a smaller carboy that can just hold the amount of mead, and put on an airlock.
- If herbs or spices are used, add them now. See Metheglin instructions for further detail.
- Age until the mead clears, or until 2-6 months passes.
- If mead is not brilliantly clear, use 1 package of Super-Kleer K.C., following package instructions.
- Taste and adjust sweetness and acidity. To sweeten, mix in a honey solution (1 cup honey dissolved in 1 cup water, heated), repeating as necessary. To acidify, prepare a solution using acid blend and water and mix in to taste.
- If you wish to stabilize the mead, mix the potassium sorbate (Sorbistat-K) in water to dissolve and then stir into the mead.
- If carbonation is desired, keg and force carbonate.
- Package in bottles or keg.
- Continue to age as desired, or drink now.
Traditional Mead Recipes
Gordon Strong’s Tupelo Mead
Winner of four best-of-show medals
- 20 lbs tupelo honey
- 2 tsp DAP
- 1 tsp Fermaid-K
- 2 Tbsp VL-3C Sauternes yeast
- 4 gallons reverse osmosis water
Heat honey jars in hot water, mix with RO water in carboy. Proof yeast for 15 min in 104 °F water with a pinch of sugar, then mix into must. Combine nutrients, add in 4 daily additions, starting at pitch. Let age 6 months, back-sweeten with 1 lb tupelo. Clarify with Sparkolloid. Enter as sweet, still, sack. If too sweet for your taste, can be force carbonated.
Susan Ruud’s Mint Blossom Mead
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2005
- 24 lbs Wisconsin Mint Blossom Honey
- 5 grams Fermaid K
- 1 tsp Yeast Energizer
- 1 tsp Acid Blend
- 1/2 tsp grape tannin
- 1 Tbsp Irish Moss
- 4.5 gallons water
Mix well and heat to 165 °F for 45 minutes, skimming scum. Chill quickly and transfer to carboy – add 25 drops pectic enzyme and 600 ml starter of Flor Sherry Yeast. Once fermentation starts swirl frequently to remove CO2 buildup (several times daily) for the first week.
OG 1.135, FG 1.046 at bottling – will carbonate slowly in bottle. Entered it as semi sweet, petillant.
Mead-Making Process Options
The basic method of preparing mead outlined in the previous section is what we consider to be best practices for modern mead making. It is certainly not the only way to make mead, but it is what many experts currently recommend. Many of the aspects of the process have only been recently described in literature, and are likely to change in the future.
This section describes some of the choices that can be made when preparing mead, along with the pros and cons of each approach. Additional process control steps are described in the Advanced Topics in Mead-Making section.
There are several different ways to prepare the must for fermentation. Possible treatments include boiling, sulfiting, pasteurization, sterile filtering, and no-boil (no treatment).
Most older texts advocated boiling the must. The advantages are that proteins and impurities are more easily coagulated and removed, thus resulting in more rapid clarification. Sanitation is also identified as a (somewhat dubious) claim. Disadvantages are that volatile aromatic compounds are driven off, which results in a less interesting mead. A compromise technique—briefly boiling just until proteins coagulate and then rapidly chilling—can reduce the aromatic losses, but a 15 minute boil is still very harmful to the aroma of the resulting mead.
The use of potassium metabisulfate (Campden tablets) is the winemaking approach. Honey and water are mixed, then the must is sulfited. Yeast is pitched the next day. Sulfites release sulfur dioxide, which stuns wild yeasts and micro-organisms and allows the pitched yeast to rapidly out-compete them. It has the advantage of not involving heat and the resulting aroma losses. The major disadvantage is that some people are sensitive to these compounds and proper adjustment requires both an accurate scale and a pH meter. Sulfites also tend to bleach fruit. Proteins are not removed, so post-fermentation clarification is needed.
Pasteurization involves bring the water to a boil and adding the honey, allowing the temperature of the must to settle at between 140 and 160 °F. The temperature is held for 15-20 minutes, and then cooled. Yeast can then be pitched. The advantage is that it does not involve boiling so aromatics are preserved, and that those worried about sanitation will be mollified. The disadvantage is that proteins are not removed, so post-fermentation clarification is needed. While faster than boiling, it is not as fast as the no-boil method.
Sterile filtration involves using equipment to filter higher molecular weight molecules. Advantages are removing proteins and micro-organisms. Disadvantages are possible loss of flavor and aroma compounds and body, as well as the cost of the equipment and time involved in processing the honey.
The no-boil approach is what was presented in the previous section as the basic technique recommended today. Heated honey and water are mixed, and yeast is immediately pitched. Advantages are the fastest time, least cost and effort, and purest-tasting result. Disadvantages include not removing proteins, thus requiring post-fermentation clarification, and possibly worrying people concerned about contamination.
Published lab tests have shown that the practice of preparing traditional mead musts without heat or the use of sulfites is capable of producing a good medium for clean fermentation. This is why the no-boil method is recommended.
Several methods have been described in mead literature for preparing and pitching yeast. However, only recently has research into yeast health and vitality been taken into account. Older references described pitching yeast directly into the must, while newer references described rehydrating dry yeast or making starters with liquid yeast before using. Current thinking embraces rehydration, but with added micronutrients in order to best prepare the yeast for the stress of fermentation.
Most early references advocated pitching yeast directly into the must. Dry yeast would be sprinkled on top of the must and then stirred in after 15-30 minutes. Currently, this is not recommended for dry yeast; the yeast granules are more prone to clump and stick together. In some cases, the must might contain sulfur dioxide or other residual fungicides which could be lethal during the rehydration stage. Once rehydrated, the cells can resist low levels of these toxins, but not during water uptake. The yeast are also severely stressed before they can
reconstitute, and they may leak cellular materials that can contribute to off-flavors. But most importantly, pitching directly into the must reduces viability of the yeast and can contribute to weak or stuck fermentations. Compensating by pitching more yeast doesn’t really solve the problem, since the possibility for off-flavors still exists.
Liquid yeast could be added directly to the must with less impact due to rehydration, but the need for a proper cell count might not be met. Making a starter increases yeast viability and ensures the yeast are properly prepared for fermentation. This method is currently recommended when liquid yeast is used, although adding micronutrients prior to pitching still has advantages.
Rehydration is recommended for all dry yeast. Dry yeast must reabsorb all of their cellular water before they can function properly. Proper rehydration ensures that healthy cells will retain their good fermentation characteristics. If rehydration isn’t carried out, yeast cells can leak important cellular compounds through the membrane, which is extremely permeable at the time of rehydration. Yeast will lose viability and the remaining populations will be unable to initiate a rapid fermentation.
When using dry yeast, allow 30 minutes for the yeast to come to room temperature before rehydrating. Rehydrate in clean water rather than must, and never use distilled water. Water hardness of 250-500 ppm is optimal. In the first critical minutes of absorbing water, the yeast will take up micronutrients if provide as well as water, largely due to the pH of the water being near neutral, which makes it less stressful for the yeast to incorporate these nutritional elements. Use the proper water temperature (99-105 °F). The rehydration temperature makes a big difference as how the yeast cells reconstitute from their dried state. The addition of dried yeast to cool water or must can decrease cell viability by as much as 60%.
After 15-30 minutes of rehydration, pitch the yeast. If unable to pitch within 30 minutes, add ¼ tsp sugar and cover with plastic wrap. The yeast should show visible signs of viability (proofing).
While rehydration is important, still more can be done. Adding a micronutrient blend to the rehydration liquid is the best current practice for yeast preparation. The use of a product such as GO-FERM greatly increases the viability and performance of yeast. See the discussion on Additives for a more detailed description of this product.
Nutrient use in mead making has not been well-understood until recently. Current research has provided detailed information on yeast nutrient requirements and on the nutrient levels in honey. Older references either didn’t mention nutrient additions or said to add them all at once, along with other additives. This resulted in inconsistent fermentations, occasional chemical or metallic off-flavors, and long aging times before mead could be considered drinkable.
Adding no nutrients is not recommended, although meads made with darker honeys, with malts, or with added fruit have more nutrients available. Even in those cases, some nutrients are likely to be needed by the yeast. Mead can be made this way, but the results are likely to be inconsistent.
Adding nutrients all at once does provide more nutrients to the yeast, but it doesn’t deliver them when needed. Adding them all at once can overstimulate the yeast and result in off-flavors. The yeast need available nutrients throughout their growth phase, but adding the nutrients in one batch at the start does not ensure that they will be present later. This approach is better than not adding nutrients at all, but with a slight modification in delivery can yield superior results. Understanding how much nutrient is needed by the yeast is critical since nutrients left over after fermentation can feed growth by unwelcome yeast, or can remain and leave behind undesirable flavors.
The staggered nutrient addition approach was first widely advocated by Ken Schramm and by the nom de net Hightest (Michael Zapolski, Sr.) based on research by Dr. Clayton Cone of Lallemand. Unfortunately, this advice came after the seminal The Compleat Meadmaker was published. This illustrates how the march of progress continues and new techniques continue to be learned. Since this technique has proven to be so important to modern mead making, it is presented in detail:
Staggered Nutrient Additions
The basic mead making instructions describe the use of a combination of 1 gram diammonium phosphate (DAP) and 0.5 gram Fermaid-K (Lallemand’s micronutrient blend) at pitch and at 24- hour intervals for three days. This is a major advance in mead making in recent years, and is known as staggered nutrient additions – or SNA. Instead of adding all the nutrients at once, the same amount is staggered over several days. SNA promotes yeast health and helps assure a fast, clean and healthy fermentation. This allows the mead to be enjoyed sooner because it doesn’t require as much aging.
SNA was developed by the commercial wine industry as a way of supplying nutrients as the yeast needs it during the growth phase – kind of a just-in-time delivery. Healthy yeast are essential for a clean fermentation with less chance of off-flavors or the production of higher alcohols (fusels) which can give mead a burning sensation on the back of the throat – the “rocket fuel” sensation.
It is important to keep the yeast in the growth phase (yeast produce 33 times as much alcohol per cell during the growth phase than in the stationary phase). So keep the yeast growing as long as possible by using the staggered nutrient additions. The yeast will continue to take up oxygen, which means that the must can be stirred during nutrient additions (or during cap management in melomels).
Fermaid-K (yeast energizer) and diammonium phosphate or DAP (yeast nutrient) add the additional nutrient requirements of the yeast during fermentation. One teaspoon of Fermaid-K and two teaspoons DAP should be adequate for a five-gallon batch. You can mix them together for a stock blend and add them using the following schedule:
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix immediately after pitching yeast.
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix 24 hours after fermentation begins.
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix 48 hours after fermentation begins.
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix after 30% of the sugar has been depleted.
Anyone who has ever stirred a fermenting beverage knows the foaming, triggered by the release of CO2, can make one heck of a mess! To help minimize this, you should mix the nutrient blend into ½ cup of must and add it back to the fermenter. Then begin to slowly stir the must to release the main portion of the CO2 gas. After the foaming has subsided you can begin to stir more vigorously. Mix the must well enough to introduce plenty of oxygen into the fermenting must. Oxygen is needed by the yeast throughout the growth phase. Oxidation is not a huge concern
until you get past 50 percent sugar depletion.
SNA serves many purposes for yeast health. Abundant CO2 is toxic to yeast, so mixing while adding the nutrients will release the gas. Vigorous mixing introduces oxygen need by growing yeast. In a melomel, the mixing also disturbs the fruit cap (or floating fruit). Punching down the cap should be done at least three times a day during the period of vigorous fermentation.
There are a few choices in how to manage fermentation, although some special cases do exist. The fermentation temperature is the main choice, but how/when to add honey in a high-gravity fermentation, and the length of fermentation are also choices. Fermentation management can have an impact on how much aging the mead will need before it is drinkable, as well as the obvious contribution to overall flavor profile.
The fermentation temperature range for wine yeast is generally quite broad. Many yeast list ranges from 55 °F to 90 °F. This range has led to advice that mead is a good beverage to make in the summer since the yeast like to be warm. Warmer temperatures will certainly drive the yeast to be more active, but active doing what? The objective is a clean fermentation, not the fastest way to make ethanol. High fermentation temperatures tend to produce fusel alcohols, which are solventy and give the drinker headaches. Several other off-flavors can result from high fermentation temperatures. Cooler temperatures promote cleaner fermentations, but they need to be warm enough for the yeast to not be stunned. The production of off-flavors is somewhat yeast strain-dependent, but higher temperatures increase the chance of these undesirable flavors. Cool room temperatures seem to be the best compromise for most uses.
Using step feeding is a technique to make high alcohol meads. Basically, it is a technique of incrementally feeding the yeast as the honey sugars become depleted. If all the honey was added at the start of the fermentation, the osmotic pressure on the yeast could be too stressful for a healthy fermentation. By starting with a fermentation in the normal gravity range and then adding additional honey as the fermentation peaks will keep the yeast fermenting until their absolute alcohol tolerance is reached (which may be higher than their nominal alcohol tolerance). One problem with this approach is that yeast nutrients may not be available throughout, and the later honey additions could cause additional off-flavors as the yeast become stressed by the alcohol. It is possible to ferment quite strong meads (24 lbs or 2 gallons of honey in a 5 gallon batch) using a well-managed fermentation program as advocated in this guide.
The length of fermentation can be managed as a way of managing residual sugar in the finished mead. The most common way to produce sweeter meads is to ferment the mead to completion, which normally produces a dry mead and then back-sweeten it with honey to produce the desired level of sweetness. Another method is to select yeast that have lower alcohol tolerances, and thus will finish fermenting with residual sugar remaining. This is often hard to manage since yeast will perform differently from batch to batch. The fermentation can be interrupted at the desired level of fermentation by techniques such as crash-cooling the yeast or intentionally starving the yeast of nutrients (a technique used when making French ciders). Again, these are somewhat hard to manage and require careful monitoring of sugar levels and then taking somewhat aggressive steps to cause the yeast to stop. Using potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate can sometimes stop the yeast while in action, but this method is very unreliable. The risk of these intervention techniques is that yeast can produce off-flavors when stressed with sudden environmental changes, and the timing is somewhat tricky. Unreliable methods can also result in restarted fermentations at inconvenient times (say, after bottling). Alcohol levels are best managed by selecting the proper amount of honey in the original must, and sweetness levels are best managed by adding the desired honey sweetness after fermentation has completed. These techniques result in the cleanest fermentation character with the easiest to determine sweetness level.
Any technique that causes a more stressful fermentation is more likely to produce off-flavors that may or may not age out. Healthy fermentations produce less undesirable compounds and tend to clean up their fermentation by-products more thoroughly. It used to be standard practice to age meads a significant length of time before consuming. While this can still lead to desirable results, it is not required to make the meads initially drinkable. A positive benefit of a healthy fermentation is a mead that is ready to drink at a younger age, and that will continue to age and improve over time.
Melomel is a term for a mead comprised of honey and fruit. The BJCP style guidelines split Fruit Meads into five separate styles for judging convenience. Two traditional varieties of melomels with their own BJCP categories are Cyser (mead with apple cider) and Pyment (mead with wine grapes). Most meadmakers source local apple cider in the fall season to make cysers, and commercial varietal grape juice to make pyments. It is rare to find a meadmaker who will press apples or crush grapes to make mead. However, this is not true with other fruit meads. Canned fruit purees can be used (and are a good option for out-of-season fruit meads), but best results will happen when using fresh, ripe, in-season fruit.
Making fruit meads is similar to making traditional meads, except that additional thought must be given to honey selection, fruit handling, and cap management.
Honey choice in a big melomel is not that crucial. Varietal honey character will be overshadowed in most melomels by the strong fruit character. A couple common exceptions to this could be orange blossom or tupelo honey. With less assertive fruits (stone fruits in particular) these honeys can add a great complexity to the finished mead. A high-quality wildflower honey is often both inexpensive and flavorful. Be aware that wildflower honey will change from season to season, so make sure you aren’t using honey that contains harsh flavors (e.g., dandelion, basswood from northern climates).
Type of fruit. Choosing a fruit for your melomel is as simple as deciding what type of fruit you like. If you enjoy eating the fruit, it will likely yield pleasant mead to you. Common favorites include berries of any kind, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and currants. Stone fruits such as cherries, plums, peaches and apricots also produce great mead. Basically, any fruit you have access to can be used in a melomel. Any combination of fruit that is pleasing to your palate also will do fine. Use your taste buds and imagination.
Pyments are often made with high acid, low brix grapes since they can take the additional honey sweetness. Cysers are made using apple cider with considerable acidity for the same reason.
Amount of fruit. The amount of fruit used will vary depending on preference, sweetness level and type of fruit. Sweeter meads generally require more fruit to balance. When using berries or stone fruits, a minimum of three pounds of fruit per gallon is often required – usually, more like 3.5 to 4 pounds of fruit. For fruit with a strong character (such as black currants), the amount of fruit used is lower (possibly in the 2 lbs per gallon range). Personal tastes vary, but 3 pounds per gallon is a good starting point for most fruit. Fruit can be added in multiple batches if additional flavor intensity and complexity is desired.
The honey sweetness balances the acid content of the fruit and helps to bring out the actual fruit character in the finished mead. If you prefer dryer mead, reduce the fruit to 1 to 1.5 pounds per gallon, as well as keeping the alcohol content below 10% ABV. This will reduce the harshness of the finished melomel.
Pyments and cysers are often made with raw juice substituting for water in a normal mead recipe. So a 5-gallon batch of mead might be made with 1 to 1.5 gallons of honey and 3.4 to 4 gallons of varietal grape juice or cider. If the pH of the juice is too low, it can be adjusted upwards before fermentation or the juice can be diluted with water. Concentrated juices must obviously be diluted with water, but more concentrated fruit products typically have an inferior character when compared to the natural juice.
Fruit Preparation. Care should be taken when selecting and preparing fruit. If you are handpicking or buying from a local market, be sure to discard any poor quality or moldy fruit. If you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t use it in your mead. Remove all stems and leafy material. Clean the fruit, then freeze it to burst the cell walls. Stone fruits, with the exception of cherries, should be pitted and frozen. (Cherry pits lend a very nice character to melomels if removed within four weeks.) When using fruit in the primary fermentation, there is no need to puree the fruit. Fermentation and other processes discussed later will sufficiently break up the fruit. Mash the bags of fruit with your hands just before you add it to the fermenter.
Bags of frozen fruit from discount stores and supermarkets work very well, and the fruit is already clean. Using pureed canned fruit will provide acceptable results but be prepared for significant waste. Pureed fruit will settle to the bottom of the fermenter in a two- to four-inch layer that is virtually unrecoverable. Fruit concentrates are a nice solution when whole fruit is not available. The resulting mead will be good but lacking in real fruit character. A combination of concentrate and a few pounds of whole fruit will improve the quality. When using concentrates
make sure they do not contain preservatives as that will inhibit fermentation.
Adjusting pH. The pH of the mead must is important for healthy fermentation. pH will drop during fermentation. Yeast can adapt to the lower pH environment to a point, but an extreme drop in pH could result in a stuck fermentation. Some fruit contains enough potassium to buffer the pH and keep it an acceptable range. But it is a good idea to adjust the pH of the must to 4.0 prior to starting fermentation. Potassium carbonate works well for adjusting pH and provides potassium, which aids in keeping yeast healthy. But be careful. Using too much carbonate will reduce the total acidity of the must and cause acid balance issues in the final mead. Excess carbonate can also impart a metallic or soapy note in the flavor. Don’t use more than 5 grams of potassium carbonate when adjusting pH of the must. For measuring pH, use a good quality calibrated pH meter instead of pH test paper.
When to add fruit. There are several schools of thought (and plenty of debate) on when to add fruit to your mead. Many people believe that to preserve the fruit character and aroma, fruit should be added to the secondary fermentation. This method works well but has several drawbacks. The fruit must steep in the secondary fermenter for many weeks or months to extract all the goodness the fruit has to offer. In addition, considerable aging will be needed to have the fruit and honey meld together into a great beverage. Renewed fermentation could also result from the sugar in the fruit. If primary fermentation finished due to the alcohol content reaching the yeast’s tolerance level, fruit added to the secondary will dilute the alcohol content (fruit is typically 70% water) allowing the yeast to reactivate.
Fruit can be fermented separately from the honey and blended when done. This method is sometimes used when making pyments or cysers by making wine or hard cider and then blending to taste with mead (this could also be used when making fruit wines, but that is less common). This is useful when you are unsure of the relative balance between the fruit character and the mead, or when you want to experiment with varying fruit sources, grape varieties, or other ingredients. It also allows you to make a partial batch of pyment or cyser and enjoy the other components separately. However, the flavors do not fully meld as quickly and there can be differences in fermentation character. You also will miss out on the benefits the fruit will add to the fermentation of the mead must.
Sometimes raw fruit will be added after fermentation has completed and the mead has been stabilized. This gives the maximum fruit flavor, but often has a sugary, sweet, raw fruit flavor since it hasn’t been fermented. Raw fruit additions can also introduce bacteria, but the mead will already have alcohol in it, so this isn’t a major problem. Some meadmakers use this technique sparingly to adjust the fresh fruit character of a mead, but it is rarely used with the entire amount of fruit for a recipe.
Ken Schramm has written about a two-stage fermentation for melomels. Prepare an initiate fermentation in a smaller honey must, half the amount of water and honey for the full batch. Prepare the yeast as usual, and use staggered nutrient additions. After the must is fermenting vigorously (two to three days), add the remainder of the honey and the fruit. This will create a healthy yeast population to compete with any bacteria or wild yeast present on the fruit. Continue with the staggered nutrient additions per the previous schedule. This process works well, but is more work than the last alternative.
The final option is to add fruit in primary fermenter before fermentation. This approach requires effective sanitation and a fast start to fermentation because the must is most susceptible to infection at this stage. Washing, freezing and thawing the fruit before using reduces bacteria and also bursts the cell walls of the fruit making the juice more available for fermentation. Fruit in the Primary Fermentation (FPF) has many benefits, and is the recommended option. Fruit will provide many of the nutrients needed by the yeast during fermentation and helps regulate the pH of the fermenting mead must. FPF will typically take much less time than traditional mead fermentations. Fermentation of mead with an original specific gravity up to 1.145 should be complete in three to four weeks in most cases.
FPF will extract fruit character during fermentation without expelling the aroma compounds. Only the most volatile aroma compounds will be lost. These most volatile aroma compounds are usually lost during multiple rackings and aging anyway. The fruit and honey components will be fully integrated after a month or two in secondary. If a fresh fruit character is desired, try adding a pound per gallon of fruit to the secondary, which adds another level of fruit character to your melomel.
The cap is the layer of fruit that floats up and is held at the top of the fermentation vessel by CO2 during fermentation. The term originates in the winemaking industry, and refers to the conical shape of the fruit visible in an open fermenter. Managing the cap during early fermentation is important to reduce the loss of fruit flavor, reduce yeast stress, help prevent a stuck fermentation, and to reduce off flavors or characters.
Breaking up (or “punching down”) the cap accomplishes two key goals: releasing toxic CO2 and preventing temperature buildup below the cap. For every 1 degree reduction of brix in the must, there is an approximately 2°F increase in temperature. Unmanaged, the temperature can increase to the point of killing your yeast in the heat zone below the cap. This literally cooks off the floral fruity character of your fruit and kills some of your yeast, which could cause a stuck fermentation. Off-flavors could result from the stressed yeast before they are killed.
The CO2 buildup under the cap deprives the yeast of oxygen, which is required by yeast for optimal ethanol tolerance. Aerating during the first third of fermentation helps the yeast synthesize sterols to strengthen their cell walls. Carbon dioxide is toxic to yeast, so removing the gas helps provide a healthier environment for fermentation.
If the cap is not pressed down into the must, it can dry out. Then, if oxygen is introduced, spoilage organisms can grow and produce off flavors. Yeast are also stressed since they must compete for nutrients with spoilage organisms, which results in a less healthy fermentation and a less clean finished mead. Mixing the fruit back into the must will also facilitate the extraction of color, tannin, aroma, flavor and fruity character. In other words, it gets more fruit character into your mead and wastes less of your expensive fruit.
The highest concentration of yeast are found in and directly below the cap, so punching down the cap also redistributes the yeast and encourages a healthier and more vigorous fermentation. If the yeast distribution is uneven, then the reduction of sugar in the must will also be uneven; this could ultimately result in a sluggish or stuck fermentation. Punching down the cap evenly distributes yeast, sugar and temperature within the must.
A large open plastic wine fermentation pail (7.9 gallon) with a removable lid works well for melomels due to the extra head space in the bucket. Extra space is need for the fruit cap, stirring and degassing. Put a lid on the bucket with an airlock, but make sure the cap isn’t touching the lid. The wide opening and removable lid makes it easier to punch down the cap, add nutrients, and to mix the mead.
Melomel Process Summary
Submerse the honey containers in hot water to loosen the honey, which will make it easier to dissolve and pour. Partially or totally thaw the fruit. This should be obvious, but needs to be stated: sanitize all equipment used for making your mead. Mash the bagged fruit with your hands. If you prefer, put all the fruit into the pail and mash with a potato masher or similar tool. If using fruit with thick skins (currants, cranberries, etc.) break as many of the berries as possible to release the juices.
Use enough honey and water to get a total volume of 4.5 to 5 gallons (excluding fruit). Honey weighs approximately 12 pounds per gallon. Put all the fruit into the 7.9-gallon fermenting pail. You will want the temperature of the mead must to be 65 to 70 °F. If the fruit is still very cold you should heat the water enough to bring the temperature of the must into that range. Add the honey and water to the pail. Use a drill-mounted wine degasser to mix the must and completely dissolve the honey. After the honey is dissolved, stir vigorously for a few minutes to aerate the must, or oxygenate using an external system. Do not heat the must to pasteurize the honey or fruit.
Prepare your yeast by re-hydrating following the instructions on the packets. The use of a rehydration nutrient such as Go-Ferm is highly recommended. This will prepare the yeast for the strenuous journey ahead of them. Pitch the yeast, add the first SNA and mix well.
Fermentation should begin in about 12 to 24 hours. When signs of fermentation are noticed, start managing the fruit cap and begin the SNA schedule. With some luck, fermentation will be complete in two to four weeks. Once half of the sugar is depleted, continue to punch the cap at least twice a day but refrain from introducing oxygen into the must. Allow the mead to stay in primary for 4 weeks. At that point, transfer to the secondary carboy for clarifying. Taste the mead for sweetness level. If you desire more sweetness, now is the time to adjust it.
To sweeten mead, start with a cup of the mead and add honey to a level sweeter than you want. Then blend the dryer mead with the sweetened sample to get three samples that vary by 10 gravity points ranging from too sweet to not sweet enough. Taste and blend the samples until you get the sweetness level you want.
Take a gravity reading of the sample you chose. Determine the specific gravity difference between the mead and the sample. Now you can figure out how much honey you will need to sweeten the entire batch to the desired level. One pound of honey will raise one gallon of mead approximately 34 gravity points. If you have 5 gallons of mead, each pound of honey will raise the batch about 6 to 7 points.
Once you determine how much honey you need to add to the batch, use 1 cup of boiled water per pound of honey to dilute the honey. Pour the mixture into the carboy and mix until evenly dispersed. Take a sample and see if further adjustment is needed. Take caution to keep from over-sweetening the batch. It’s much harder to make it drier!
After a month or two if the mead is not clear, transfer again and use a two-stage clarifier such as Super-Kleer. You can also use relatively inexpensive plastic filters with filter pads, pumping the mead from one keg, through the filer to a second keg. You will be amazed by the amount of fruit debris and insect parts on the filter pads, but your mead should be sparkling clear. One word of caution when filtering: pectin will clog a filter very quickly. You can use pectic enzyme to help remove the pectin. Two-stage clarifiers do not remove pectin. Once you are completely sure
there is no fermentation and the mead is clear, you can bottle. For sparkling mead, it’s much easier to keg and force carbonate. Bottle-conditioning sweet mead can be difficult, unless you like creating exploding bottles.
Curt Stock’s Strawbana Cabana Mead (Strawberry Banana Melomel)
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2004
- 22 lbs Wildflower Honey
- 18 lbs Strawberries – frozen
- 4 lbs Ripe Bananas (about 8 bananas)
- 3 gal Water
- 3 tsp Yeast Energizer/Nutrient Blend (Fermaid-K and DAP)
- 10 g Lalvin Narbonne Yeast (71B-1122)
Approximate OG 1.155, Target FG 1.025 to 1.035, Estimated ABV 16.0%
Follow process instructions above. Fermentation will last 2 to 4 weeks. Once complete, rack to secondary fermenter. Now it’s time to add the bananas. Purchase about 4 pounds of ripe bananas. Trim off the stems that look moldy. Rinse the unpeeled bananas to remove molds and bacteria. Place a funnel in the carboy, peel and place the bananas in the funnel. Use a racking cane or other device to mash the bananas into the carboy. This should break them up enough to extract the flavors and aromas. In 3 to 4 weeks, rack to another carboy for aging and clarification. This mead is best at a final gravity between 1.025 and 1.035.
Thomas Eibner’s Two-Cherry Melomel
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2008, 2009
- 24 lbs tupelo honey
- 10 lbs unpitted Montmorency sour cherries
- 10 lbs unpitted dark sour cherries
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme
- Filtered water up to 5.5 gallons volume
- 2 packets Lalvin 71B yeast
- Curt Stock nutrient additions
Mix honey with cold water and pour on top of cherries. Ferment, filter and keg. Back-sweeten with tupelo to taste. Sweet, still, sack.
Steve Fletty’s Orange Blossom-Gewurztraminer Pyment
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2007
Version 1: Unblended
- 3 gallons Riesling or Gewurztraminer juice
- 12 lbs orange blossom honey
- 2.5 gallons water
- Wyeast 3783 Rudesheimer or something for a white German wine will bring out the fruity aromatics
OG will be about 1.120. Gravity after primary may be quite low, about 1.006 or less.
Add sorbate and sulfite and then back-sweeten to taste, usually around 1.024 or so. Shouldn’t need any acid with these grape varieties. After sweetening, use Super-Kleer to fine, then keg and counter-pressure fill bottles. The Riesling version was what won the gold medal.
Version 2: Blended
- Gewurztraminer Wine
- 6 gallons fresh juice from California
- Yeast: 58W3 Portuguese Wine Yeast from MoreBeer
OG 1.096. FG 0.992
Orange Blossom Mead
- 12 lbs Orange Blossom honey
- 3 gallons water
- Yeast: 58W3
OG 1.115. FG 1.007
Six gallons of wine blended with four gallons of mead, sorbated, back-sweetened with more OB to about 1.016, fined, kegged, pressurized. This version was served at the AHA NHC 2008 judge reception.
The BJCP Spiced Mead Category includes meads made with a combination of spices and fruit as well as mead made from spice, herb or vegetables or a combination of them.
Metheglin is a term for a mead made with honey and spices. Metheglins are easier to make than melomels since spices don’t add any fermentables. However, achieving a pleasant balance withspices is harder than fruit because the intensity of spices is much greater so there is less margin for error. Spice levels in mead are also a matter of personal preference, so obtaining the final spicing level is best done by taste. The age, freshness and condition of spices will vary greatly, so be wary of blindly following recipes that give specific quantities. It’s easy to add more spice to mead, but adding too much usually means that the mead will have to be aged a long time or that it must be blended with another mead to cut the spice character.
Think of making metheglin as like making traditional mead, except that you have to add spices at some point. Other than choosing the desired spices and adjusting the final balance of spices, the main decision in making a metheglin is selecting the time and method of the spice addition. There are at least five different common methods used:
Steeping spices in the boil. A common technique when spicing beer, this may not be applicable in mead since no-boil techniques are becoming more common. If the honey is boiled, spices can be added when the must is hot to extract flavor. This is probably the least common method for adding spices since it is hard to determine the right flavor level, boiling can drive off aromatics, and fewer people are using this meadmaking method.
Adding spices in the primary. Spices can be added in the primary fermenter, but this offers the highest opportunity for introducing infections since the must is cool and there is little alcohol present. The spices have a longer contact time with the mead, and the spicing is ready when (or before) fermentation is done.
Adding spices in the secondary. Adding spices after fermentation is complete is probably the most common traditional method for incorporating spices into mead. Depending on the spice, this can work fine. The alcohol in the mead inhibits bacteria, the alcohol in the mead can extract flavors, and the temperature of the mead allows easy sampling to determine if the proper flavor level has been reached. There are two drawbacks to this method. The extraction of flavor occurs over an extended period of time, which means that the mead must be carefully monitored for changes in flavor. Some spices require heat to let their flavors bloom. Cold extraction of their
essences may give a different character than expected. Undesirable raw, uncooked flavors and tannins might be extracted. Depending on the spice, this method is reliable and generally takes several days to a few weeks to work.
Making a spice tea. Pour 1 pint boiling water over the spices, cover, and let steep for 3 to 10 minutes. Strain out the spices, let the tea cool, then blend in to taste. This approach gives the most control since the exact amount of spice flavor can be tasted immediately upon blending. Sample blends can be done in smaller amounts and then scaled to the full batch. However, this does introduce some water into the mead, and can drive off some aromatics. This is the fastest way to add spicing, and can be used to adjust a previously spiced batch as well.
Making a spice tincture. This approach is similar to making a tea, except using neutral alcohol (vodka, for instance) to extract flavors. This technique allows careful blending as with the tea method, but also has the downside of the secondary fermenter method with extracting tannins and raw flavors. Depending on the spices, it might work well. It will add some additional alcohol, so care must be taken with the quantities used.
The environs in which spices are harvested and the processes by which they are prepared for market are rife with poor sanitary practice and opportunity for exposure and contamination. Keep this in mind when using spices; alcohol and boiling water will kill most contaminants.
The metheglin style definition allows for ingredients beyond the traditional herbs and spices. Flowers, rose petals, chocolate, coffee, nuts, and chile peppers can all be added to metheglins. Each is handled differently, but the common point is that some method must be used to extract the flavor, aroma (and sometimes color) contribution of the ingredient and to blend it with the base mead. The best recommendation is to understand if the flavors are water-soluble or alcohol-soluble, and whether a raw or a cooked character is desired from the ingredient. Also consider the manner in which the added ingredients are separated from the final mead (are they put in a mesh bag? must they be filtered out? do they settle naturally?). Then select a method that adds the desired character while allowing the spent ingredients to be easily removed.
Steve Piatz’ Ginger Metheglin
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2008
- 20 lbs raspberry blossom honey
- 3.75 lbs fresh ginger
- Lalvin 71B yeast
- Staggered nutrient additions
Sliced ginger in primary. Back-sweeten with a very sweet raspberry blossom mead until ginger flavor is balanced and sweetness level is judged to be sweet. Force carbonate to petillant.
Byron Burch’s Spearmint Metheglin
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2001
- 18 lbs clover honey
- 4 Tbsp tartaric acid
- 1 Tbsp malic acid
- 5 tsp stock Sodium metabisulfite solution (after fermentation)
- 8 oz bruised spearmint leaves
- 2 oz The Beverage People yeast nutrient for mead
- 4 tsp acid blend
- 10 g dry Prise de Mousse wine yeast
Heat water until warm, turn off stove and stir in honey until it is dissolved. Boil five minutes, skimming, and add nutrients and acid. Cool to room temperature. Sprinkle yeast on surface, and stir in after 12 hours. Ferment two to three weeks. Place mint leaves in mesh bag in a keg and rack mead on top; let stand at 15 psi for one week. Fine with Sparkolloid, add sulfites, and let age four weeks. Sweet, sparkling, standard.
Braggots can be produced in two different ways: fermenting the malt along with the honey, or fermenting a beer and a mead separately and then blending. Fermenting the malt along with the honey has the advantage of providing additional nutrients for the yeast, and reducing the time needed to get a fully blended product. Fermenting the beer and mead separately allows each product to be separately tuned and tweaked, and then mixed together in different ratios until the desired goal is reached. Fermenting separately might be a better idea when a recipe is being formulated and the proper ratio of beer to honey is unknown. Once a recipe is known, then fermenting it in one batch usually produces a better result.
The balance between the honey/mead and the beer is critical to the overall impression. Imagine a continuum from beer to honey beer to braggot to mead, where the percentage of honey to beer increases from 0 to 100%. There are no hard-and-fast rules about what constitutes a honey beer versus a braggot, but judges will be looking for a beer-based mead not a beer with some honey character. The mead character should come out more in the balance.
Brewing beer is beyond the scope of this study guide, but several excellent resources exist. Start with the BJCP Study Guide for the Beer Exam and use John Palmer’s How to Brew online resource for additional detail. Look at additional references in the study guide for the beer exam if necessary.
Braggots are often made without hops, so it’s not always a true beer-mead hybrid. A beer without hops will not taste right, so perhaps brewing separate batches and blending is best for the hopped braggot option. Most braggots have less bitterness than a typical beer, so beer recipes have to be adjusted before using.
Formulating a braggot recipe involves substituting malt-based sugars for some of the fermentables. Think about the flavor profile of the malt contribution and how it will blend with the flavor of the honey. Also recognize that sweetness balances bitterness, so if a hopped beer is used, then a sweeter mead might be desired.
As a first attempt, try an unhopped braggot and see how the flavors of malt blend with the honey flavors. Remember that the overall impression needs to be that of a mead, not of a beer. The malt character should be recognizable, but it should not seem like a honey beer; it’s a mead. If using malt extract, then making a braggot is as simple as boiling the extract for 15 minutes in some of the water to be used for the mead, mixing the boiled extract with the honey, and then fermenting as typical for any other mead. Ale yeast or mead/wine yeast can be used, although ale yeast is probably more typical. If you want to experiment with the style, start by making a batch with half malt and half honey and then vary the proportions until you get to a ratio that is pleasing to you. Most braggots have between 25% and 50% malt with the remainder honey.
Petar Bakulić’s Braggot
Russian Imperial Stout with Macadamia Nut Blossom Honey
- 12.5 lbs Pale Malt
- 2 lbs Special B malt
- 1 lb Flaked Oats
- 0.75 lbs Chocolate malt
- 0.5 lbs Kiln Coffee malt
- 0.5 lbs Roasted Barley
- 0.33 lbs Black Patent malt
- 1.25 oz Willamette pellets 4.6% @ 60
- 0.75 oz East Kent Goldings pellets 6% @ 30
- 0.75 oz East Kent Goldings pellets 6% @ 15
- EC-1118 – Prise De Mousse yeast
- Flaked oats were toasted at 300 °F for 1.5hr and left to sit overnight under a light cotton cloth.
- Cold steep dark grains in 1.5 gallons overnight and add liquor to boil kettle.
- Add macadamia nut blossom honey after temperature drops to 85 °F while chilling.
- Add honey slowly while stirring the wort, and bring gravity to 1.130.
Yeast Rehydration: Prepare a solution of 350 ml H20 @110 F + 25 g Go-Ferm. Add 20 g of EC1118 when temperature drops to 104 F mix well being sure to eliminate clumps and let stand 15 minutes. Stir and allow to stand 10 – 15 minutes more. This should not exceed 30 minutes total. Ensure that your must temperature is within 10C (50F) of the rehydrated yeast. If it is not, you’ll need to atemperate.
Add 175 ml of the wort to the yeast rehydration mixture, stir well and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Watch this mixture like a hawk! I have had it start to go crazy within a couple of minutes and start foaming over the top of the flask. If it starts to do so, go ahead and add it to the wort, and stir/aerate well. I use a lees stirrer to aerate/stir/blend mine once I pitch the yeast.
Cover your vessel with a sanitized cloth loosely and secure it in place with a large rubber band (in the case of a bucket) or with a smaller one if using a carboy. Remember, leave plenty of room for excessive foaming.
Check the vessel frequently for foaming which indicates the end of the lag phase.
At the end of the lag phase add an additional 10 grams of Fermaid-K rehydrated in 100 ml H20 and stir in slowly. Be very careful when stirring as the vigor of the fermentation and degassing can cause massive foaming and a volcanic eruption out the top of your fermenter. Stir twice a day for the first two days, and then attach a blow off tube or airlock if the vigor of the ferment is not excessive.
Closing thoughts: This braggot generally has a very vigorous ferment so keep an eye on it. Make sure that your mixture “tastes” good before you pitch the yeast. That is, get a spoon and make sure each of the ingredients are represented well and add more if they are not. The first several days are usually marked by a very vigorous ferment so keep on top of it and change your sanitized cloth if necessary during the first couple of days. Once you get to the point of being able to put on an airlock, go ahead and rack after two weeks. Rack again after six months, and again at one year.
After a year this braggot is generally still a little feisty, so you may need to give it additional aging.
For a specialty braggot:
- Add 8 ounces finely ground cocoa nibs while blending in the honey.
- Add 6 organic Madagascar Vanilla Beans, split and scraped.
- Add 2 ounces Medium toast American Oak cubes that have been soaked in Kahlua for a week.
Remove the oak cubes after two weeks (which you can use to barbeque some nice pork tenderloins) and vanilla beans. Taste your must and add more vanilla beans/cocoa nibs if desired.
Historical and Experimental Meads
Historical and Experimental meads can feature any ingredient or technique, so listing them all is nearly impossible. However, most meads that are entered in this category fall into four groups: historical or indigenous meads, meads that are a combination of two or more mead styles, meads that use additional fermentables, and meads that have some kind of post-processing.
Historical or indigenous meads are very hard to describe, since the ingredients and techniques can vary widely. The most commonly known meads that are included in this group are Polishstyle meads, which are typically very sweet and often intentionally oxidized. Ethiopian Tej is also quite well known, but not often encountered in homebrew competitions.
Meads that are a combination of two or more mead styles are made like those styles. It is common to have mead with both fruit and spices; in that case, the fruit are typically fermented along with the other fermentables, and the spices are added after fermentation. Look at the alternatives for melomels and metheglins for options.
Variations of a base style of mead are usually made just like that mead, but some extra ingredient is added to it. If the ingredient is fermentable, it is usually added during the primary fermentation. If the ingredient is a flavoring, it is usually added after fermentation. Meads that are fortified with liqueurs (Chambord, Grand Marnier, etc.) are usually blended once fermentation is complete and the mead has conditioned.
Meads that involve some form of post-processing include oak-aging and icing. Oak-aging is covered in detail in the Advanced Topics in Mead-Making chapter. Icing is simply the concentration of mead by freezing and removing frozen water crystals, in the manner of creating an eisbock. Both techniques are typically applied to a mead that has finished fermenting. Mead could be fermented in oak, but most meadmakers use this technique post-fermentation.
Other creative techniques can also be applied, but judgment and experimentation must be used to determine where they are best used.
Historical and Experimental Mead Recipes
Gordon Strong’s Apple Pie Cyser
Winner of three best-of-show medals
- 3 gallons unpasteurized cider, preferably from local orchards
- 1 gallon reverse osmosis water
- 1 gallon (12 lbs.) fall wildflower honey
- 2 lbs demarara brown sugar
- 6 cloves
- 6 cinnamon sticks
- 1 whole nutmeg
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 tsp DAP
- 1 tsp Fermaid-K
- Lalvin 71B-1122
Ferment mead per normal instructions, saving spice addition for post-fermentation. Make a tea with the spices: break up spices, scrape seeds from vanilla pod, pour 1 pint boiling water over and let steep (covered) for 10 minutes. Strain out seeds and cool tea. Blend to taste with mead. Adjust mead to sweet, if necessary. Force carbonate (moderately).
Eric Anderson’s Oaked Triple Berry Melomel
AHA NHC Gold Medal Winner 2009
- 24lbs clover honey
- 3.5 gallons water
- 1oz Hungarian Medium-plus Toast oak cubes
- 18lbs frozen triple berry mix (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
- 2 packets of Lalvin 71B-1122 (Narbonne yeast)
OG: 1.160, FG: 1.050, Size: 5 gallons
Fill a fermenter with 3.5 gallons of water, pour in the honey and mix well to combine. Once fully mixed add the berries, yeast, 4.5grams of Fermaid-K and 2 grams of DAP. Mix carefully and ferment at 67-70 °F until done (2 weeks max). Add 4.5g of Fermaid-K and 2g of DAP every other day for 1 week to ensure healthy yeast and good fermentation. Also, stir the contents of the fermenter every day of fermentation. Rack into secondary with 1oz of Hungarian Medium-plus toast oak cubes, let it sit for 9 months, or till you get the level of oak you want. Sweet, still, sack.
Byron Burch’s “Sweethot Love” Chipotle-Lime Mead
Served at the AHA NHC 2009
- 18 lbs clover honey
- 5 gallons water
- 5¼ oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
- 2½ oz. tartaric acid
- 2 oz. “The Beverage People” Yeast Nutrient for Mead
- ½ oz. pectic enzyme
- 1½ tsp Irish moss
- 7 grams Sparkolloid
- 10 grams Prise de Mousse wine yeast
- 3 oz dried chipotle hot peppers, soaked in enough vodka to cover – about 1 point – for about a week to make an extract.
Starting Brix 26, Total Acidity .65%
At bottling time, add chipotle pepper extract to taste. Byron finds it useful to add the pepper until he feels a perfect balance between the lime and the heat of the pepper, then add a bit more because of the cumulative effect of tasting peppers makes it seem hotter than it will be when you come back and taste it later.