A Simple Mead Recipe


After writing about mead yesterday, I decided to make one. Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients for mead:

  • 1 gallon (12 lb) of wildflower honey
  • 5 gallons water
  • 5 tsp diammonium phosphate (aka “DAP”)
  • 5 tsp cream of tartar
  • yeast (I used Red Star’s Premier Cuvee)

Basic mead making equipment:

A fermenter, stirring spoon, 3+ gallon stockpot, and a hydrometer are needed today. A 5-gallon carboy, 1-gallon jug with drilled bunges to fit, airlocks, siphon hose, and racking cane will be needed later. This is available at any homebrew/winemaking shop.

Procedure – how to make mead:

Measuring honeyAll your equipment (fermenter, stirring spoon, stockpot) should be clean. It’s also a good idea to sanitize your equipment by immersion in boiling water or sanitizing solution. You can buy a commercial sanitizer at any homebrew shop, or make your own. Measure one gallon of honey and dissolve into 2 gallons of water. In the photo, I’m pouring honey from a 5-gallon bucket into a stockpot. The stockpot has markings at the 8 quart and 12 quart levels. I filled it with hot (just off the boil) water to the 8 quart line, then poured in honey until it reached the 12 quart line. So I’m using the stockpot as a large measuring cup. I used hot water so that I could dissolve the honey more easily.



Filling the fermenterNext, fill the fermenter. In the photo at left, I’m pouring the 3 gallons of honey-water into my fermenter. After that, I dissolved the DAP and cream of tarter in a little water and stirred it in. Finally, I added 3 gallons of cold water and gave the whole thing a good stir.


Take a sample to measure the specific gravity with your hydrometer. Make a note of this so you can compare it to the specific gravity of the fermented mead and estimate the alcohol content. Here I measured the SG as 1.080, which means the potential alcohol is about 11% by volume. A pH measurement can be useful too, but the total acidity that winemaker’s often measure is much less useful in mead.Once you’ve taken your sample, you can pitch the yeast. I made a starter the day before with about a quarter cup honey dissolved in a cup of water with a pinch of DAP and cream of tartar. This gave my yeast a head start, and I poured the starter into my fermenter after I drew my sample.

Mischievous meadmaker tasting his honeyIt’s vital to stay focused and diligent. Due care must always be taken to perform each step with rigor and precision. Never forget the seriousness of your task :)





Update 5/28/07 – clarifying the mead with bentonies

I racked the mead into a new carboy and fined with bentonite.


Update 11/8/07 – aging the mead in oak

I racked off the bentonite sediment and onto some oak chips. I also adjusted the acidity.


Update 1/27/08 – different ways to make mead

There are many different ways to make mead, and in June 2007 I briefly discussed three of my other meads as well as an apple wine. I bottled all four that day, including some of the first mead I ever made, a mead in honor of Brother Adam, and the most wine-like mead I ever made.

Wildflower Mead

Update 3/23/2009: Bottled – the mead tastes great!

This is a simple recipe that turned out great – the only hard part was waiting. It was definitely worth the wait, and I would recommend this recipe to anyone interested in, or curious about, mead.



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27 thoughts on “A Simple Mead Recipe

  1. Pingback: Washington Winemaker » Blog Archive » Mead Styles: Should mead taste like wine? or beer?

  2. Erroll Post author

    Come on Mrs. Coager, I’m not that old!

    My guess is that, back in the day, they were clever and did a remarkably good job. But they worked harder than we have to, and they had more things go wrong (like infection, oxidation, and so forth).

    Erroll

  3. Shane

    Where did you get your fermenter? What could I use as one if I could not get a hold of one? Also, are you using a lid with it during the process of fermenting?

  4. Erroll Post author

    Hi Shane,

    I use a 10-gallon Rubbermaid Brute as my primary fermenter. The gray, white, and yellow Brutes (only those colors and only Brutes – not Roughneck, not any other model) are food grade. I bought it new, at my local homebrew shop, and use it only as a fermenter. It came with a lid, which is not airtight, that I use that during fermentation to keep dust and bugs out.

    Erroll

  5. Jeremy Myers

    Erroll,
    I found your site last week and read your simple mead recipe. I thinkd it is great and I have a question I make a bunch of beer and I have the equipment to make a simple mead. So I heated up some water, stired in 10# of Clover Honey, pureed eight or so pears and let it cool. Sounds simple to me. I pitched the yeast the next day and it was slow to take off. I used Red Star wine yeast. Usually with beer I will get action the same day, even if I do not make a starter. But, I started getting action later and it is a slow going consistant bubble from my airlock. My question is… Is this normal? Did I screw up? My OG was 1.075, which seems low to me, but if it ferments down to 1, it will still be a 10% mead.

    Thanks again for any advise.

  6. Erroll Post author

    Hi Jeremy,

    The short answer is, I don’t think you screwed up. I’ll bet your mead will ferment to dryness, but it might take longer than you are used to. For what it’s worth, my meads ferment to dryness in 2 – 4 weeks.

    You can get mead to ferment quickly, but you have to work at it more that you do with beer. None of my meads have shown signs of active fermentation in 24 hours unless I made a starter. Mead also has a reputation for fermenting slowly even after it starts. Nutrient and pH are things to keep an eye on here. Honey and water just don’t have the amount of nutrient that a beer wort does, so meadmakers often add some. Honey and water are weakly buffered, compared to wine or beer, so the same amount of acid can push the pH of a mead down further than a wine or beer. Sometimes pH drops so much, in a fermenting mead, that the yeast slow down noticably or even stop.

    I’ll leave you with three quick points:

    • Adding fruit helps with both problems, and the pears you added will supply some nutrient and buffer the mead.
    • To get fermentation started quickly, make a starter.
    • To help the yeast ferment to dryness quickly, add nutrient (like DAP) and cream of tartar (to improve buffering).

    Hope this helps, and let me know how it turns out!

  7. Jeremy

    Erroll,
    Yes, you helped a lot. I wasn’t worried that the mead was bad. I just did not know if it was exactly going to be mead or some sort of cider. My girlfriend and I did the mead saturday and it is still fermenting like a slow/little beer. I will keep you informed, if you like? Is 1.075 low for a mead or is that just me?
    Thanks again,
    -Jeremy

  8. Erroll Post author

    Jeremy,

    I’d love to hear about your progress. I think most meadmakers aim for a higher specific gravity than 1.075. I often target 1.090, but Brother Adam, the famous meadmaker of Buckfast Abbey, liked to make low gravity meads. So finish this mead and see how you like it. Make another batch at a higher gravity and see if you and your girlfriend (don’t leave her out!) like that one. Then you’ll know better if you like higher or lower gravity in your mead.

    Erroll

  9. Lucas

    Hi Erroll,
    First I want to say that this is awesome. I´ve started to meke beer about a year ago and I have had a lot of good luck and fun. I would now love to start making mead but I have a problem. I moved from the US to Latin America and I can´t seem to find a beer or wine making store anywhere and I don´t know what diammonium phosphate is in Spanish. Anyways my questions are: Are there any substitutes that I can use that I may find at a regular grocery store? And, as far as the yeast I have found a beer yeast in a natural food store. Would that be suficient in making mead? Thanks alot.

    Lucas

  10. Erroll Post author

    Hi Lucas,

    It sounds like you’re leading an exciting life!

    Beer yeast will work in making mead, though it might impart beer-like flavor to the mead.

    The diammonium phosphate is a nutrient, and I’m not sure what you could find in a grocery store that would be a good substitute. Sometimes yeast hulls are used as a nutrient. These are dead yeast cells that have been processed to make the nutrients they contain available to live yeast. Maybe you can get that in a health food store. Another thought: if you’re using beer yeast, why not use a little malt extract? The malt is a good source of nutrient, but it may make your mead a little more beer like. I’ve never done this, so I’m not really sure how much you should use.

    If I were making a 20 liter (5 gallon) batch of mead and I had to use malt extract for the nutrients, I would try 1 liter (quart) of malt extract, 3 liters (quarts) honey, and 16 liters (4 gallons) water. Double check the SG once you mix all of this up.

    Hope this helps,
    Erroll

  11. Jeremy

    Erroll,
    I moved my simple mead into the secondary today. It was in the primary for about 6 weeks. I got some advise from a friend to leave in the primary that amount of time. Now, it is very dry and I am not sure if it will get any better. The O.G. was 1.075, it is now at 0.992, if my calculations are correct, it’s about 11.25%, but really dry. Is there anything I can do to sweeten it up a little or should I wait to see what else happens? I don’t think it is terrible, just not on the track I wanted to be headed. You thoughts?
    -Jeremy

  12. Erroll Post author

    Hi Jeremy,

    Now, it is very dry and I am not sure if it will get any better

    When you say it like that, it sounds like dryness is a defect – not so! Personally, I like dry mead very much, but you can easily sweeten your mead if you like. It’s best to wait until the mead is clear, then stabilize and sweeten with honey or sugar syrup. Follow these steps:

    • Fine with bentonite.
    • Dissolve sorbate, according to the manufacturer’s directions, in a little bit of water and place it in a new carboy with one campden tablet per gallon (or equivilent of sulfite) and the desired amount of honey or sugar syrup. Rack the clear mead into this carboy.
    • Take a specific gravity (SG) reading and monitor the airlock over the next month, then take another SG reading. If there is no airlock activity and the SG readings are the same, you can go ahead and bottle. If not, you may have renewed fermentation and you should monitor it for another month (this would be a good time to rack if you have more sediment).
    • If you do have renewed fermentation, you should let it run it’s course. When it has (stable SG, no airlock activity), then you can either bottle or try to stabilize and sweeten again.

    It looks like you’re aiming for a quick sweet mead, and I think this procedure will get you there. I really liked aged dry meads. If you’ve never made one, I urge you to try it sometime – you might be pleasantly surprised. Anyway, I hope this helps and that you let me know how it turns out.

    Erroll

  13. Rich

    Hi Erroll,
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge of winemaking as well as describing your learning experiences.
    At the beginning of this month I started my second batch of mead. I used the yeast (ICV-D47) left behind in the fermenter after racking batch #1. The fermentation in batch 2 began vigorously. The SG dropped from 1.105 to 1.028 in three weeks. Today, I racked batch #2 and plan to begin batch #3 tomorrow, again using the left-over yeast. Is there any reason not to continue using the same culture indefinitely?
    Rich

  14. Erroll Post author

    Hello Rich,

    I often reuse yeast just as you are doing. The biggest risk is infection, but adding sulfited must onto the lees immediately after racking is a good way to minimize that risk. So keep at it, but be quick, pay attention to cleanliness and sanitation, and be alert for off tastes or smells.

    Erroll

  15. CuAllaidh

    I thought I’d comment on Mrs. Coager question about how they made mead back in the day, a great source for that info is in The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened published in the 17th century. One recipe called “Weak Honey Drink” would be something that you could whip up by the fire while camping with no more tools than a pot spoon and a towel, and thus is likely very like the mead that would have been made since prehistory. I plan on making this myself this summer at least once.

    And one must remember humanity has been making mead back to before recorded history, as such it was an ancient artform by the birth of the roman empire. Methods for ensuring sterility and making a well balanced beverage, while not as scientific, were well known even in the days of Aristotle.

  16. Erroll Post author

    You and Mrs. Coager are romantics! There’s something appealing about connecting with the past, and if that’s what you want to do then an old recipe made with old methods might do the trick. I think you’re risking infection or other faults (if bad luck should strike, mulling spices might save the day).

    Personally, I’d rather make good mead consistently with modern methods, then curl up with A Game of Thrones or another good book. Have you read the Song of Ice and Fire books? The author has been taking his time with the latest installment, but it’s world class fantasy that’s perfect with a glass (or mug or tankard or …) of mead.

    Erroll

  17. CuAllaidh

    Thought I’d come back and update you on a little experiment I ran in the summer. At a camping event for the Society for Creative Anachronisms. I made a slightly modified version of Sir Kenelm Digby’s Weak Honey Drink. Its a mead that takes only three days from start to finish and can be made even while camping. yes there is certainly the risk of infection, but luckily it didn’t happen with my batch. We had a stock pot full of the slightly carbonated mead, an excellent and only very slightly alcoholic beverage.

  18. Erroll Post author

    Hi CuAllaidh,

    My approach keeps me to modern techniques, but I can see how making a mead during a camping trip would be exciting.

    Erroll

  19. Pingback: Nice “wine Recipes” photos | Wiki Winemaking

  20. Pingback: Mead Lover’s Digest Shutting Down? | Washington Winemaker

  21. Juanita

    I brought Mead in Europe last month. Regret to say that was my first exposure to it. When I tasted it in the store I really liked it, now not as much. I think I remember the lady in the store saying that it could be mixed with something when drinking. What could that be?

  22. Ted Major

    Just stumbled across your site and thought I’d add a little historical perspective. The Reynolds Historical Library at the University of Alabama at Birmingham has a manuscript written around the middle of the 14th C. (probably somewhere around Norfolk or Suffolk) with what is as far as I know the oldest extant mead recipe in English. The basic proportions are just what you use here: 1 gallon of honey and 4 gallons of water. The recipe calls for boiling the must and then when it is cool pouring onto the lees from a batch of ale. Since they wouldn’t have had yeast nutrients, pitching onto the lees provides a large population of yeast who have been happily fed on malt. The recipe calls for a very short fermentation which results in a very sweet relatively low alcohol mead, but it is also good fermented to completion and bottled.

  23. Cameron

    Errol,

    I’ve made 2 batches of mead so far, but I didn’t have any of the stuff you do. I’d like to try to make better quality mead, so I’m wondering about how much the equipment costs.

    Here’s a list of what I’ve been using:

    4 – 1/2 gallon apple juice bottles.
    1 – 2 gallon stock pot
    4 – ballons
    1 – 2 sq foot section of cheesecloth

    I’ll normally brew (I think that’s the right word) it a gallon at a time. I don’t wash the remaining juice out of the bottles so the yeast has some nutrients. So far, people like what I’m making.

    I’ve been told that if what you’re doing is working, don’t change it. I’d still like to try for a better product, though…

  24. Erroll Post author

    I’ve made 2 batches of mead so far, but I didn’t have any of the stuff you do. I’d like to try to make better quality mead, so I’m wondering about how much the equipment costs.

    Hi Cameron,

    I think you’re doing it in the right order: learn and make small batches before spending a lot of money. Here are a few thoughts:

    • You could replace the balloons with airlocks and bungs pretty cheaply.
    • Do you have a hydrometer? They don’t cost a lot and you can use them to monitor your fermentation.
    • Sanitation is really important – keep everything clean

    On that last point, a warning bell went off in my head when you said, “I don’t wash the remaining juice out of the bottles so the yeast has some nutrients.” Opening a new bottle of juice, immediately pouring out it’s contents (to drink, make wine, or something else), then using it right away to make mead is fine. Opening a bottle of juice, drinking it over a few days or weeks, then using it to make mead without cleaning and sanitizing is asking for trouble.

    All in all, I think you’re on the right track – keep up the good work!
    Erroll

  25. Justin

    so Just came across this feed and thought I would ask a question. Im working on a apple wine started it tonight. I juiced 33 lbs of apples and got 2 imperial gallons of juice then topped up to 6 imperial gallons of water and put my pulp in a mesh sack and let it sit in the mixed juice with a starting SG of 1.090 did i water it down to much and will i even taste the apple when its done fermenting on the pulp bag and juice/water mixture? I will be pitching my yeast tomorrow around noon my time I want the pectic enzyme to have some time to work on breaking down the pulp more. any answers would be greatly appreciated as I messed up my first batch it was basically alcoholic water lol from diluting it to much during racking and several other mistakes I made as this is only my second attempt. I like to go big or go home so my carboy for secondary fermentation is 23L or 5 Imp. Gallons

  26. Erroll Post author

    > did i water it down to much

    Justin, I think that is too watered down. I make apple wine with as little water as possible – enough to dissolve the sugar, more if I need to bring down the acidity. Many people make good apple wine with as little as 6 lb apples per US gallon, but by my calculation you’ve got about 4.5 lb per US gallon (33 lb to 7.2 US gallons).

    Starting from juice, I would measure the acidity and specific gravity, then use the Wine Recipe Wizard to find sugar, water, and acid additions.

    For example, If you had 9 liters (2 imperial gallons) of SG=1.040 juice with acidity=6 g/L and you wanted an SG of 1.090 and acidity of 5 g/L, then you would add 2 liters of sugar syrup and 1.2 g acid.

    Erroll

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