Simple Honey Mead Recipe – Part 1
I’m going to show you a simple honey mead recipe which will yield a 1 gallon melomel (fruit mead). Why am I doing this? Because I recently had the absolute joy of drinking mead and I have to say the experience was, in a word, transcending. After some research, I discovered that it really wouldn’t be all that difficult to make mead at home, so I purchased some equipment, some local honey, and I got to work. The results were stunning.
Since nearly every barroom and tavern in fantasy fiction seems to have at least one character tossing back some of this golden nectar of the gods, and since I write fantasy fiction novels, I figured I should pass on my procedure. It’s really easy, but really easy to mess up. If you follow my instructions, however, you should have no problem. Let’s get started.
What is Mead?
So what is mead? Well, to begin with, mead (or honey wine, as it is sometimes called) is not a wine at all. Mead is an alcoholic drink that is one of the oldest fermented beverages in the world, dating back as far as 40,000 years, with origins on the African continent. It’s mentioned often in Greek, Norse and Celtic mythology. It’s tasty and it’s simple to make, which is very likely why it became so popular.
What are the Ingredients in Mead?
Mead is made from honey, water, and yeast. That’s it! But making mead at home can be tricky, as I have discovered. So I’m going to walk you through the steps.
What You Need to Make Mead at Home
If you search the Internet, you’ll find a lot of people have their own recipe for making mead. Youtube videos on the subject number in the thousands, and most of them are actually very informative. I encourage you to have a look. Below you will find the formula for my own mead recipe that I developed following some research of my own, along with a little help from a lifelong buddy of mine, Jeff. Thanks pal! Too bad I can’t ship you some of this!
I’m going to show you the process for making a blueberry/vanilla melomel mead. It’s both rich and delicious.
Making mead is a 2-step process (primary fermentation and secondary fermentation). This post will detail the Primary Fermentation. A follow-up post will go into the steps for Secondary Fermentation. In my process, the fruit is added during secondary fermentation, which results in a bolder fruit flavor. If you just want to make plain mead, the process below is the same, although you’ll still need to go through Secondary Fermentation (you just won’t add the fruit).
Okay, let’s get started…
Equipment Needed for Making 1 Gallon of Mead
- 1-gallon plastic pail
- rinse-free sanitizing solution (any kind of food-grade solution will work, just make sure it is rinse-free)
- 1 hand sprayer
- 1 gallon purified water
- 1 gallon glass carboy (glass jug)
- 2 pounds raw clover honey (you can usually find some locally)
- 1 packet of champagne yeast
- yeast nutrient
- yeast energizer
- small cup with a handle and spout (I found a graduated glass one on the Internet)
- a funnel
- airlock with rubber stopper
- 1-teaspoon measuring spoon
Before you begin, let me say that making mead at home is not difficult, but it is easy to mess one of the finer points up—sterilization. So let’s talk about that first. The sterilization of your mead making equipment is absolutely critical, because once you introduce the yeast—things grow. You want to bring a healthy batch of yeast to the party, not infectious bacteria or fungi.
Mead sterilization equipment consists of a rinse-free sanitizing solution, a hand sprayer, and a 1-gallon plastic pail. You can wear rubber gloves if you like, but I just wash and rinse my hands really well and then spritz them often with the sanitizing solution, which you’re going to keep in the sprayer.
Step 1: Sanitizing Your Equipment
Clean the 1-gallon pail with soap and water. Rinse well. Mix up about one-third of a gallon of sanitizing solution in the pail and set aside. Next, clean and rinse the hand sprayer, making sure to get all the soap out. Fill the sprayer about half full with the sanitizing solution and set aside.
Clean and sanitize the funnel first, since you’re going to be using it to pour sanitizing solution into the carboy. For now, just toss the funnel in the solution bucket.
Clean and sanitize the 1-gallon carboy. Use the funnel to pour about an ounce of sanitizing solution in and shake around. Pour the excess back into the bucket. Don’t worry about the foam. I recommend getting a glass carboy since the plastic ones can be porous and difficult to clean. I picked mine up for around $15, and it came with the airlock. An airlock is a device that seals off the top of your carboy, keeping oxygen out (which can create mold) while allowing CO2 to escape. We’ll get to the specifics of how to prepare and install an airlock soon enough. For now, just take it apart, clean it and toss all the parts into the sanitizing solution. Clean the 1-teaspoon measuring spoon and toss this into the bucket as well.
A Word on Foam
You’re going to experience some foam, especially when you shake it around inside the carboy. You’re never going to get it all out. It’s harmless and won’t affect the process. Just tilt the carboy until all the liquid comes out.
Step 2: Making the Must
The must is what the yeast goes in to make your mead. It consists of honey and water. Making must for mead is not difficult at all, so long as you follow the steps below.
Clean and sanitize the small cup with the spout. Follow the instructions on the champagne yeast packet. Generally speaking, add the yeast to about a cup of room temperature water and stir (make sure whatever you stir it with is cleaned and sanitized. Set this aside. (Yeast takes about 20 minutes before it is ready to be pitched into the must.)
Note: DO NOT use bread yeast. It’s not even close to the same. Select a good champagne yeast, which you can buy online. Look around. Different champagne yeasts will result in different types of finished product ranging from sweeter to more dry.
Place the carboy on a stable and clean surface. Place the funnel in the top. Pour all of the room temperature honey (2 pounds) into the carboy. Be patient. It will take a while. Don’t be tempted to scrape the honey down. Just let it flow naturally.
Using the sprayer, sterilize the outside of the 1-gallon jug of purified water and open it. Pour about two thirds of the gallon into the carboy. Don’t add it all. In the process of doing this, any remaining honey in the funnel will be flushed down inside.
Shake, Shake, Shake
Place your hand over the end of the carboy and shake. Shake some more. You will probably have to shake the honey/water mixture for a good ten minutes before it is all blended. Check the bottom often. No honey should be present on the bottom. If you still see some honey residue, shake some more. After a while, you’ll start to see that the must has a consistent golden color that does not separate. This is what you want. Set the carboy down and go check on the yeast.
By now, your yeast should be close to being ready. If you see any pieces floating on top, just stir it some more and wait a little longer. When all the yeast has dissolved it is ready to be pitched into the must. What you are doing is waking the yeast up. It’s going to be hungry, and we’re going to give it something to eat!
Step 3: Pitching the Yeast
When your honey is fully dissolved and shaken, and your yeast is activated (follow the instructions on the packet), it’s time to pitch it in. Before doing so, use the teaspoon to measure out the yeast nutrient and yeast energizer. Add one teaspoon of each. Just dump it in. Don’t shake.
Using the funnel, slowly pour the activated liquid yeast into the carboy. Add a little purified water to the cup with the handle and get it all in. Allow it to settle to the bottom and bloom (about 1 minute). Add more purified water until you have about 4 to 6 inches of headspace. Place your hand over the end of the carboy and (gently) mix by turning the carboy over a few times. Do not shake at this point.
Step 4: Installing the Airlock on the Carboy
The airlock prevents oxygen from getting in while allowing CO2 (the byproduct of the fermentation process) to escape. Sanitize all parts of the airlock. There are two types: a 3-piece, and a 2-piece. Both work equally as well. Sanitize all parts, including the rubber stopper. Reassemble and add sanitizing solution into the airlock. Only fill the airlock about halfway. Place the airlock into the rubber stopper. Place the entire assembly down into the neck of the carboy.
TIP: I always tape down the airlock, since the pressure that’s already building inside is going to want to push it out. If the airlock pops out, your mead will be ruined.
Step 5: Enjoy Watching Primary Fermentation
Making mead is really a 2-step process: Primary Fermentation and Secondary Fermentation. Since all of the fermentation takes place during Primary Fermentation, the word “secondary” is really a misnomer. We’ll discuss this more in How to Make 1-Gallon of Mead: Part 2.
Primary fermentation occurs when the yeast is flourishing and producing alcohol. You’ll know this is happening because the airlock will start to burp up bubbles. This is the CO2 slowly escaping. Don’t look for this right away, though. It will take about 24 hours for those first bubbles to appear.
Your mead is going to take about 2 weeks to ferment. During this phase, place your carboy in a dark place that is maintained at an even and pleasant “Goldilocks” temperature (around 75 degrees). If it’s a little warmer or cooler, that’s all right, as long as the temperature does not drop too much or get too high. What you’re after is consistency. If you don’t have a totally dark place, you can keep the light out by placing a dark t-shirt right over the carboy and tying it on.
TIP: Do your best not to disturb the carboy. If you do, it will stir up the waste product on the bottom known as the lees, which can really funk up your mead. Just set the carboy somewhere and leave it alone.
After about 24 hours you should start to see some bubbles burping up. They will continue to float up through the airlock, right through the sanitizing solution, and out into the air. This is harmless. The rate of bubbling will increase to about one bubble every second.
Leave the carboy undisturbed for a period of two weeks. By the end of week one (or shortly thereafter) you will start to notice fewer and fewer bubbles coming up. At some point they will stop. This is good. This means Primary Fermentation is coming to an end. To be sure, leave it the full two weeks, or longer before moving on to Step 2. Ideally, you should see no bubbles coming up before moving on.
Congratulations! You’ve made mead! But your mead is going to need to be separated from all the muck you see inside the carboy. None of those byproducts are good for flavor. We’re going to fix that during Secondary Fermentation, and add all those yummy blueberries and the vanilla.
See you in Part 2!
Ted Fauster is an award-winning writer of fantasy and science fiction.