Category Archives: Mead

It can be as simple as mixing honey and water then adding yeast. It’s sometimes called honey wine, and you can use a lot of your winemaking knowledge. But once you start, you’ll notice a whole world of possibilities.

Honey Prices Rise In 2010′s First Half

It got a little more expensive to make mead this year as honey prices rose about 5.5%. All the prices I track were higher in the first half of 2010, with Dutch Gold Clover posting the smallest increase (2.8%) and Costco Clover surging the most (9.3%). Maple syrup and sugar are both down a little (though I only have one source for them right now), and malt extract has been flat.

In the table below, I show the honey prices I track and how they changed from the beginning to the middle of the year.

Source and Type January ($/lb) July ($/lb) % Change
Costco Clover 1.83 2.00 +9.3%
Miller’s Honey Clover 1.73 1.87 +8.1%
Miller’s Honey Wildflower 1.43 1.50 +4.9%
Miller’s Honey Organic 1.83 1.90 +3.8%
Dutch Gold Clover 1.80 1.85 +2.8%
Dutch Gold Wildflower 1.71 1.81 +5.8%
Dutch Gold Organic 1.80 1.87 +3.9%

Where can you get the best deal on honey?

The packers offer slightly better prices on clover honey than Costco, but to get those prices you have to buy in 60 lb buckets and pay shipping. Costco lets you buy in smaller 6 lb jugs and avoid shipping charges by visiting their retail locations. The best price around is still Miller’s wildflower – a high quality honey at a great price. It’s also available as a pair of 3 lb jugs from Amazon, but at $3.42/lb this is a much more expensive option. It’s eligible for free shipping though, so if you don’t have access to an affordable local source like Costco, you don’t want to buy in 60 lb lots, and/or shipping for those heavy buckets would eat up any savings, then it might make sense for you.

Honey Prices: Unexpectedly Flat In 2009

Honey prices advanced in 2008, and last January it looked like we were in for more of the same in 2009. But it turns out that honey in December sold for about what it did in January. I now have my first full year of data on malt extract, and here the story is the same. With the exception of The Cellar’s liquid malt extract, which rose early, dry and liquid malt extract prices were unchanged last year. I started tracking malt extract, and other sweeteners, because they might be of interest to our home brewing friends and to provide some context. One hitch in my plan is that I moved during the year, and I no longer have convenient access to a Sam’s Club. Starting with 2010, I’ll be tracking Wal Mart’s prices instead. This means that for table sugar and maple syrup, I only have full year data from Costco. It looks like maple syrup dropped and table sugar rose, at the end of 2009, but with only one source I’m not sure we can make too much of that.

In the table below, I’ve included honey prices from March 2008, just before the surge, as well as January and December of 2009.

Source and Type Price March 2008 ($/lb) Price January 2009 ($/lb) Price December 2009 ($/lb) Change From March Change From January
Costco Clover 1.47 1.83 1.83 +24.5% 0%
Miller’s Honey Clover 1.55 1.73 1.73 +11.6% 0%
Miller’s Honey Wildflower 1.15 1.43 1.43 +24.3% 0%
Miller’s Honey Organic n/a 1.83 1.83 n/a 0%
Dutch Gold Clover 1.30 1.80 1.80 +38.5% 0%
Dutch Gold Wildflower 1.26 1.71 1.71 +35.7% 0%
Dutch Gold Organic n/a 1.80 1.80 n/a 0%

Where can you get the best deal on honey?

The packers offer slightly better prices on clover honey than Costco, but to get those prices you have to buy in 60 lb buckets and pay shipping. Costco lets you buy in smaller 6 lb jugs and avoid shipping charges by visiting their retail locations. The best price around is still Miller’s wildflower – a high quality honey at a great price. It’s also available as a pair of 3 lb jugs from Amazon, but at $3.71/lb this is a much more expensive option. It’s eligible for free shipping though, so if you don’t have access to an affordable local source like Costco, you don’t want to buy in 60 lb lots, and/or shipping for those heavy buckets would eat up any savings, then it might make sense for you.

Outlook for honey prices

In October, Kim Flottum forecast rising honey prices this winter:

So … in the short run, the price of honey this winter is probably going to go up some. Maybe a lot. And you may not be able to find local honey later this winter.

With a good idea of US honey production, the worst year ever, and reports that many other exporters are seeing poor crops, he expects a supply squeeze to boost prices. No sign of that, in the prices I track, as of January but it’s something to keep an eye on. Something else to keep an eye on is his assessment that Colony Collapse Disorder hit hard last year and reduced US producing colonies by over 13%. We haven’t seen much evidence that CCD has reduced the US colony count yet – did that change in 2009? The USDA will release their figures in February, and I’ll have more to say then.

For those who don’t know, Mr Flottum wrote the book on backyard beekeeping and edits Bee Culture Magazine. When he talks about beekeeping, the rest of us should listen.

Malt extract prices

Not much has happened in my first full year of tracking malt extract. You can still by liquid malt extract in bulk for $2.01/lb to $2.99/lb while bulk dry extract will set you back $2.52/lb to $4.66/lb. There isn’t anything special about the sources I track, except that I’ve bought from all of them: The Cellar Homebrew, Mountain Homebrew, The Grape and Granary, and Moor Beer.

Update 3/3/2010 – Honey Prices on the rise?

I noticed Costco charging more for honey on my most recent trip, $2.00/lb up about 9% since January. Maple syrup rose 6% and table sugar was unchanged. I didn’t get a chance to check Walmart. A quick check online showed no change at the packers, and malt extract prices remained flat.

A Simple Mead Recipe: Bottled!

Wildflower MeadIt’s been nearly two years since I started this batch. I added acid and oak chips to my simple mead recipe in making this still, dry, lightly oaked mead.

It fermented out to a specific gravity (SG) of 0.996, and I didn’t sweeten. Since the original gravity was about 1.082, I’m calling it 11% alcohol by volume. The pH was 3.0, and titratable acidity (TA) was 4 g/L, as tartaric. I should mention two things about the TA. First, I’m getting some inconsistent results using my new apparatus that determines TA by measuring the amount of CO2 given off by a base neutralizing an acid. I’ll have more to say about this in another post. The other thing is that TA measurements of mead are tricky, and are best thought of as upper limits rather than precise values.

So how does it taste? That Lady of the House and I really enjoyed it. Oak is discernible and pleasant, but it plays a supporting role not the lead. Aroma is muted, and I think that’s a characteristic of the honey. I don’t have any on hand for a direct comparison, but I remember meads from heather and clover honey having stronger aromas.

Would boiling have improved this mead?

That gives me an idea. If wildflower from Miller’s Honey has a weak aroma, then it may be a candidate for boiling. This is just one batch, and each year’s wildflower honey probably differs from those of previous years, so I’m not ready to make such a blanket statement. It’s something to keep in mind, though.

I experimented with boiling and found that it weakens a mead’s aroma, but may give it more body and a smoother taste. Is it worth it? That depends on a lot of things, including personal taste, but if the aroma is going to be unremarkable anyway, this might be a good trade off.

About the Label

For me, making a label starts with nice artwork. Sometimes I use my own photos, but more often I use the work of another artist. Gary Cooper (no, not that Gary Cooper) was kind enough to allow me the use of his photo for this label. Gary’s collections of classic Hollywood photos is terrific, and my only problem was deciding which one I wanted to use – thanks Gary!

There’s only room for so much text, so I try to be informative and to the point. I include a name, “bin number” (there must have been one of those Aussie wines in the house when I started that) that identifies the batch, starting and bottling dates, and relevant measurements.

And now, the easy part

The most relevant measure is, of course, how it tastes and I’ll be doing a lot of research on that in the months (and years?) to come – cheers!

Honey Prices: Still rising in 2009

The surge in honey prices, that began in mid 2008, continues. Most prices that I track rose from lofty October levels. Dutch Gold wildflower fell, but only by 2.3% and that was after a 38.9% increase in October. I made a point of sampling prices in January, to compare them with the USDA’s “all honey” price – a year end price that they haven’t published yet. I’ve also started tracking the price of table sugar, maple syrup, and malt extract. If you make mead, you’ll be interested in the price of honey, of course, but this might be interesting to our homebrewing friends and should provide some context as 2009 unfolds. I’ve included honey prices from March 2008, when prices were stable, October 2008, and current prices in the table below.

Source and Type Price March 08 ($/lb) Price October 08 ($/lb) Recent Price Change From October Change From March
Costco Clover 1.47 1.57 1.83 +16.6% +24.5%
Sam’s Club Clover 1.53 1.86 2.05 +10.2% +34.0%
Miller’s Honey Clover 1.55 1.65 1.73 +4.8% +11.6%
Miller’s Honey Wildflower 1.15 1.35 1.43 +5.9% +24.3%
Miller’s Honey Organic n/a n/a 1.83 n/a n/a
Dutch Gold Clover 1.30 1.71 1.80 +5.3% +38.5%
Dutch Gold Wildflower 1.26 1.75 1.71 -2.3% +35.7%
Dutch Gold Organic n/a n/a 1.80 n/a n/a

Miller’s wildflower stands out

The packers offer slightly better prices on clover honey than Costco, but to get those prices you have to buy in 60 lb buckets and pay shipping. Costco and Sam’s Club let you buy in smaller 6 lb or 5 lb jugs and avoid shipping charges by visiting their retail locations. The standout bargain is still Miller’s wildflower – a high quality honey at a great price. Miller’s and Dutch Gold sell organic honey – a wildflower honey that meets USDA requirements for an organic label, and I’ve begun tracking those prices.

Maple Syrup

I started tracking the price of maple syrup at Costco ($16.99/quart) and Sam’s Club ($19.88/quart). It’s a sugar syrup, like honey, but is sold by volume rather than by weight. Typical conversions for maple syrup are: 1 Gallon (US) = 11.2 lb. 1 cup = 240 ml = 319 g of 67 Brix syrup with a density of 1.33 g/ml. That works out to $6.07/lb and $7.10/lb at Costco and Sam’s.

Malt extract and table sugar?

For our homebrewing friends, and to provide some context, I’ve started tracking the price of bulk malt extract at four suppliers that I’m familiar with. The Cellar, Mountain Homebrew, More Beer, and The Grape and Granary all offer malt extract in bulk. Prices range from $2.01/lb to $2.99/lb for liquid extract and $2.52/lb to $4.66/lb for dry extract.

Update 1/25/2010 – Honey prices level off

Honey prices were flat for the rest of 2009. There wasn’t much movement in malt extract either.

Boiling Mead Experiment: The recipe

This is for Medsen Fey, and anyone else, who wanted to know the recipe I used in my boiling mead experiment. I want to describe what I did and why. If you think I’ve left anything out, please ask! Good feedback here can improve future experiments – and not just mine. I’d really like to see others run similar trials.


2 kg (4.4 lb) heather honey from Apicoltura Dr. Precia
1.25 gallon (4.7 liters) water
0.5 tsp Yeast Nutrient
1.5 tsp tartaric acid in two additions post fermentation
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
Premier Cuvee yeast

Boiled Mead Procedure

Bring water to a boil, take it off heat, dissolve honey, boil 10 minutes, then cool in a water bath. Pour it into the fermenter.

Dissolve nutrient and cream of tartar in a small amount of water, then add to the fermenter.

Hydrate yeast in 1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water for five minutes, then add 1/4 cup must. When the starter is active, add 1/2 cup more must. When this 1 cup starter is active, pitch it into the fermenter.

No-boil Mead Procedure

Heat water to 180F (82C), take it off heat and dissolve honey, then cool in a water bath. Pour it into the fermenter.

Dissolve nutrient and cream of tartar in a small amount of water, then add to the fermenter.

Add 1/2 cup fermenting must from boiled mead to the fermenter.


I made the boiled mead one day earlier than, and pitched 1/2 cup of it into, the no-boil mead. I think I must have done this just so I wouldn’t be doing all the work on a single day. It would have been better to make up one double-sized batch, split it into two, boil and cool one, add the nutrient & cream of tarter to each one at the same time, then pitch the yeast into each one from the same starter.

I started this experiment on 2/26/2006, and I didn’t have a pH meter or acid test kit then. I checked the pH with pH paper and recorded a value of 4.2 for each one. It’s very difficult to get good results with pH paper, so take these values with a grain of salt (and a large margin of error). If you can afford (both the monetary cost and the trouble of maintaining) it, then buy a pH meter. You won’t regret it. If you must use pH papers, then use them properly.

Honey and mead are weakly buffered. That is, a small addition of acid will result in a large change in pH. If pH falls too far, it can inhibit the yeast and result in a stuck fermentation. I add cream of tartar to most of my plain meads because Roger Morse recommended it as a way of improving a mead’s buffering capacity. I honestly don’t know how well this works, but none of my meads have had a “pH crash” the way my Oregano Wine did.

I made these meads dry for several reasons. First of all, I like dry meads and I wanted to see how boiling would affect the meads I drink. It wasn’t entirely selfish, though. Sweetness can cover up faults, and if boiling did introduce off flavors (that was one of the claims I was testing) I didn’t want them to slip by unnoticed. Finally, sweetening is an extra step, and that makes it one more opportunity to make a mistake. Fewer steps, fewer mistakes, more reliable experiments – I’ll drink to that!

I didn’t add sulfite initially, but I did at the first racking and every other racking after that. This is a lot like my normal routine of sulfiting to about 50 ppm prior to pitching the yeast, then again at the second racking and every other racking after that. The purpose of an initial sulfite treatment is to suppress any micro critters that might be in the must. This gives the yeast that you add a leg up on them and allows it to take over quickly. Honey is antiseptic enough that this kind of initial treatment is unnecessary, so I usually skip it in my meads.

Adjusting the acidity of mead is tricky, and in this experiment I did it mainly by taste. Someone else might have added more or less acid than I did, and that would have affected the taste. Would that have changed the outcome? I don’t know for sure. I kept that possibility in mind, tasted both, and added equal amounts of acid to both batches.

Here is a summery log of the entire experiment:

Date Description
2/26/2006 Boiled: Pitched yeast, SG = 1.105 (1.098 @ 105F)
2/27/2006 No-boil: Pitched yeast, SG = 1.097 (1.094 @ 86F)
3/30/2006 Boiled: SG = 1.000, no-boil: SG = 1.000
4/1/2006 Racked both w/sulfite
5/23/2006 Racked both w/out sulfite
11/14/2006 Racked both w/sulfite, added 1 tsp tartaric acid
2/6/2008 Boiled: SG = 1.000, no-boil: SG = 1.000
2/9/2008 Bottled both w/sulfite, added 0.5 tsp tartaric acid
10/17/2008 Double blind tasting

As you can see, I got a little impatient. This was supposed to be a three year experiment, and that would have put the tasting somewhere in February 2009. I couldn’t wait quite that long, so I moved it up four months to October 2008. At times it seemed like the longest three years of my life – I couldn’t wait to pop corks and start tasting. Now that its over, it seems like those thirty months just flew by. I was surprised, I learned something, and it was definitely worth it!

Making Mead: Testing the controversy over boiling

Six of us gathered for a great evening that began with a tasting. Not just any tasting, it concluded a three year experiment that tested the effect of boiling on making mead. Two meads went head to head that night. I made one with a ten minute boil, and the other was as identical as I could make it without boiling.

I was careful to arrange it so that none of us, not even me or the Lady of the House, knew which one we were tasting at the time. I decanted the meads into identical containers, labeling the boiled mead “Whidbey” and the no boil mead “Mercer.” I was alone when I did this, then I left the room and the Lady of the House removed the labels and color coded them (orange for Whidbey and blue for Mercer). Neither of us knew what the other had done, but we could compare notes afterward to find out which mead was blue and which was orange. Everyone got color coded index cards to write down our impressions of each mead.

The most detailed of the lot summed it up this way:

#1 [the no-boil mead] has a very light body, a nice rich bouquet, a strong dry beginning, and a very light finish. #2 [the boiled mead] has good body, a light feathery aroma, a slightly fruity beginning with a strong flowery finish.

In addition to reading the comments, we also talked about the meads after the tasting was over. So what did we find?

Boiling does weaken the aroma

We confirmed the common wisdom that boiling weakens the aroma. All of us agreed that the no-boil mead had a stronger aroma. There wasn’t anything unpleasant in the aroma of the boiled mead, it was just less pronounced. One of us even preferred it. We described the boiled mead’s aroma as “feathery” and “subtle” compared to “rich” and “brandy-like” for the no-boil mead.

But might improve the body and flavor

Four of us (all the women) preferred the the boiled mead, overall, because of its better flavor. The word “smooth” came up five times and each time it was to describe the boiled mead. Two of us explicitly talked about the body, and both described the boiled mead as more full bodied than the no-boil mead.

I specifically asked about the aroma and overall preference, so all six of us commented on that. But some talked about the body and how “smooth” the mead tasted. I’ve compiled the comments on those four categories into a table.

Category Boil No-Boil # Responses
Stronger Aroma 0 6 6
Best Overall 4 2 6
Smoother 5 0 5
More Body 2 0 2

Surprised? I was!

I went into this with preconceptions, that’s why it’s so important that the tasting be double-blind. I didn’t expect much difference between the two, but boiling clearly makes a noticeable difference. The other surprise is that there might be some benefit to boiling. Most people, who have an opinion on the subject, seem to think that boiling can only harm the mead – specifically by weakening the aroma. And so it does, but as with many things in real life there’s a trade off. Giving up some intensity in the aroma can get you a mead that is fuller bodied and smoother – four out of six of us thought it was worth the trade off for this particular mead.

Making better mead with what we’ve learned

It might make sense to be dogmatic about some things, but boiling isn’t one of them. I think I understand better how it affects mead, and I can use that knowledge when I make one. How might this affect my future batches? I’ll probably want to boil meads made with strong-tasting honey (the one we tested was made from heather honey, it has a strong flavor and makes a great mead) because I think they’ll benefit most from the smoother more rounded flavor that results. It also makes me wonder how this experiment would have turned out if I had used a milder honey. Anyone want to give it a try?

Honey Prices: A bull market in this liquid asset

If you make a lot of mead, you buy a lot of honey. I like to buy in bulk and keep an eye on prices – there’s been a lot to keep an eye on in the seven months since my last price report. The stable prices in March have given way to much more expensive honey in October. Price increases ranged from 6.5%, on Miller’s clover, to 38.9% on Dutch Gold wildflower. Have a look at the table below for the details on how various honey prices have changed.

Source and Type Price March 2008 ($/lb) Recent Price % Change
Costco Clover 1.47 1.57 +6.8
Sam’s Club Clover 1.53 1.86 +21.6
Miller’s Honey Clover 1.55 1.65 +6.5
Miller’s Honey Wildflower 1.15 1.35 +17.4
Dutch Gold Clover 1.30 1.71 +31.5
Dutch Gold Wildflower 1.26 1.75 +38.9

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Clover honey at Costco is still a better deal than at Sam’s or at the packers. Its not just cheaper than the others, but it comes in smaller 6 lb jugs plus you can avoid shipping charges by picking it up locally. The lowest unit price is still Miller’s wildflower – a high quality honey at a great price.

What about other varietals?

I keep track of the prices I do because they’re widely available in the United States. Almost every honey vendor sells clover honey, and wildflower is almost always the cheapest honey a vendor offers. Keeping track of these prices lets me compare like with like and is the best way to spot trends.

Improved price information

I haven’t made much headway in tracking honey prices overseas. I just don’t have enough local knowledge to pick benchmarks (I think acacia honey might be the one to follow in Europe, but I’m not sure) or suitable vendors (Tesco in the UK?). I do plan on recording prices as of Jan 1, 2009 to better compare with the USDA’s “all honey” price, and I’m thinking of adding other sweeteners like malt extract, sugar, and maple syrup.

Apple Mead

I’ll often make a fruit mead the way you would make a second wine. I made a cherry mead like that last year, for example, and I’ll make an apple mead the same way. I saved the pulp from apples I juiced to make wine, put it in a ziplock bag, and froze it. That’s what I’ll use to make this mead.


Apple pulp
1 liter (about a quart) honey
4 liters (about a gallon) water
0.25 tsp tannin
1 tsp diammonium phosphate (DAP, a yeast nutrient)
2 tsp pectic enzyme
yeast from fermenting apple wine


Mixing one part honey to four parts water will, depending on measurement accuracy and water content of the honey, yield a 1.085 specific gravity must. In goes the tannin, DAP, and sulfite (all dissolved in a little water first). Then, straight from the freezer, add the pulp and let it defrost overnight. By morning the pulp had thawed out, and I added the pectic enzyme. I stirred it all up and it had the consistency of runny apple sauce. I added the yeast, in the form of fermenting apple wine, in the evening.

No specific gravity reading?

The pulp will contribute to the sugar and acidity of the must, but that sugar and acid is bound up in the solids. That makes it very difficult to measure, so I’m making up a honey-water mixture that would ferment to 11-12% alcohol by itself. The sugar in the pulp will increase that by a small amount, and I’ll just call it a 12+% alcohol level.

No titratable acidity reading either

Once the mead has fermented out, all the acid contributed by the pulp will be in the mead. That’s when I’ll take my measurement. I’ll have the same problem measuring the acidity here as I would in any mead, but I’ll take that into account as best I can and make the adjustment then.

In the meantime, I get to watch my little yeasties turn some applesauce-like goo into apple mead!

Update 10/5/08 – I strained out the pulp using the same three-bucket press that I used on my cherry mead. I didn’t use the third bucket, the one filled with water that does the actual pressing, here because there isn’t enough pulp for the pressing action to be effective. Instead, I used the bottom half of the press like a giant cheesecloth-lined colander with a catch bucket. I now have a little over 1.25 gallons of fermenting mead under an airlock.

Lord Rhys Chocolate Mead Recipe

I mentioned this one yesterday, when I was commenting on existing wine and mead recipes that used chocolate. Here it is in its entirety:

Chocolate Mead aka Liquid Sex Mead
Lord Rhys, Capten gen y Arian Lloer, Barony of Andelcrag, Midrealm

This recipe may be quoted, borrowed, copied, or stolen by anyone under three conditions.
1. As the originator of this recipe please offer me credit as such.
2. No money may change hands specifically for this recipe. Give it freely to any who ask in the spirit in which I give it to you.
3. It may be put into any SCA newsletter, SCA publication, or website, paid subscription or public domain only after due notification to the originator.


The originator of the recipe is not responsible for hordes of chocolate-crazed women attacking your encampment in search of chocolate mead, or Foreign Royalty sending knights to drag you into their court at Pennsic to demand bottles and recipes. All local women must now see my lady, Angelline la Petita, for a sample if you can talk her out of it. I am not allowed to carry around an open bottle anymore.

Basic Procedure

The basics of mead brewing should be mastered before performing any advanced projects. This recipe assumes a standard 5 gallon batch of mead using a 4 parts water to 1 part honey mixture (Must). - editor’s note: take a look at my Simple Mead Recipe for an introduction to mead making basics.

If you prefer your mead boiled, do so before adding any cocoa from this recipe as the foaming will remove the chocolate from the mix. Boiling is optional in mead and if you would like the pro’s and con’s, please ask. I personally boil nothing in mead making.

To your standard must, before adding the yeast, add 16 oz of Cocoa Powder (Nestles works great). Mix well before adding yeast. You will notice a lag in the start of the yeast; however this is common and due to the oils in cocoa. It will start bubbling madly in a few days, but never as much as normal mead.

Finishing and Aging


Cocoa contains a number of different very bitter oils that must be given time to break down. After the bubbling slows down put your fermenter/carboy away for one full year. Keeping the airlock on and checking the water level in it on occasion. Any other method of removing the oils will result in the loss of that little enzyme that the ladies are so fond of.

At the end of that year, rack the mead once to remove sediment and sweeten to approx. 1.030 on a hydrometer (semi-sweet) or to taste. I use Camden to kill the yeast at this point. Put the mead away for a second year. After the second year bottle normally. It will be clear, but very dark.

Some production notes: This mead leaves a very light aftertaste of chocolate that many people will not be able to identify readily. However the other effects of chocolate, i.e. orgasmic like pleasure is there. In the original test one of the samplers didn’t care for it, only one identified the flavor and tried to steal the bottle, and the other 28 thought it good with comments ranging from “very good” to “OH MY GOD!”. I make five gallons each year to share with friends, and that is all due to space from brewing. I used an apple flower honey, but any light honey should work. Just avoid heavy flavored honeys that might overpower the chocolate. In addition brew down only once, a heroic (high alcohol) mead would likewise overpower the delicate flavor.

Additional Note: The current batch now aged over two years has increased in chocolate flavor and smoothed very very very well. I no longer serve chocolate mead at less then two years of age. The Ladies of the Barony deserve nothing less then the best.

Final Note: If you let the mead age a third year some lovely Lady will force you to marry her in order to hoard the supply. My Lady Angelline has even received copies of this recipe in email, telling her she just has to try this out.

This mead is best served to the one you love ice cold, in candlelight, with a bowl of fresh strawberries for dipping. And privacy would be recommended.

Comments back to me are most welcome and maybe sent to

Know Your Honey: How is it processed?

I’ve been discussing the effects of processing on honey with commenters Eric and Dick Adams. You can check it out for yourself here. Liquid honey that you buy has been processed by the beekeeper and possibly by a packer. Knowing what they do and why can help us understand how it affects our honey and our mead.

Filtering: Why and how

Filtering honey can solve some problems, and which problems you want to solve dictate how you might filter. Honey from the comb can have a lot of debris in it, like wax, propolis (something bees use like cement or caulk), or bits of dead bee. Even the most anti-processing die hards wont be happy to find a dead insect on their toast, so removing them and making honey aesthetically pleasing is a goal shared by almost everyone involved in selling honey. This sort of coarse filtering might be no more sophisticated than a large section of cheesecloth.

Another problem that beekeepers or packers might wish to solve is crystallization. Partially crystallized honey can invite spoilage. As honey crystallizes, it loses moisture to the surrounding honey. If the moisture content of this honey rises above 19% water then some of the wild yeast naturally present in honey will go to work, and you won’t like the result: off flavors and acetic acid. Crystals form when nuclei, like a bit of dust, pollen, or anything of the right size, are available. So, filtering these nuclei can delay or prevent crystallization.

A finer degree of filtering, called ultrafiltration, can produce an even cleaner purer product. Some commercial meaderies use ultrafiltered honey because the resulting mead is drinkable much sooner than mead from ordinary honey.

Heat: Another problem solver

Heating honey liquefies any crystals in it and destroys some potential nuclei for crystallization. Enough heat for enough time (180F for about a minute) can pasteurize honey, killing wild yeasts. A low level of heat can also help honey flow. In fact, a lot of modern bottling equipment requires some heat to operate.

Too much of a good thing?

Anything can be overdone. Some amount of filtration can remove contaminants and improve the honey, but taking this too far can strip out “contaminants” that make honey what it is. How much is too much? I have a hunch, but don’t know for sure, that ultrafiltration goes too far. I’d love to take a batch of honey, ultrafilter part of it, and compare the two. Since I can’t do that, I follow the “no more than necessary” rule. When I buy honey, I don’t want to pay for wax or bits of hive, just honey. That means I want just enough filtration to remove foreign matter, but no more.

The same goes for heat. Beehives get hot in the summer, and so does the honey stored in them. So there’s not much point in insisting that honey not be heated at all. I prefer “raw” honey, which is never heated above 120F. This allows for easy bottling, but doesn’t pasteurize. I can’t say that pasteurization harms the honey, in fact I’ve boiled the honey-water mixture in some of my meads without noticing any ill effects, but I don’t think there’s much benefit.

As I continue this series on honey, I plan to talk about the effects of age and how important “freshness” is. I’ll also take another stab at that always touchy subject of buying honey from beekeepers or packers/wholesalers. You may want to subscribe to this blog. It’s the free and easy way to make sure you don’t miss an article without having to keep checking back manually.