michaelsbagley

Mead making 101

15 posts in this topic

Mickey... I'm a beginner and definitely want to try my hand at meade, if I'm going to make an attempt i'd prefer to make a large batch so i can leave a few bottles to age longer as you suggested. What's the best thing to put it in to ferment, and to vent it etc. is plastic OK (ie giant big water jugs) Where's the best place to get supplies... and what do I really need. I see so many recipes and ways to do it... i shall insted trust your experience.

Oooooooohhhhh... Beginner with good questions... :P

Okay, for a bigger batch... I am a VERY BIG advocate of using glass over plastic containers. So my strongest suggestion is to go to the local homebrew or winemaking stor (which are often enough the same place, but not always) and buy a 5 or 6 gallon (19 to 22 litre) glass carboy.... But I know a lot of people getting into it prefer to spend less money up front, and upgrade their gear later (which is more expensive in the long run), but in that case, a hard plastic 5 gallon (19 litre) water cooler bottle will do.

I recently tried using a soft flexible plastic 2.5 gallon (9 litre) water jug, and almost lost the batch for being cheap (as it is I noticed the leak on time and only lost 1/4 of the batch). If you have to use plastic, spend the extra few bucks and get the HARD plastic. You can sometime find 3 gallon hard plastic water cooler bottles that are basically the same size around as the big ones, but just shorter. 3 gallons is actually a really good batch size for beginners. I found these at the local Lowes. As an average, you will get just over a dozen wine bottle size bottles of mead from a 3 gallon batch, 5 gallons will get you about 2 dozen bottles.

If you use glass, you should spend about $5 and get a proper home brewing/wine making airlock (available at the same place you buy you glass carboy). If you go the cheap up front route, balloons are your friends. Make sure they are bigger sized balloons so they can stretch over the bigger neck sizes of the plastic water cooler bottles.

An optional but convenient tool that will make your life easier, is a FOOD GRADE plastic bucket that holds one to two gallons more than your batch size. Your batch size will be the 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy or 3 or 5 gallon plastic water cooler bottle.

Another tool you will likely need for doing bigger batches is a syphon hose. There are really cool hand pump ones that can be bought for about $20 to $25 online or the local wine/beer making store, or you can go buy 6 to 8 feet of half inch wide fish tubing from the local pet store and be prepared to suck for all your worth... (that was not meant to be dirty) :P Here is a LINK to the "5/16" Auto-Siphon" tool, also available in the 1/2" Size or in the Mini Size (5/16")4766.jpg

Another item I almost forgot to mention is a funnel. A large food grade funnel is indispensable to many of the steps involved. A friend of mine recently got a really cool one with a "splash guard" (basically one half of the funnel extended up a few inches taller than the side you would logically pour into. It worked really good, and only cost him about $4 more than what I paid for mine. I'm pretty sure I am going to upgrade this piece of equipment at my earliest convenience.

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Once you have those tools together, it is the matter of recipe and ingredients.

For ingredients, you want to use a good honey (that junk in the grocery store with the bee on it is not good). Basically if you can sample the honey before buying it, you are looking for honey with flavour, not just sweetness. The more flavour your honey has, the more flavour your mead will have. The honey bee stuff is very sweet and has almost no flavour... It makes bad mead, trust me I know... I learned the hard way... Farmers markets are usually the best place to get bulk honey for cheap. Some health food or bulk stores carry decent stuff as well.

Yeast is the next main ingredient... you can use bread yeast in a pinch... But a wine yeast is ideal, specially a white wine style yeast is usually best, but some red wine style yeast do good. Ale/beer yeast (but avoid lager yeasts) can do a decent job as well. Yeast is a very complex issue, I could write a long thread just on this topic alone... But I think that is the core basics.

Water is the third ingredient... If you have to use tap water, try to take the time to filtre it through your Brita or whatever.. Or the one advantage to buying a plastic water cooler bottle to brew in, is you now have a bunch of water that is great for brewing with.

On that note, I am going to take a break here, try and pretend to work for a while, and post the next steps later.

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Okay, slow morning here in the office, so I'll try and get through step 2...

Now you've collected your gear, you've shopped for ingredients... Now to make the stuff.

Except I didn't quite finish the shopping for ingredients, because one needs to know how much honey to buy. As a general rule you will use 3 pounds (~1.4 kg) (by weight) of honey for each gallon of mead you plan on making. A rough estimate is that a quart (~1 litre) of honey is about 3 pounds (just in case your honey seller sells by volume instead of weight). So assuming you've taken my advice and used either a 3, 5 or 6 gallons container, you will need either 9 (~4 kg), 15 (~6.8 kg) or 18 (~8.2 kg) pounds of honey respectively, or 3 quarts (~3 litres), 5 quarts (~5 litres), or 6 quarts (~6 litres).

Use the best honey you can find! I can't stress this enough... Avoid that "Billy Bee" or similar brands from the grocery store like the plague. Clover honey is usually not the best either, wildflower honey is usually the cheapest honey you can find that has a decent flavour to it. For those who like dark beers or ales, try using buckwheat honey if you can find it in sufficient quantities at a price that won't hurt your pocket book. Orange Blossom honey is a favourite amongst mead makers that make straight meads (no fruit additions), as is tupelo honey.

Cleanliness is one of the most important ingredients in home brewing, home wine making, home mead making etc. EVERY book I have ever read has stated this clearly, and personal experience has backed this up. So now you will need to sterilize your fermentation vessel. a Tablespoon of unscented household bleach in a quart of water makes a good cleaning solution. You will likely need a gallon (4 quarts) so use four tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water, swish this thoroughly around your bucket, or plastic or glass carboy/jug. Dump the cleaning solution out, and rinse with clean tap water thoroughly (no one wants their mead to have a chlorine aftertaste). The same cleaning solution can and should be used to clean any gear you used in any step, from your siphon hose/fish tubing, siphon pump (if you bought one), and pots you use to boil anything in. Spoon used for stirring. Absolutely everything gets sterilized.

To boil or not to boil... That is the question. This is a sometimes hotbed issue amongst some mead makers. I usually spit the difference here. But so those reading know there are other views on this, some people just pour the honey in, add water, then add yeast, no heating or boiling at all. Others boil the honey into water for a good long time.

Me I heat up about twice as much water (eyeball, don't measure it) as honey (e.g. for a 5 gallons batch, I boil about 2 gallons of honey) add the honey to the heated water, stir it in until it is dissolved, and then I turn the heat off, and that is all.

Now time to pour your honey/water mixture into your fermentation vessel. For those who have spent the extra couple of bucks and gotten a food grade bucket, use that for this step. For those who didn't buy a good food grade bucket, pour it into your glass or plastic jug. Add water (use filtered or spring water, the Brita is fine but slow) up to your total volume. Now wait until the water and honey mixture is at room temperature. If you used cold tap water, this won't take too long, if you boiled the honey, it might take a half an hour to an hour. It is crucial that your honey-water mixture is in the 65 to 75 degree ferenheit (15 to 25 degree C). Use a food grade thermometer if you are unsure.

Once your honey water mixture is at room temperature, add the yeast. If you have bought a new packet of proper wine making yeast (or ale yeast or whatever), you should be able to just sprinkle it in.... BUT, if your packet of yeast has been sitting around on a shelf, or you have completely cheaped out and used bread yeast, you will get better results if you add your yeast to a glass (about 12 fluid ounces) of comfortably warm water (70 to 80 degree ferenheit) with a tablespoon of sugar or honey dissolved into it. Let the glass of water with sugar and yeast sit for half an hour to an hour and foam up a bit. If you don't see foam, your yeast may be bad and not working. Try giving it some more time, if it never foams, then get some more yeast and retry.

If you are using a bucket, cover it with extra wide plastic food wrap. In fact keep the liquid cover at all times whenever you can. Again if you are using a bucket, once you have the plastic wrap on, use a jumbo elastic band (rubber band) or join a bunch of smaller rubber bands together to hold the plastic wrap firmly on the bucket. For those using an air lock, attach that now, those who chose the balloon, time to fit that bad boy over the nozzle of the jug. Put the cover jug or bucket into a dark place (yeast doesn't like light, and no I'm not joking, they're vampiric little weirdos), preferably a dark place that is a steady temperature that isn't too cold or warm (again 65 to 75 degrees Ferenheit) also where the temperature does not fluctuate too much. Walk away.... Do not touch the stuff for at least a week. Maybe check on it daily to ensure your balloon has not popped off, or your plastic wrap is still firmly attach or your airlock is still firmly attached. Actually it is a very good idea to check on it one or twice a day for the first week, because that is when the fermentation is most turbulent and the air pressure is most likely to build up enough to blow your air seal off (whatever you are using).

More later....

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Good tutorial Michael!

I will add, for those tempted to dry pitch their yeast, that there's a lot of good information supporting rehydrating your yeast in water before adding it to your must. It has mainly to do with cell walls and osmotic pressure, and I won't waste your time repeating it here.

The long and short of it is that you get much better viability with rehydrated yeast, thus getting your colony off to a more vigorous start, better fermentation, and less chance of nasties.

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After a lot of internet research I'm actually trying my hand at making my own batch of mead using honey, ginger and a handful of raisins. Here's hoping it comes out ok!

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Do let us know how it goes!

The last batch I did was spiced and extremely dry, I enjoyed it immensely over the last year. I've got one batch in primary right now that I'm doing as a show mead (no fruit or spice) but I am thinking about adding some toasted oak to see how that goes. I've been using champagne yeasts with my honey because I prefer a dry to a sweet mead.

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Do let us know how it goes!

The last batch I did was spiced and extremely dry, I enjoyed it immensely over the last year. I've got one batch in primary right now that I'm doing as a show mead (no fruit or spice) but I am thinking about adding some toasted oak to see how that goes. I've been using champagne yeasts with my honey because I prefer a dry to a sweet mead.

I'm getting sort of nervous that I may have screwed up the batch some how because after over an hour there has been no fermenting activity (that I'm aware of). No bubbles being released through the rubber hose. I'll check on it after I get home from work around midnight. It's 3:40pm now.

EDIT: I'm probably over-reacting and just generally getting impatient. I've heard so many different time frames of when one should start to see activity. I've seen anywhere from INSTANTLY to 3 Days! here's hoping mine's on the sooner side.

Edited by Pixel Pirate

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Sometimes it goes right away, some times in three days to a week. Sometimes it's never explosive. It depends on the health of your yeast and what they've got to eat.

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Just checked in on it after getting home from work and it looks like the yeast is finally taking effect. No gasses/bubbles coming out of the tubing, but there's alot of foaming action going on.

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Be patient. A good mead takes a while. If you're worried about not seeing instant results, it'll be hard to wait 6 months to a year for the mead to age well. After primary fermentation, I'd recommend letting it sit in secondary (preferably a glass carboy) for a month or more. Then bottle and wait as long as you can (6 months to a year at least). It's extremely difficult if it's good out of the gate (you've at least got to try a little every couple months or so), but it generally gets better and better.

Arrrgh!

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I'll second what Coastie said. If you want to carbonate in bottles (like a mead champagne) keep it in secondary for about a month. If you want still mead, leave it in secondary as long as you can. I've gone up to five months in secondary before bottling. Time is your friend!

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So I finally bottled the mead I had going last fall, I suspect it was a bit presumptuous as it was still a bit cloudy, alas I got impatient. I've got another methgelin in secondary and I've sworn to be patient enough for it to clear on its own...

In the meantime I'll distract myself with some other brewing projects. :D

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Being patient with the metheglyn will pay off.... As it will be winter before it is even drinkable.... and it is a great winter beverage.

I've gone almost 3 years without making or brewing anything... I really should get back in the game, specially before honey prices likely skyrocket with the widely reported bee populations problems that have been in the news. I think there is a honey festival in a nearby town in a month... so that may be the best opportunity to start.

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I tried something different with these last two batches of not heating them much at all, a No Boil approach. My first couple of batches I did a short boil. I've since done some research and found that boiling can help the mead clear faster. Indeed those first batches underwent a series of "spontaneous" clearing over the course of eight months, ending with a lovely completely clear mead.

The no boil batches are persistently cloudy and while I'm confident they'll clear eventually, I think I'll go back to a short boil for this years crop.

Much scouring of research, tastings and talking to people has indicated that a short boil will reduce the aroma, but will not negatively affect the taste. And if it ultimately produces a drinkable mead in a more moderate time frame, I'm all for that. :)

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I'm checking in here with the mead makers. I've just bottled a lovely metheglin that will most likely end up with a slight sparkle in the bottle.This one lingered in secondary for a year and then spent two months in a tertiary and ended up nice, clear and dry. The spices are delicate and smooth under the initial bite, I'm looking forward to seeing how this one ages.

The plain mead that I bottled a bit prematurely never did clear properly and to my tastes isn't as nice the metheglins I've been making. I've got another 15lbs of local honey waiting for the next brew day and available carboy.

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Although I've only done a couple of meads and therefore am far from an expert, I can tell you that I didn't boil them. I heated them up for a while (I can't remember specifics off the top of my head, but probably something like 150 degrees for 15 minutes or so) to essentially pasteurize the wort, then cooled and pitched yeast in the normal fashion. They cleared up nicely in a relatively short time and are still tasty to this day. Speaking of which, it's the season to make another mead!

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