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Homemade Mead

Mead is in the midst of a renaissance (no, not the faire sort). Brewers big and small are sweet on honey wine, and our July/August 2013 issue, Joshua Bernstein explores the buzz-worthy brew. Curious to brew your own? This recipe, from Emma Christensen’s True Brews is a great place to start since it gives options for both drier and sweeter styles, as well as the chance to flavor with fresh fruit. And though the list of ingredients and tools may seem a tad daunting to a novice, your local homebrew shop should be able to set you up (F.H. Steinbart is a great online resource for gear and ingredients).

12-14 cups water
2 2/3 to 5 1⁄3 cups honey (about 2-4 pounds)
1-4 pounds fresh fruit (optional)
2 Campden tablets
1 tsp. yeast nutrient
1 tsp. acid blend
1⁄2 tsp. pectic enzyme (if using fruit)
1⁄8 tsp. tannin
Yeast starter
1 cup boiling water
2-4 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. (1 package) dry champagne yeast (for dry mead) or 1 1/2 Tbsp. (1/2 tube) sweet mead yeast (for sweet mead)
1⁄8 tsp. yeast nutrient

Measuring cups and spoons
Long-handled spoon
2-gallon fermentation bucket with lid
Air lock
Mesh bag (for fruit, if using)
1-pint canning jar
1-gallon jug
Racking cane and tip
Siphon hose
Hose clamp
Bottle filler
Bottle caps or wine corks
10 (12-ounce) bottles, 6 (22-ounce) bottles, or 5 (750-milliliter) wine bottles
Bottle caps or wine corks
Bottle capper or wine corker

Sanitize the 2-gallon bucket, its lid, the air lock, and a spoon for stirring.

Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat and stir in the honey. Stir just until the honey dissolves, then remove the pot from the heat. Let stand until cooled to room temperature.

Pour the honey water into the 2-gallon bucket. Coarsely chop any fruit being used into bite-size pieces (berries and small fruits can be kept whole) and secure them in a mesh bag before adding them to the honey water. Crush 1 Campden tablet and stir it in. Snap on the lid and attach the air lock. Wait 24 hours for the Campden to sterilize the mead.

Prepare the yeast starter 12 hours after adding the Campden. Sanitize a 1-pint canning jar and a spoon. Measure out 1 tablespoon of honey for every pound going into the recipe. Stir this honey into 1 cup of boiling water until dissolved, and cool to room temperature in the jar. Add the yeast and 1⁄8 teaspoon of the yeast nutrient, and cover the jar with a piece of plastic wrap secured with a rubber band. Give the jar a good shake and let it stand until needed. The starter should become foamy, and you will see tiny bubbles popping on the surface of the liquid.

After the honey water is sterilized, pour in the yeast starter along with the remaining 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient, acid blend, pectic enzyme (if using fruit), and tannin. Stir vigorously to distribute the yeast and aerate the honey water. Snap the lid back on and reattach the air lock. You should see active fermentation as evidenced by bubbles in the air lock within 48 hours.

Let the mead ferment for 1 week, stirring daily with a sanitized spoon. After this time, the mead is ready to be transferred into a 1-gallon jug for the secondary fermentation.

Sanitize a 1-gallon jug, stopper, the racking cane, its tip, the siphon hose, and the hose clamp. Remove the mesh bag of fruits, spices, or herbs with clean hands, and then siphon all of the mead into the jug. Tilt the bucket toward the end to siphon all of the liquid. Stop when you see the liquid in the hose becoming cloudy with sediment. If you used a very pulpy fruit, straining the mead through a sanitized flour sack towel or several layers of cheesecloth during this step can help eliminate excess sediment.

Seal the jug with its stopper. Sanitize the air lock and insert it into the jug’s stopper. Let it sit somewhere cool and dark for 4 weeks.

By this point, you should see no real signs of fermentation. Watch the air lock: if 2 minutes pass without seeing any bubbles, fermentation is essentially complete. You can bottle the mead now, or continue aging it for up to 6 months.

If you are continuing to age, it’s good to occasionally rack (siphon) the mead off the sediment that collects on the bottom of the jug. Sanitize a stockpot, the siphon hose, the racking cane, and its tip. Siphon the mead into the stockpot. Clean and sanitize the jug, stopper, and air lock, and siphon the mead back into the jug. Insert the stopper and air lock. This also provides a good opportunity to taste the mead and see how it’s coming along. If it tastes a little sweet, you can add extra acid blend to give it some tartness or some tannin to give dryness and astringency. Start with a little of these ingredients, taste after a week or two, and continue adjusting as needed. The mead can be bottled whenever it tastes good to you.

When ready to bottle, sanitize a stockpot, the siphon hose, the racking cane, and its tip. Siphon the mead into the stockpot, crush the remaining Campden tablet, and stir it into the mead. Clean and sanitize the jug, stopper, and air lock, and siphon the mead back into the jug. Insert the stopper and air lock. Wait at least 24 hours before bottling.

To bottle the mead, sanitize ten 12-ounce bottles or six 22-ounce bottles (or five 750-milliliter wine bottles), their caps (or corks), the siphon hose, the racking cane, its tip, the bottle filler, and a hydrometer. Siphon 1⁄2 cup of mead to the hydrometer and use to determine final gravity. Drink the mead or pour it back into the jug once used. Siphon the mead into the bottles, cap (or cork), and label.

Store the bottles in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks or up to 1 year.

Makes 1 gallon.

Reprinted with permission from True Brews: How to Craft Fermented Cider, Beer, Wine, Sake, Soda, Kefi & Kombucha at Home by Emma Christensen, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

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