Making mead

With the first honey extraction of 2011 complete, the honey sealed in jars and the labels now on, it led me to the question of whether to feed the honey in the wax cappings back to the bees or to wash it out and make mead. I didn’t dwell to long on this and I got the brewing gear together.

Steriliser, yeast and yeast nutrient to feed the sugar

‘Mead’ or ‘honey wine’ is literally honey and water fermented together and has historical ties to many areas around the world and it is as Wilkipedia accurately describes it ‘as the ancestor of all fermented drinks’. There are many many variations of the recipe, some include grain and fruit added during the fermentation process, and the eventual alcohol strength may range from 8% through to 18% (or a lot stronger if you distill it but making ‘moonshine’ is illegal so best left alone whilst you still have your eyesight!).

A quick google search led to several variations on mead making so I have listed here what I did and I guess I will have to wait at least a year to find out if it worked well, is drinkable or if I have created a monster …. either way I am sure it will get drunk and be tastier than the rhubarb vodka I made last year!

If, like me, you are a beekeeper you may well wish to use the honey remaining in with the cappings from the honey extraction and you need to measure the amount of honey dissolved in your liquor. The old method was to float a new laid egg in the dissolved honey and when only a piece of shell the size of an old sixpence was showing, the amount of honey was correct. Nowadays, you can purchase an instrument called a hydrometer which is easy to use and much more reliable. Personally I don’t own a hydrometer and wouldn’t trust the egg method so I have gone for the ‘make it and see how it turns out’method that may lead to a sweet or dry mead with an unknown final strength but maybe I will have a hydrometer by then. I washed the cappings in luke warm water, warm enough to dissolve the honey but not hot enough to melt the wax, I then strained it back through the honey filters to leave a very sweet honey syrup to form the base of my mead.

Liquid from washing honey cappings with 3lb of honey added

The Ingredients that I used were approximately:

3 – 3 1/2 lb. honey
Juice of 4 lemons (or 1/2 oz. citric acid)
1/2 cup black strong tea (or 1/2 tsp. tannin ).
Wine yeast (General Purpose Yeast will be suitable).
2 tsp. yeast nutrient & 1/4 tsp. yeast extract (e.g. ‘Marmite’) to provide vitamin B.
Water to 1 gal.

(S.G. approx. 1.100 = potential alcohol 13.4%)

Method:

Warm the honey in approximately three times its own volume of water, stir to dissolve (avoid burning the honey), bring just to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes. Remove the scum. Do not boil fast as many desirable substances will be evaporated off, causing loss of flavour and bouquet.

When it has cooled, transfer the liquid to a 1 gal. glass demijohn previously well rinsed with hot water and then sterilised. Bring the remaining water to the boil and again when cool add to the dissolved honey. Add the yeast, nutrient, tannin and acid. Fit a bubbler air lock (or plug the neck of the jar with cotton wool) and leave in a warm place to ferment.

Mead bubbling away in a warm place

Within a few hours the fermentation process will have started with bubbles and froth appearing.

When fermentation is complete (when there are no more bubbles and it has begun to clear – possibly after 1 month), siphon the mead using a length of plastic tubing (or carefully decant) into a clean jar leaving the sediment behind and top up with clean water to within three fingers of the neck.

When another deposit has formed, siphon again.
When it no longer throws a sediment and is clear, bottle. If necessary, filter or add wine finings. Be careful as bottling too early can lead to disasterous results! The final mead should be clearer and inviting to drink.

The above recipe should produce a dry mead containing about 13% alcohol. If the finished mead tastes rather sweet, delay bottling until you are sure fermentation has finished to avoid burst bottles. A medium mead would need about 4 lb. honey and a sweet (or sack) mead 4 1/2 lb.

Sultanas give extra flavour, body and smoothness to mead and nourish the yeast. Rinse 12 oz. sultanas in warm water and chop or mince. Ferment on the pulp, stir daily, and strain after 10 days.

The  mead should be drinkable after a year or so. Having made mead, don’t be impatient to drink it – there is no comparison between young mead and the matured article. Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey recommended maturing mead in sound oak casks for a full seven years before bottling but I am not sure that mine will last quite that long!

More honey will increase the specific gravity, more water will lower it.

2 lb. honey in 1 gal. gives S.G. 1.060, potential alcohol 7.8%.
3 lb. honey in 1 gal. gives S.G. 1.090, potential alcohol 12%.
4 lb. honey in 1 gal. gives S.G. 1.120, potential alcohol 16.3%.

Dry Mead: Starting S.G. 1.085-1.105. Finish S.G. 0.990-1.000.
Medium Mead: Starting S.G. 1.105-1.120. Finish S.G. 1.000-1.005.
Sweet Mead: Starting S.G. 1.120-1.130. Finish S.G. 1.005-1.015.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Oh, now I’d like to try some of that when it’s ready. Yummy !

    Reply

  2. Posted by bluebird57 on March 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Great tutorial! Have you tried it yet?

    Reply

    • The mead is still ‘improving’ in the bottles at the moment – I did have a little taster when I put it through the vinbrite filter to ‘polish’ the wine last month. It tasted great and so I am very hopeful that after waiting for a year that it will all be worth it, in which case I will double the volume for next year. Brother Adam from Buckfast Abbey recommended leaving it for 7 years before drinking but I am not sure that I am such a patient man as he was ….

      Reply

  3. Posted by Gerard McCartney on June 18, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Excellent article with all the information I need. Great to have all the amounts worked out and the specific gravities and ABV. Well done. Thank you

    I’m just about to start bee keeping so I’m getting ready for all my own honey coming in August/ September.

    Reply

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