Meadventures: Making basic honey wine

Scientists believe that the first alcoholic beverage ever made was a combination  of honey, and perhaps grains, that wild yeast and bacteria fermented spontaneously. Someone along the way decided to drink said beverage and voila!

This honey wine/ beer mashup was nothing akin to our modern understanding of mead or beer, but it was the foundation of some of the greatest beverages known to man. Over many years, the two have become distinct beverages. That’s probably because the official term for such a hybrid of beer and mead is braggot, and anything that rhymes with maggot  was clearly not meant to be popular.

Homemade orange blossom mead

At heart, mead, aka honey wine, is a truly simple beverage. It can be carbonated like beer, or kept still like a table wine. I have mostly preferred carbonated meads personally. If you let mead ferment fully, and do not add any additional sugars, which is my preference, you’ll end up with a delicious, champagne-like beverage (especially if you use a champagne yeast for fermentation). If you’ve never tried mead, I’d recommend trying offerings from RedStone and B Nektar – both excellent mead makers.

The basic mead recipe is honey, yeast, and enough water to reach the brewer’s desired gravity, or sugar concentration. Frequently mead home-brewers will also add a Yeast Nutrient since honey doesn’t have the same inherent nutrients that malts do for beer which ensure active and healthy fermentation.

I decided to make mead last year after reading one of many brewing books I own, specifically, The Brewer’s Apprentice, written by none other than Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, and Matt Allyn, an award winning home brewer and Certified Beer Judge. Chapter 16 of the book is dedicated to mead, and though I had only tried it a handful of times, I got to thinking this would be a fun experiment.

making mead

Since we were mead-brewing virgins, me and the hubs liked the idea of trying a few ‘recipes’. We purchased five 1 gallon fermentors and made small batches using a variety of honeys, specifically Mesquite Desert honey from Trader Joe’s, local raw honey, plus wildflower, buckwheat, and orange blossom honey from Deer Creek Honey Farms.

You’d think all honeys would taste rather similar but there really is a huge difference in the flavor of honeys from different locations and which plants they pollinate. Mesquite honey is a bit spicy, while the orange blossom is citrusy. I personally really liked how the mesquite honey mead turned out. It had a more complex, peppery flavor that I adore.

Basic Honey Mead ‘Recipe’

for each 1 gallon batch, you’ll need:

  • 1 gallon glass carboy
  • Enough sterile water to fill the carboy with honey added
  • 1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • dry yeast (1/3 packet rehydrated per batch) – we used Lalvin D-47 Yeast and Lalvin RC-212
  • an airlock filled with sanitizing solution 

    For each batch we started with 3 pounds of honey which we warmed in hot water to make pouring it easier. We then started a large pot of boiling water. We boiled the water for 10 minutes to ensure it was sterile, then chilled it by dunking the pot in an ice bath.  We sanitized a funnel and our 1 gallon carboys prior to adding in the warmed honey, and just enough sterile water to nearly fill the carboy. Each batch then got 1/3 contents of a rehydrated yeast packet and 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient.Buckwheat Honey Mead

    Fermentation:

    We let the mead ferment in our basement, which in the middle of the summer maintains a fairly consistent temperature of around 68 degrees and in the cooler months stays 60 or less. Too hot temperatures (>70/75 degrees F) will result in an unpleasant, ‘hot’ alcohol sensation due to the formation of fusel alcohols during too warm fermentation.

    After about 1 month we transferred the meads into secondary (more clean, sterile 1 gallon jugs). When we tasted the mead at this point the flavors clearly needed time to mellow and develop. We took the ‘set and forget’ approach with them since we didn’t really know how long it would take for the flavors to be optimal. Our book indicated that 8 months to a year or longer is ideal. We checked on them occasionally to make sure the airlocks still had liquid, but otherwise just let them do their thing.

    orange blossom honey mead

    After 1 year of fermentation we decided to taste them. This time, the meads were much more well-rounded. The harshness of young fermentation had dissipated leaving a lovely, honey wine. If you want to keep the mead still, simply bottle like you normally would. Since we wanted carbonated mead, we bottle conditioned using honey as our priming sugar and more dry yeast. My favorite calculator for bottle conditioning has been pretty fool proof, so definitely check that out.

    A nice, carbonated, dry mead is great for every occasion and can be paired with many chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. For carbonated mead, try serving it in a champagne flute or tall, thin tulip glass. Un-carbonated mead is best in a snifter, white wine glass or tulip.

    While making mead is certainly a time commitment, it really is worth the time and I highly recommend it!

    Salud!

    {If you’re interested in making mead too, the American Homebrewer’s Association has an excellent primer you can find by clicking here which is far more in depth than this post could cover.}

7 thoughts on “Meadventures: Making basic honey wine”

  1. Can you elaborate more on the spicy flavor? My co-brewer recently discovered he had a gluten issue so we’re looking into brewing Mead and gluten free/reduced beers (post on that coming when it’s done fermenting).

    Also FYI for anyone who cares Mead falls under the Wine license in most states, hence why no craft breweries also make mead. This also partly explains why Braggot, though delicious, is harder to come by. Plus the whole maggot thing like Lindsay said.

    1. In terms of “spiciness” the mesquite honey mead has a drier, more complex flavor with hints of pepper and an almost sage-like quality. The buckwheat honey mead has this intense flavor that is hard to describe. If you’ve had buckwheat I guess it would be similar to that… You can always spice meads up with hops or spices like you would a beer too.

  2. I just bottled my first mead experiments this weekend – definitely a fun and worthwhile project. I made one with a clover wine and added a cinnamon stick after racking over to secondary, and made the second gallon with a local honey that I found from the Deerfield Farmer’s Market. Both are quite good – definitely looking forward to more of these batches! Toying with the idea of starting more batches now to be ready for the holidays next year to share at family gatherings.

  3. Have you had any of Brothers Drake Mead? They are a meadery up in Columbus and they do amazing things 🙂 Definitely check them out if you haven’t, they just started distributing to Jungle Jim’s, not sure if they are available anywhere else locally at the moment. http://www.brothersdrake.com/ I’m actually imbibing a glass of their “Hopped Ohio” as I type this!

    Crafted Mead is another winner too. http://craftedmead.com/

  4. I have my own bee hives and I’m about to start my first batch of mead. I would like to carbonate it and have checked your ‘favourite calculator’ for conditioning. It calculates how much extra honey I should add but I’m unsure how much extra yeast is needed. Would hate to add too much or too little and damage the final product. Thanks for the great article – looking forward to drinking and sharing my own brew!

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