(a fermented drink made from honey)

Generic Recipe
Kevin Karplus (written around 1982)

The basic ingredients of mead are honey, water, and yeast. The proportions of the honey and water determine the final strength and sweetness of the drink, also how long it takes to make. The ratio ranges from 1 lb. honey per gallon of water for a very light "soft-drink" to 5 lbs. per gallon for a sweet dessert wine. The less honey, the lighter the mead, and the quicker it can be made. I've successfully made a 1 lb/gallon mead in as little as three weeks, while my strongest mead (5 lb/gallon) was not bottled for six months, and could have stood another few months before bottling. Elizabethan recipes varied considerably in strength, but 3 or 4 pounds of honey per gallon was common.

The mead I make is spiced, so is sometimes referred to as "metheglin." Elizabethan meads used large numbers of different spices and herbs, but not always in large quantities. Kenelm Digby, after giving the recipe obtained from "Master Webbe, who maketh the Kings Meathe," has this to say: The Proportion of Herbs and Spices is this; That there be so much as to drown the luscious sweetness of the Honey; but not so much as to taste of herbs or spice, when you drink the Meathe. But that the sweetness of the honey may kill their taste: And so the Meathe have a pleasant taste, but not of herbs, nor spice, nor honey. And therefore you put more or less according to the time you will drink it in. For a great deal will be mellowed away in a year, that would be ungratefully strong in three months. And the honey that will make it keep a year or two, will require a triple proportion of spice and herbs. [The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, 1669]

Here is a partial list of flavoring agents (mainly herbs and spices) mentioned for meads by Digby: agrimony, angelica root, avens, baulme leaves, bay leaves, bettony, blew-button, borrage, cinnamon, clove-gilly flowers, cloves, dock, eglantine, elecampane, eringo roots, fennel, fruit juice (cherries, raspes, Morrello cherries), ginger, harts-tongue, hopps, juniper berries, limon-pill, liver-worth, mace, minth, nutmeg, orris root, parsley roots, raisins, red sage, rosemary, saxifrage, scabious, sorrel, strawberry leaves, sweet marjoram, sweet-briar leaves, thyme, violet leaves, wild marjoram, wild sage, wild thyme, and winter savory.

In my own brewing, I use mainly "sweet" spices (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg). The main herb I use is tea. Tea is an important addition to the mead. It provides tannic acid, to give the drink a bit of bite. It is particularly important for sweet meads, which can otherwise have a rather syrupy taste (like Mogen David wines). Any sort of tea will do--I've used genmai cha (a very light Japanese green tea), lapsang souchong (a smokey Chinese tea), China Rose (a black tea with rose petals), jasmine, oolong, and others. If you want to use Lipton's, that should work as well. I have not seen any period recipes that use tea in mead, but all my batches that omitted tea were not as good. I am more interested in producing good flavor that in strict authenticity, so continue to use tea.

Other ingredients I use include small amounts of orange or lemon juice, fruit, cloves, and other spices. I've used bay leaves, cloves, rosemary, anise, and galingale, in addition to the spices listed above. Be careful not to over-spice the mead! It is probably safer to use less of fewer spices, until you've had some experience.

As examples, here are the quantities for two of my mead batches:

Batch: M4
Type: Quick Mead

3 gallons water
5 lbs honey (Wild Mountain)
1/3 cup jasmine tea
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
ale yeast

Started: 1 July 1979
Yeast added: 2 July 1979
skimmed: 12 July 1979
racked: 15 July 1979
bottled: 28 July 1979

yield: 3.1 gallons
clarity: excellent
sweetness: fairly sweet
sediment: slight
carbonation: variable (some popped corks)
color: light gold
An excellent batch

Batch: M7
Type: Sack Mead

3 gallons Water
16 lbs honey
1/4 cup keemun tea
1/4 cup oolong tea
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp whole aniseseed
18 cardamum seed clusters crushed (about 1 tsp)
20 whole allspice slightly crushed (about 3/4 tsp)
about 1 inch galingale root crushed (about 2 1/4 tsp)

(Fining agent: 1 pkg unflavored gelatin in 1 cup of water)

Started: 26 Dec 1981
Wine Yeast added: 27 Dec 1981
1 rack: 10 Jan 1982 (vat -> carboy)
2 rack: 31 Jan 1982 (carboy -> carboy)
3 rack: 30 April 1982 (carboy->carboy)
gelatin added: 23 May 1982
bottled: 3 July 1982
Yield: 3.7 gallons

	sweet, smooth, potent.  A dessert wine.
	This is perhaps the best of my 20 or more batches of mead.

I use tap water for brewing, but if your tap water has off-flavors, then you might want to get a bottle of clear spring water. Recently I've switched to filtered tap water, to remove some of the rather grassy flavor that our water gets in summer.

The honey may be almost any cheap honey. Strongly flavored honeys (orange blossom, buckwheat, wild flower (in some areas)) generally work best. Clover honey works well, but very light honeys (like alfalfa) generally lack flavor. If making a true mead (without spices), the flavor of the honey is more important, and only strongly flavored honeys should be used.

The yeast is important. Baking yeast is bred for fast carbon dioxide production, and is not at all suitable for brewing. Some home cider makers may be used to just letting the sweet cider stand a few days to ferment on its own. This technique relies on the wild yeasts present in the air, on the cider press, and on the skins of the apples. It doesn't work for mead. The wild yeasts result in off-flavors, which the honey is not strong enough to mask. For strong, still meads (3 lbs honey/gallon or more) I use a white wine yeast, while for a lighter beverage I use ale yeast. A beer yeast should work as well as an ale yeast, but I find top-fermenting ale yeasts more fun to work with. WARNING: the "brewer's yeast" sold in health-food stores is dead yeast, it will not be usable for brewing.

The equipment you need is a large pot (I use a 20 quart canning pot), a 5 foot plastic tube to use as a siphon, and strong bottles. In addition, a 5 gallon water bottle with a stopper and fermentation lock is a very useful piece of equipment. Everything you use should be sterilized to prevent the growth of vinegar-forming bacteria. There are chemical sterilizing agents available from wine-making supply stores, but I prefer to sterilize everything in boling water. I'll mention sterilizing over and over. It is the single most important part of brewing mead rather than vinegar.

If making a still, wine-type mead, any sort of bottle will do for the final bottling. However, this recipe is for a fizzy "ale-type" mead, so strong bottles are essential. Champagne bottles and returnable pop bottles are usable, disposable bottles of any sort are not. I once had an apple juice bottle explode in my room, embedding shrapnel in my pillow from 9 feet away. Don't make the same mistake--use strong bottles!!

Steps to making the mead:

  1. Boil the water, adding the tea and spices.
  2. Remove water from heat and stir in honey. (Note, stirring implement should be sterilized!) Some mead brewers boil the honey in the water, skimming the scum as it forms. This removes some of the proteins from the honey, making it easier for the mead to clarify. However, I don't mind a bit of cloudiness, and prefer the taste of unboiled honey. If you are making a wine mead, you can avoid the cloudiness simply by waiting an extra month or two for the mead to clarify. If you're buying a clear honey from a supermarket, it may already have been cooked a bit to remove pollen and sugar crystals, in which case, a bit more cooking probably won't change the flavor much. Digby's recipes do call for boiling the honey.
  3. Cover the boiled water, and set it aside to cool (to blood temperature or cooler). This usually takes a long time, so I overlap it with the next step.
  4. Make a yeast starter solution by boiling a cup of water and a tablespoon of honey (or sugar). Let it cool to blood heat (or all the way to room temperature) and add the yeast. Cover it and let it ferment overnight. The yeast should form a "bloom" on the surface of the liquid. (Of course, the cooling and fermenting should be done in the pan or other sterilized vessel.)
  5. Add the yeast starter to the cooled liquid. Cover and let ferment. After a few days, it is useful to siphon the mead into another container, leaving the sediment behind. Here's where the 5 gallon bottle comes in handy. A fermentation lock provides a way to close the bottle so carbon dioxide can get out, but vinegar-forming bacteria and oxygen cannot get in. Remember to sterilize the bottle and the siphon first!
  6. Ferment for a few weeks in a warm, dry place. When a lot of sediment has collected on the bottom of the bottle, siphon off the liquid (without disturbing the sediment). This process is known as "racking," and helps produce a clear, sediment-free mead. Again, make sure all your equipment is sterilized. A wine mead may need to be racked three or four times before the final bottling.
  7. For a fizzy mead, siphon into strong (sterilized) bottles a bit before fermentation stops. With the strength given here 4 weeks is about right. The exact time depends a lot on the temperature, the yeast, the honey, ... . I use plastic champagne corks to seal the bottles (sterilized, of course!). Crown caps are also good. Real corks should only be used for still beverages, since the amount of carbonation is unpredictable. Too much carbonation and you'll pop the corks, too little, and corks are hard to remove from champagne bottles. Don't wire on the corks, unless you're willing to risk an occasional broken champagne bottle. Still meads should not be bottled until fermentation has completely stopped. I generally wait until the fermentation has stopped, and the mead has cleared. This can take more than six months for a strong wine mead.
  8. Age the mead in a cool place. Note: ferment warm, and age cool. I sometimes keep the champagne bottles upright in the cardboard box they came in. That way, if a cork pops, there is something to absorb the overflow, and if, despite my care, a bottle breaks, it won't set off a chain reaction.
  9. Drink and Enjoy! The light quick meads should be served chilled (like beer), while the wine types are better at room temperature or only slightly chilled.

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