MRB Tim

Mead Making!

15 posts in this topic

So, I just started my first batch of mead. While I was at it, I thought I'd post some pictures and a walkthrough, just in case anyone was considering trying it out. A note: Just like beer, there are countless varieties of mead, and countless techniques to brew it. This walkthrough is not meant to be exhaustive at all, just a quick introduction for beginner medhers such as myself. This particular recipe is going to make 2 gallons of dry (as opposed to sweet) still (as opposed to sparkling) mead.

 

Making Your Must

 

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Must is the wine/mead/cider equivalent of wort, just so ya know.

 

You'll need:

-Honey. I used 3 lbs of wild Sonoran Desert honey and 0.5  lb of buckwheat honey (more on that later) per gallon

-Fermenting vessels. For mead, you can use the LBK for the primary fermentation, but part of the mead making process will be racking to various secondaries for a few months. That will require an airlock, so I just started there for the primary, too.

-Sanitizer. We use StarSan because it's fast, but there are a lot of options.

-Mesh strainer. As you pasteurize (which, it turns out, isn't that different from mashing), wax and bee parts will float to the top. Skim them off until they stop floating up.

-Utensils: whisk, spatula, measuring cups, funnels, as needed

-Sufficiently large pot with lid and thermometer. An 8 qt for this batch was plenty

-Optional: Gypsum. Since I used filtered water, I wanted to harden it a bit, so I added 1/4 tsp

 

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First, I put the honey in a hot water bath to loosen it up

 

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Next, heat your water. I used 2 liters. I was going for 130 for an hour, but I couldn't quite get there, so I went with 140 for 50 mins

 

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The buckwheat honey. @MRB Josh R recommended a pound of this in my batch, because it has a quite robust flavor and aroma that will bulk out the finished product a bit, flavor wise. East cost buckwheat honey (this is from PA) supposedly has a farmhouse sorta taste, but I like Saisons and the like, so that doesn't bother me.

 

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Adding my honey, and then I mixed it up a bit since it's so thick.

 

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Close up of wax and bee parts that I skimmed off. They stopped rising about 10 mins before I was done pasteurizing

 

Pitching Your Yeast

 

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Next, I watered down my must with cold water, added my gypsum, whisked it to oxygenate, and distributed it to my fermenters. I chose Lalvin D47 for this batch (again a @MRB Josh R suggestion). Honey lacks the nutrients that yeast need to ferment, so you need to add something like Fermaid K, which I used here. I'm going to add 1/4 tsp/gallon every other day for the first 10 days, then again every time I rack to a secondary

 

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And here's what I came into this morning!

MichaelL, C-ya, Shrike and 1 other like this

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A little helpful advice, I have done this on all but my first batch of mead and maple wine and got a much improved product.

 

Mead (wine) yeast react much differently to CO2 than ale yeast does.  To help with the smoothness of the mead, gently agitate the jug every 12 hours or so to help keep the yeast in suspension and to get rid of the CO2 that is absorbed into the mead.  Be careful doing this so that it does not foam over the top of the jug and make a mess.  Getting rid of the CO2 helps to keep Phoenal (sp) alcohols from forming and keeps the hot alcohol feel out of your mead.  You can even use a sanitized paint stirrer or some other device to accomplish this task as well.   You don't have to worry about introducing oxygen like you do with beer.

 

Staggered nutrient additions are also a great benefit.

MRB Tim likes this

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42 minutes ago, BDawg62 said:

gently agitate the jug every 12 hours or so to help keep the yeast in suspension and to get rid of the CO2 that is absorbed into the mead.

 

I've gotten conflicting advice on this. Some say degassing throughout fermentation is best, some say you really only need to do it before you bottle.

 

42 minutes ago, BDawg62 said:

Staggered nutrient additions are also a great benefit.

 

Different things here, too. Some say only add at 1/3 sugar, some say throughout primary AND secondary. I plan to do the latter.

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1 hour ago, MRB Tim said:

 

I've gotten conflicting advice on this. Some say degassing throughout fermentation is best, some say you really only need to do it before you bottle.

This looks like a good opportunity for an experiment.  You have 2 different fermentations going on, degas one of them and not the other.  Then you can see what results you get.

MRB Tim, Shrike and C-ya like this

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@BDawg62, I'm going to try your method on my next batch.  My wife wants a blueberry melomel.  The first two batches I made just sat for the entire primary and secondary fermentations with no movement.  They aren't "hot", but I have a bottle from a co-worker that would probably run my lawn mower.

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A note: Apparently, when @MRB Josh R recommended a whole pound of buckwheat honey, he was under the impression I was doing a 5 gallon batch. So....it might be a little on the strong side. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Just something to keep in mind if you want to make something more mellow....don't be like me.

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Didn't get any pictures, but I racked to the first secondary yesterday after cold crashing. It's cleared quite a bit, but never having used an autosiphon before, I lost a disappointing amount of volume. I don't have too much headspace, but I'm getting there. I may water down at my next racking, it tastes quite strong with all the buckwheat honey, and the ABV will be about 14% undiluted, I don't mind having more like 12% if it means proper headspace.

hotrod3539, C-ya and MiniYoda like this

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5 hours ago, MRB Tim said:

Didn't get any pictures, 

Dang it man!! you had one job and you have failed us :( LOL!!

MRB Tim likes this

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A few quick observations. 

#1 Buckwheat honey from East Coast hives tastes very ... um.. earthy, some say, unpleasant. West Coast buckwheat has a very different flavor profile, much more pleasing. and I say that as someone who loves saison beer and who often makes mead using saison yeast.

#2 In the dim and distant past, mead makers boiled their honey - I suspect because the water was not potable but there is really no need to "pasteurize" honey in 2017. If the honey is not raw and was filtered then there are really no significant "bee parts" and it has already been pasteurized.  And any raw honey I get from local farmers' markets here in Upstate NY is filtered clean and heating that honey above about 100 F will in fact destroy the very volatile molecules that create the taste and smell of the honey. You might as well ferment table sugar if you "pasteurize" the honey.

 

Honey , in and of itself has so little moisture that it will extract the moisture from living cells and kill them which is why honey has throughout history been used as a bactericide and was used to treat wounds to prevent infections (That's not to say that raw honey does not in fact contain living but dormant yeast cells - You can ferment raw honey without the addition of lab cultured yeast, if you know what you are doing - bees and flower pollen being covered with wild yeast). That is not to say, of course, that all wild fermented meads will taste good. It can taste like crap... which is why you might want to carefully propagate the wild yeast in tiny batches of the honey and use your taste and smell to see whether the colony of yeast you are growing is a keeper or not.

 

#3 Using 3.5 lbs of honey per gallon will make a honey wine (something to be sipped), but you can make a session mead - (something to be quaffed at around 6-7% ABV ) by using about 1.25 - 1.5 lbs of honey to the gallon (1 lb of honey will raise the gravity of 1 gallon of water by about 1.035, so 1.5 lbs will have a potential ABV of about  6.55 % (an SG of about 1.050). The flavor may be a bit thinner than a mead at 14% (most of the flavor comes from the honey but your choice of  yeast plays a significant part too) but if you allow this to ferment bone dry (and honey will ferment down below 1.000) and you then add carbonation drops or additional honey dissolved in a little water you can carbonate this mead and have a brew that you can enjoyably drink in about 4 weeks from pitching the yeast that can go head to head with just about any beer or cider. At 14% ABV this honey wine might need to age six months or longer... . 

 

#4 Many (but not all mead makers ) argue that the higher the ABV and so the more honey in the must the more yeast you need to pitch. You might consider using one pack of yeast for every gallon. You really cannot over-pitch yeast as a home brewer but you can under-pitch and under-pitching, ironically, can create stresses on the yeast that lead to yeasty flavors and aromas...   

MRB Tim and hotrod3539 like this

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Thanks so much! I'm definitely still learning the mead ropes and I will take all the help I can get. It's my first batch, so I have managed expectations about my results and expect to have many mistakes to learn from

 

 

16 minutes ago, Brewer said:

heating that honey above about 100 F will in fact destroy the very volatile molecules that create the taste and smell of the honey. You might as well ferment table sugar if you "pasteurize" the honey.

 

I did want to ask a bit about this. Although I was familiar with a lot of what you wrote, this is a wide departure from everyone else's advice. I have yet to encounter a process that doesn't involve heating the honey at least a little, although most of what I read does agree that boiling is too hot. What has changed in 2017 to challenge the conventional wisdom?

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If you look at commercial meaderies for example, they all suggest that at most they may heat their honey to about 100 F (my hot water faucet runs at 90 F) simply to make the honey flow more easily. If you are pitching a large enough batch of viable yeast then the few cells of wild yeast will be far out-competed by the lab cultured yeast and if you are anxious about the yeast and bacteria in the honey you might add K-meta (AKA campden tablets) to the must 24 hours before pitching your yeast.

Why the change in protocol? To be honest I just think that as mead is becoming less of an exotic drink, more and more people are making mead and are questioning and testing all kinds of received assumptions - including the idea that it can take years for mead to reach its prime. Groennfell Meadery, in Vermont, for example, states that their mead, from honey to sale, takes about 4 - 6 weeks. Another long held view that you pitch your yeast and you forget about the mead for a year or two is now viewed as errant nonsense: you need to degas the mead during active fermentation (CO2 inhibits fermentation) and you need to provide nutrient (many argue) as the yeast converts the sugar.  One other lovely assumption that has been demolished in the last few years is that mead will be both high in alcohol and sweet - many commercial (and home brewers) meaderies now design their meads to be low ABV (about 5 or 6% (so use about 1.25 - 1.5 lbs of honey/gallon) ; dry; and carbonated - so they are enjoyed like beer and not as if they are dessert wines. 

According to the American Mead Makers Association, in 2003 there were 30 meaderies in the continental USA. By 2016, there were 300 with 50 or so breweries offering mead.  

There is a great online forum  for those interested in mead making. Not sure of the ethics of listing its name here  but I will provide the name to anyone who sends me a private message 

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Just racked to a new secondary, I'm going to do that every month or so until it stops producing lees, then bottle. It tastes off-dry, nice fruity aroma from the yeast, and kind of a strong hay/grass flavor from the buckwheat honey that isn't bad, per se, but kind of stands out against the other flavors. It will be very good, but not perfect. As I expect the first time I make something. 

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There's a mildly (IMO)  interesting podcast offered by The Mead House. In the most recent episode (# )59 there is a discussion about making meads which are ready for top notch competitions (and which are medal winners) in only a few weeks. But these are , I think, the equivalent of session meads - low ABV meads.

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