Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from honey just as traditional wine is made from grapes. It's an easy and fun addition for the home brewer looking for an alternative to beer and wanting to experiment. The basic process is the same: fermentation takes place with the yeast eating the sugars in the honey and leaving carbonation and alcohol.
With the rise of popularity of grape wine in the warmer climates of Europe and beer in the cooler parts, mead making fell out of favor being the cost to make. Hobbyist brewers have an chance to explore and revive this nearly lost hobby.
Home brewing: Making alcohol from the comfort of your own home
When people think of homebrew, it can often be only wine and beer. The same equipment used for making wine can be applied for any types of alcohol that is brewed with yeast. There are several reasons to brew mead.
1: Availability of honey. Honey is made anywhere there are flowering plants. Many farmers will hire beekeepers to bring their hives to their crops to increase their crop yield. The production of honey is unimportant to the farmer. This leaves the honey cheap and very fresh. Apart from home brewing stores, fresh barley syrup for beer and pure grape juice for wine are not as common as honey for the home brewer.
2: Types of honey. Similar to how the various types of grapes that dictate the smell and flavor of wine, so too are there different varieties of honey. Each flower gives a diverse taste to the final honey. Leading from a spicy flavor in a desert honey on up to a roasted marshmallow taste coming from the meadow foam plant, there can be a wide range.
3: Variety of additives. An extra option that wine and beer do not offer for the homebrewer is how readily mead combines with other flavors. Spices such ascardamom and clove work very well in methlegins. Any type of fruit can be blended as well such as apples in a cyser, grapes in a pymet or other fruit in a melomel.
4: Cost of the honey. Per volume, finished mead is as inexpensive to make as beer or wine and is a good way to save money while still enjoying home brewing.
Your first mead
Making mead can be just as easy as wine or beer. The following is a basic recipe good enough to start with that can be altered to fit the size of your fermenters.
15 lbs honey
5 gallon of water (I prefer bottled)
1 dose of brewing yeast
The quality of ingredient effects the flavor of your mead. Since the yeast is doing the work this is a crucial part of the recipe. For dry yeast both D-47 and 71B from a company called Lalvin both work best. If you have access to liquid yeast I highly suggest using a yeast known as 3184XL. I would discourage using baking yeast. It will get the job done but the taste of the mead is not as crisp as it could be with a specific brewing yeast.
If you are using dry yeast to get it started before adding it to your main container. Get a small bowl of luke warm water and and add in the dry yeast. This will rouse the yeast from its dormant state and get it ready. It also makes it easier to stir into your fermenter and spread around. Tossing the yeast straight in will get a clumping effect.
About heating up the honey
Everyone seems to have a different opinion on boiling and most often comes from where a homebrewer got their start. Beer home brewers that have to boil the hops believe that boiling is best for the honey. Brewers that first started with wine do not see the need to boil. I have made a nice mead using both methods. I have found boiling will weaken and lower the bouquet of the mead by quite a bit. If the smell is important then that would be something to think about.
For my own meads I heat the water and honey enough for the honey to dissolve not to exceed 140 F degrees. This helps the yeast get to the honey easier and speeds up fermentation.
The next steps
Regardless on heating the honey or not next you will pour your mixture into your primary fermenter. Be careful that the water is room temperature and not boiling when the yeast is added. Remember that yeast are living things and can die in boiling water. Put your airlock on the fermenter and place it in a cool area. The yeast can take 2 weeks or up to 2 months in the primary fermenter. An easy way to tell is that it's done when it takes more than one minute before an air bubble rises out of the airlock. Of course using a hydrometer is the best way to measure the progress of any homebrew.
Just as with beer next you will syphon the mead out of the primary fermenter and into the secondary one. The yeast will be left over and now its time to wait for the mead. I've had good meads aged before bottling as little as one month. On the other end I've gone as long as one year before bottling. The more it ages the better. I would not drink a mead sooner than 6 months from when i first started. The taste will change and evolve with time.
Your finished mead
Your finished mead should be clean both in taste and smell. Most drinkers will be surprised at their first taste as they are ready for a sweet honey tasting drink. They are similar but not the same just like drinking wine is not the same as grape juice. Mead can range from very sweet to very dry and have many different flavors of subtle tones from fruit or spices. It can be served cold for a summer afternoon or heated for a warm winter treat. One of the beauties of mead is that it has near endless flavor combinations that should appeal to the curious taster and hobbyist looking to create their own recipe.