Honey Mead

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The Booze

Firstly, I should qualify a few things, as I have been brewing my own honey mead for several years now, much of that initial “everything has to be just so” mentality has left me and I currently work under the same premise as my ancestors did, good old “Kentucky Windage”. This means that I don’t sanitize anything before use, I simply make sure it is clean and usable. In addition, my measurements are a rough estimate unless stated otherwise, as it’s really “trial and error” that has gotten me to this point in my process. Honey mead is one of those products that, for the most part, will take care of itself.

Next, I should advise the reader, that there are several things that you will need to make the most simplistic of alcohols there are. I will describe them at length when I get to the part where I am using them in the process.

  1. A large enough container to hold the finished product.
  2. The supplies necessary (Water, Honey, and Yeast (more about this in a minute))
  3. A pot, and stove (controlled heating source)
  4. A large spoon to stir, and remove impurities.

That’s it! You are ready to make a batch of honey mead. I make honey mead in 5 gallon (18.9 l) batches and it typically takes about an hour to make it, three weeks to ferment it, and about two weekends to consume it. LOL. You can scale these instructions accordingly for your own size of product.

It all starts with the honey.

It all starts with the honey. While I fully support the local beekeepers in my area, the cost of natural honey is cost prohibitive for what I do. The bottles of honey (see in the image) are 5 pound bottles (2.26Kg) available at the local Costco and serve the purpose just as well as the others. In all honesty, because they are typically fairly clean, they require less boiling time to remove the imperfections. Each of these bottles cost about ($12 USD) here in Alaska, so for about $40 USD I can brew a batch of honey mead, in-lieu of the $90 USD the local beekeepers want to charge me for 10 pounds (4.5 Kg) of natural honey. In preparation for creating a batch of Honey mead, the first step is to submerge the bottles of honey in super hot water for about 10 minutes or so, before using. This allows the honey to be drained from the bottle more easily and I find it easier to melt into the water this way. Fifteen pounds (6.8 Kg) of honey creates a fairly sweet five gallons (18.9 l) of honey mead.

Next is the water.

Next is the water. Now, many on the internet have said “oh the water needs to be cleaned, or filtered” or a ton of other things, I’m here to say I get mine directly out of my tap of city water here in south central Anchorage, Alaska and it does just fine. Bringing the water to a boil, I typically allow the water to rolling boil for about 5 minutes before turning the temperature down. As the water is cooling, I pour the honey into the water, stirring frequently to ensure that no honey gets stuck to the bottom of the pot and scorched. For a five gallon container of honey mead, I am using about 1 1/2 gallons (5.6 l) of water before adding the honey.

Over the next ten or so minutes I will slowly turn up the heat, bringing the honey water to a low boil where I will allow it to boil for about 10 – 20 minutes depending on the clarity at which I want the mead to have. Mead that I’m going to drink at home (which I don’t really care about the cloudiness) boils for about 10 minutes, while Mead that I offer to friends and family is closer to 20 minutes if not more. The longer the honey water is boiled, the more impurities float to the surface allowing them to be removed, thereby making the mead product more clear.

As the honey water is boiling, impurities will float to the surface where it can be scaped off. Natural honey is going to provide you with much more than store bought honey will. These impurities will appear as “foam” of sort floating on the surface and can be easily removed with your spoon. The longer it boils, typically the more you will have to ensure that this foam is being removed as it will boil over unless otherwise taken care of. I use a hand-held strainer to gather the foam off the top.

The frequency at clearing this foam off the top depends largely on a pair of factors. One is how hot the mixture is, when it gets to a boil, these impurities will surface fairly quickly leading to a substantial amount of foam. In addition, natural honey will be substantially greater than store bought honey as many of the imperfections have already been removed from the store bought honey.

After the honey has boiled for 10 – 20 minutes, depending on what you want, it is then time to allow the mixture to cool down. Putting yeast in the mixture when it is too hot will kill the yeast and it will not activate, thereby giving you a big bottle of honey water. Allow the mixture to cool down to under 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees Celsius). I typically allow mine to sit in the pot with the lid cracked overnight, thereby allowing it to cool enough. Now you are ready to move to the next step.

Now the Yeast

Some of the biggest debates next to “Ford vs Chevy” is the debate as to what kind, and how much yeast to use for your honey mead. As mentioned above, I chose to follow the creation standards of my ancestors and learned that all the fancy yeasts out there were not available to them, so I stick with the same kind of yeast I use to make bread (if I ever decide to do that). Now, the only advanced technology I adopted over my ancestors was the idea of flash freezing the yeast thereby deactivating it. However, activated yeast is what I use.

One of the arguments that one should know is that by using dry activated yeast, the yeast requires its moisture to be put back in, so a little time in a cup of water is like a day at the beach for them. During the winter months here, I will place them in a cup of tap water at 29.4 C for about 10 minutes before dumping them into the mixture that has cooled overnight. In the winter, I keep my batch inside, while during the summer I store it in my shed for its overnight stay. I use a HEAVY tablespoon (or tablespoon and a half) of activated dry yeast for 15 gallons of mead.

After dumping the yeast into the mixture, I transfer the whole thing to a container with an additional 3 gallons (11.3 l) of room temperature tap water. Then using a long stick, or in my case, a stirring attachment that goes on my screw gun, I thoroughly mix everything together.

At which point we cap the bottle with a “bubbler” device. The bubbler device allows the gaseous by-product to be released, without allowing new air in. You can get these devices almost anywhere on the internet.

These “bubblers” are filled partially with water, and will begin to bubble when the gaseous buildup within the container reaches enough pressure. During the summer months here in Alaska, it usually takes about 1 – 2 days for it to start bubbling, while the winter can take up to 6.

The Mead is Started

The mead is made! That’s it as far as the initial construction goes, now comes the growing part. Sometimes the yeast needs to be reminded what it is supposed to be doing (converting the sugar to alcohol) and I find, that by periodic mixing, it is a reminder for the yeast to go and find some more sugars to convert. I will take my bubbler off and thoroughly mix the mead every two days. Be careful when you mix the mead after that first day, because it may spark a release of gaseous and send foam all over your floor (which, by the way, it a major pain to clean up).

In about three to four weeks, the bubbling should have scaled back down to a point where you can continue to stir it, however, without the concern of it making a mess. Technically you should have about 12% alcohol by volume now and a wonderful anytime drink that can be enjoyed hot or cold (I prefer mine to be room temperature).

Couple of tips no one mentioned until I had done it many times,

  1. If you are happy with the product, you can heat it up again to above 37 degrees C for 10 – 15 minutes to kill off the remaining yeast left. I typically don’t do this, however, I don’t store mine in securable bottles either.
  2. If you would like to have supplemental flavors within the honey mead (every third batch I use a bag full of butterscotch candies melted (OMGs this is why I do what I do)) LOL, but you’ll want to add it during the fermentation process, then, scoop out the remainder at the end. The longer they are left in there, the stronger the taste so experiment carefully there. I use artificial flavoring sometimes as well (they make an AMAZING Apple Pie artificial flavoring that typically has preservatives in it). Another fan favorite around my house.
  3. You will need to note what you do during each batch, even if you spit-ball like I do, to be sure that you can adjust for the next batch.

Happy Days with Honey Mead!


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