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A Beginner's Guide to Brewing Mead

posted 20 Jan 2009, 03:10 by Toby Atkin-Wright   [ updated 20 Jan 2009, 03:11 ]

by Thorvi Thorgilsdottir

As a fine example of a beginner to brewing mead, I have volunteered to pass on some of the secrets of the art I have stumbled upon in my vast (okay, three demijohns) experience. I was first apprenticed to a Master Brewer, and worked as his servant for seven long years as I gradually proved my worth to him, then as a journeymaid I slowly acquired the special equipment required for this complicated process...

Actually, no. Producing potable mead is a surprisingly simple and uncomplicated process, requiring very little equipment, and very little skill apart from the patience to let it ferment in peace. Producing good mead, is merely a matter of trial and error and experience. Or so I am assured.

I shall give a guideline to producing a standard, starter's mead, and then add a few further pointers at the end, with thanks to Frances Terring for providing those.

Mead

Equipment

  • 1 large pan for boiling the honey and water (a jelly or jam pan is a good size)
  • 2 large jars or demijohns for the fermentation, sterilised
  • 1 fermentation lock and cork for the demijohn
  • empty bottles to decant the mead into, sterilised
  • a decanting tube is (useful but not necessary)

Ingredients

  • 4 x 1lb jars of a standard runny honey.
  • water
  • brewer's or wine yeast made up according to instructions (fairly available - Boots stock it)
  • (spices can be added but are not necessary)

Method

  1. Pour the honey into the pan, and for every honey jar you use, add 3 jars of water. If you are going to add spices, such as a stick of cinnamon, or some crushed cardamom pods, do so now. Bring the mixture to the boil and let it simmer, stirring. This can get very hot because of the sugar in the honey, so be careful! As the mixture simmers, a rather unpleasant scum will form on the surface. Skim this out and discard it. When the liquid stops producing scum, it is ready to be syphoned into the demijohn, so let it cool. I would also strain out spice materials now.
  2. The yeast (or yeast solution depending on type) is added in the demijohn. Make sure the liquid is not too hot, for that will kill the yeast. Cork the demijohn, with the fermentation lock threaded through the cork. You can buy corks of the correct size with a hole already bored through them. This will allow the gasses given off during fermentation to escape, without letting air and dust into the mead mixture. Store the demijohn in a dark, warm place. If the yeast has not started reacting within 3 or 4 days of addition i.e. no foam or bubbles have appeared on the liquid, then something has gone wrong. If mould has formed on the liquid, the yeast is dead,and the mixture is useless. If no mould has formed, but just nothing is happening, try adding another yeast solution to see if that does the trick. If the yeast has started fermentation, leave it alone for 4-5 weeks or however long it takes the mead to stop bubbling.
  3. Once the mead appears to have stopped fermenting, a layer of dead yeast and other materials will have formed on the bottom of the demijohn. Syphon the mead into another demijohn, leaving as much of the precipitate behind as possible. This is also your chance to taste the mead, and see how it is doing. If you wish you can add some more spices now. Once the mead is in the new demijohn, put the fermentation lock and cork in, and leave it for a few more days to see if fermentation starts up again. If it does not, or once it has stopped, you are ready to decant the mead into bottles, again leaving as much of the deposit behind as possible.

There! You have produced your first batch of mead. Hopefully it will be quite drinkable, but it can take a few attempts before you're totally pleased with the result. If you're not sure of the flavour, serve it late on in the feast, and no-one will notice anything.

Further tips

Clover honey can give a bitter tang to any mead produced, so try to avoid it.

If a single flower honey is used, such as orange blossom honey, do not boil it to remove impurities, but use camden tablets instead. Boiling the honey and water will remove scent and flavour, and should only be done if the honey is of no particular distinction to start off with.

Happy Brewing!

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