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How to Make Traditional Mead

My own batch of mead fermenting away!

My own batch of mead fermenting away!

What is mead?

Mead is probably one of the oldest known alcoholic drinks known to man. In its simplest form, it is honey, water, and yeast. The water raises the moisture content of the honey, the honey provides sugars, and the yeast turn the sugars into alcohol. That's basically the gist of what mead is.

You probably heard about mead and vikings, from either books or popular TV shows, or maybe even a song or two. But mead has been enjoyed all over the world and vikings certainly did not invent the drink. It has been enjoyed by peasant and lord alike. Even medieval monks took it upon themselves to slam back a few and there are even accounts of medieval monks drinking quite excessive amounts of the brew.

But enough of the quick and dirty history lesson! You came here to learn how to make the stuff... So let's get to it!

Traditional Mead Ingredients

  • 3 pounds raw unpasturized honey
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2-3 grams d-47 white wine yeast
  • 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient, optional but is recommended to help the yeast ferment properly

Other items needed to make mead

  • 1 gallon glass jug (fermentation vessel)
  • 1 gallon glass jug (aging vessel)
  • Bottles (old or new crimp cap bottles, wine bottles (cork bottles), or plastic screw on lid beer brew bottles) or go with flip-top bottles and forego the need to crimp or cork or screw tops all-together ;)
  • Cap crimper or bottle corker, or just the screw on lids if you go the cheaper plastic bottle route ;)
  • Bung
  • Airlock
  • Siphon Tube (auto-siphon will save you a lot of time and headache, trust me)

Keep in mind, once you buy this stuff, it's all reusable (minus the corks and bottle caps if you use those). If you go with the plastic bottles, just keep the bottles, sanitize them after use, and just buy more screw on caps for them when you need them again for bottling.

Items I personally use for mead making

If you don't have a Costco or Sam's Club membership... This honey makes good mead!

Honey, Water, and Yeast

At it's core, mead is a very simple drink. Yet, it is palatable and has the kick of a fine wine. Now, disclaimer, I do not drink to get drunk. I drink wines, meads, and beer for their quality and enjoyment of the living, breathing items they are, especially if you make them yourself like I do. There is something to be said for the people who take the time to understand their craft and create something to enjoy and respect like our ancestors before us.

But in all its simplicity, mead is a tasty that can stand with the big boy wines if you take the time to learn a little bit.

Three simple ingredients is all it takes to make a traditional mead: Honey, Water, and Yeast.

When it comes to your honey, try not to skimp here. You want to use raw unpasturized honey. It's not to difficult to source, and the amount we need for a 1 gallon batch, you can get relatively cheap at your local grocery store or bulk store such as Costco or Sam's Club. I personally buy the raw unpasturized southeast clover honey in a 3 pound bottle from Costco for around $11. Not to bad if you ask me. Different honeys will impart their own character to the mead. Try different ones out and see what you like the best!

Next is our water. This is simple. Do not use tap water. The chemicals in tap water is harmful to your mead. Not only will it destroy the flavors of the mead, but the yeast may have a difficult time even fermenting properly. Go to your local grocery store (if you don't have your own spring water or well), and buy some good quality bottled spring water. DO NOT USE DISTILLED WATER. You can usually pick up a gallon for around $2-$3.

Next is your yeast. There are tons of options for yeast and wine making and brewing, but we are going to use D-47 white wine yeast, as it ferments well and gives a decent alcohol content, and best of all, imparts good flavors to the finished mead. You can pick this up online or at a local home brew shop for around $3+- as well. If you want to really go the hardcore traditional route, you can even just use wild airborne yeast, but be prepared for it to possibly not go as you had planned and have a really slow or all-together bad fermentation. Organic fruits such as apples and pears also carry yeast on them, and you can pitch a little cut up apple with skins into the mead must to start natural fermentation.

Last but not least and this is important, thus why it's in bold, italics, and underlined. You must make sure that EVERYTHING is sterilized properly or you can ruin a batch of mead in a quick hurry. Two options, boil everything in water inside and out, or buy a commercial sterilizing product such as No-Rinse Sterilizer (what I use currently). Make sure you sterilize everything before you start.

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Instructions for making traditional mead

  1. Sterilize ALL equipment using the OneStep No-Rinse sanitizer. Set aside on a clean surface.
  2. Heat up 1 gallon of spring water and pour 3 lbs of your honey into the pot to dissolve. Cover and let cool to room temperature.
  3. Pour the cooled must into the 1 gallon jug. (A funnel makes this easier with less mess)
  4. Pitch in your yeast. Most packets are good for 5 gallons, so read the packet, typically around 2-4 grams of yeast for 1 gallon, 4 grams being on the high side. *If using yeast nutrient, make sure to read the instructions on whatever yeast nutrient you buy, and pitch it in at this point as well*
  5. Shake up the jug a little to get the yeast submerged and suspended in the mead must.
  6. Insert the bung into the mouth of the jug. Take your airlock and fill it with a little water, put the airlock lid on, and insert it into the bung.
  7. Wait for fermentation! This typically takes 2-4 weeks to fully complete.
  8. Read on to learn what to do when fermentation is complete.

My mead has fermented! What's next?

So once your mead has finished fermenting, which you can tell in a few different ways, it's time to rack it (this is what that second jug and auto-siphon was for).

Now a note of caution, the best way to know if your mead is completely done fermenting is to use a hydrometer. If I were to explain the complete in's and out's of wine, beer, and mead making, this article would be a website unto itself. I do, however, suggest you take the time to educate yourself on the use of a hydrometer, as it could save you busted bottles from secondary fermentation and also allows you to calculate the alcohol content of your mead. They are handy little tools and aren't very expensive.

If you choose to forego the safe and proper route of making sure fermentation is complete, then another way is to look at the mead, and see if the bubbles are done forming in it. Also check the airlock, and make sure that no bubbles are coming out of the airlock. Even if the bubble interval is 10 minutes between bubbles, that means the mead isn't done fermenting. Wait another 2-3 days, check again.

Wine Racking - Let's rack your mead!

If you got the auto-siphon, good on you. This will make your life much easier. At this point, you should have some sludge stuff on the bottom of your jug. We don't want to transfer this. This is called the lees, and aging wines and meads on the lees is called sur lie by the french, which translates to "on the lees". We can bulk age sur lie, but it's a more intricate process, and if this is your first time making mead, we don't want to over complicate things just yet. The same with barrel aging. It's a whole process unto itself.

Now don't get me wrong, you don't have to bulk age the mead. You can drink it straight away. However, 3-6 months of bulk aging, up to 9-12 months, can potentially benefit the mead, however, the 3-6 month range is ideal as the acid compounds in the mead aren't ideal for aging to long and there are virtually no tannins, so mead is best consumed relatively soon after making. 3-6 months bulk aging will "round" it out just a touch.

But anyways, let's rack it. Once again, sanitize all of your equipment inside and out. If you purchased the auto-siphon, insert it into the mead jug, and put the other end in the clean/sanitized secondary jug. Have your siphon above the lees and sediment on the bottom of the mead jug, and give it a few pumps. It will start the transfer into the secondary jug. Once the transfer is complete, put your cap or airlock on the new jug full of mead, and let it bulk age if you like. Or just drink it, it's up to you.

If you are bulk aging, let it sit for said 3-6 months ideally. If you are bottling straight away, just sanitize your bottles and siphon the mead straight into the bottles. They can bottle age as well. If you are going to bottle age though, I recommend wine bottles and quality corks. The corks will let the mead breath ever so slightly, and helps it bottle age better.

You've made mead! The journey has just begun!!!

So there you have it. You have made your first batch of a traditional style mead. There are so many other types of meads, methods to make, things to try out, etc... Your journey has just begun. You can add fruits to your meads and make a melomel, or herbs and spices and make a methaglin. You can age in oak barrels like french oak. You can get fancy and make 5 gallons and bottle them in nice wine bottles with your own custom labels even, my guilty pleasure. There are lots of different mead recipes.

So thank you for reading. If you have any questions, I do my best to answer them in a timely manner. All of the items listed point to amazon for good pricing, and I have personally used them in mead making and wine making. By no means is this an exhaustive mead guide, and there is still so much out there to learn about the craft. But that's what makes this hobby fun. We get to learn, and enjoy what we create, old style!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Cliff Beaver

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