A Hoist To Mead Making

Honey

Honey is fermented with water to make mead.

I never knew how hard it is to find mead! For the fact that it is pretty much the first fermented drink and has been around for thousands of years, it is almost no where to be found! I had it for the first time at the local Renaissance Fest. Not terrible considering I don’t usually like wine, which is what it reminded me of …sort of. It went down like a mix of champagne and wine because the type I had been dry like a wine, and carbonated like champagne.

I did also notice that there was some honey overtones to it but the aroma was definitely reminiscent of a wine aroma. I was wondering if there is a way to retain that great honey aroma also. In beer brewing it is known the less you boil an ingredient, the more aromatic qualities are retained. This fact goes with late hopping the boil for extra hop flavor, dry hopping (especially in the cold keg), and when boiling spices and herbs. So why not apply this to mead? I have only brewed beer and have never ventured into the wine territory, let alone mead. I never really had the interest but i figured it couldn’t be that hard. So I researched it and was amazed how there was no standard to how people make mead. I love all traditional brewing, and the no-boil method is apparently the way that the vikings among others used to make the mead. Very easy to do and it won’t even take that long.

So the recipe was very simple and the process is even simpler. If you can brew an extract batch of beer, you can definitely make mead this way using the no boil method. I chose the no-boil method for exactly the reason stated above, to keep the nuances and subtleties of the nice clover honey we were going to use. We got approximately 4.5 gallons of  filtered water and filled up a stainless pot. We did heat the pot up to about 110 F degrees, just to make it easier to mix in the honey. We the added 14 1/2 LBs of clover honey and about 3 TBS of yeast nutrient. We then cooled down the must, (must is a winemaking term for the grape/water mixture that is to be fermented, in this case its the honey /water mixture), to 75 degrees and poured it into the fermenter. I did my best to sanitize everything that touched the solution including the fermenter, funnel, wort chiller, and I even tried to sanitize the stirring spoons when I could remember. We then added the oxygen through a diffusing stone for 60 seconds to give the yeast a good head start and it was fermenting within 8 hrs of pitching the yeast. Not too bad for a first timer.

  • About the yeast:

I decided to use a WLP sweet mead/wine yeast. The reason I picked this strain of yeast is because I did want the mead to be too dry and this strain has a 15% ABV tolerance,(low for some wine yeasts). It also has approximately 75% or so attenuation, meaning that it wont chew the honey down to nothing and will leave some residual sugars and in turn retain some “body” to the drink. Exactly what I was looking for. I made a 2 step yeast starter using honey, water and nutrient only. I let the first one ferment out until there looked like there was no more activity and the night before the “brew”, I added some more honey/water the yeast slurry again. When it was time to add the yeast the next day, the yeast was extremely active. This leads m to another point.

  • No-boil sanitation

Honey itself has a very low PH naturally. I am guessing this is why its shelf life is so long even without refrigeration. I know that yeast prefer an acidic environment and that will help me tremendously with keeping the unwanted “bugs” out of the fermenter. The PH of the solution was pretty low, 4.5 if I remember correctly. I also know that if I give my intended yeast a huge advantage, that they will take over before the unwanted bacteria and wild yeast can. I can do this  by:

A) Making a starter – which will give me a higher yeast count. Not to mention its activates the yeast.

B) Adding bottled oxygen directly to the solution via a diffusing stone – This will allow the yeast to ramp up for fermentation. This is a big factor in yeast health as the original gravity is around 1.095. I believe without the addition of oxygen, the yeast could stop fermenting early.

With these facts working in favor, I figured there would less issues with sanitation. Even if a stray “bug” got into the batch it wouldn’t survive due to high alcohol or the low PH would kill it.

  • Yeast Nutrient:

I have read that mead differs than beer in the fact that there are almost no nutrients in honey that supports fermentation. Malt wort has magnesium, nitrogen, amino acids all used by the yeast as nutrients to ferment. The nutrients in mead must be added manually.

All in all its was a great success. This will be my first venture out of the beer world and delving into wine territory. All that’s left is letting it mellow a few months in secondary then bottling time!

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