By John Sather
- Heating will in fact kill off the organisms that might compromise your mead although not used much anymore. The fear is that the honey aroma and some flavor will escape when doing this. The amount of heat exposure needed to kill off the wild yeast in honey is as little as five minutes at 150 degrees F or about 20 minutes at 140 F. I recommend the lower and slower approach. These aromatic compounds in honey become more volatile at higher temperatures. Those aromatics will account for much of the appeal of your mead, and you want to preserve them as much as possible. If you chill the must in an ice bath or emersion chiller you can pitch your yeast slurry at 80 thru 65 degrees immediately and get the fermentation under way Yeast can take from eight up to 48 hours to start with this method. Don’t worry your yeast slurry is very happy eating honey type sugar. Meads that have been heated or boiled (not recommended) will generally require a minimum of three months to become drinkable, and will become more rounded between 12 and 24 months. Patience is a virtue.
- The more modern No-heat method will shorten your mead making day by one- and one-half hours. Make sure to sanitize all of your equipment before you mix (stir in) your 12 to 15 lb.’s of honey into one gallon of filtered water in a large pan or carboy. When done there add the other three or so gallons of filtered water. Then adjust the Ph of your must to 5.2. Oxygenate the must with an o2 tank and stone (if you have one). Rehydrate your yeast by adding one packet of dry yeast to half a cup of filtered water at 104-109 degrees. Gently stir (with a straw) the dry yeast into solution and let stand for 15 minutes (no longer) before pitching the yeast. Add yeast nutrient and energizer at one- and one-half tsp to five gallons of must. Mix and splash to oxygenate or roll your carboy (use a towel on the counter) on its side with now what is called must. Having your filtered water at 65 to 80 degrees for happy yeast. No-heat meads are frequently very drinkable in three to six months, and should be free of any harsh or unpleasant characteristics in a year. They may continue to improve for another one to six years, and longer if good attention is paid to no oxygen/light exposure. You can prevent oxidation by the use of potassium metabisulfite (one-half Camden tablet per gallon) at the last racking. I don’t because I prefer a sherry / port flavor.
- Before pitching the yeast, the method of pH adjustment, I prefer is to add calcium carbonate (baking soda) at a rate of 1/8th teaspoon at a time, stir or shake carboy, test with a pH test strip and repeat as necessary to bring the pH up to about 5.2 ph.
- Depending on the strain of yeast you use and the nutrient content of your must, the fermentation phase may begin as early as 12 to 24 hours after pitching or as long as 72 hours. 18 is about right. Unless you fortify your must with nutrients and oxygenate a prolonged and troublesome fermentation will result.
- In fruit meads (Melomel) it is a practice to freeze then thaw the fruit before using it to help break down much of the cellulose between the cells in the flesh of the fruit after smashing. This liberates the juice more readily, and makes the job of the yeast much easier. Also, the use of a hop bag to contain the fruit can yield very good results and reduce your cleanup dramatically. Petic enzyme should be added when pitching the hydrated yeast in a melomel and fruit can be added to the primary or secondary but you should rack off when the fruit has changed color in the fermenter.
- First thing to do when the normal fermentation has ceased you will need to add Citric, Tartaric, Malic acid or Acid Blend. They are used to adjust your meads mouth feel. There should be not be a mouthwatering or a grape skin type puckering on the inside cheeks when correct. My preference is tartaric for fruit meads and malic or acid blend for the others. When the best acid is found it is employed at the end of fermentation. To find out which acid to use employ a wine thief tool to fish out your finished fermented mead into three different small wine glasses. Put a different acid into each glass of mead, lightly stir determine which acid tastes best? Then adjust your four- or five-gallon carboy of mead at a rate of: dissolve 1/8 teaspoon of the blend in ¼ cup of filtered water per gallon, stir into the mead with the wine thief tool and taste. Repeat the process until the astringency is balanced into a flavor you enjoy.
- Second when the normal fermentation has ceased, at that point, additional sugar (honey) can be added without the risk of the fermentation resuming. Measure the specific gravity with your hydrometer, at this point, your must should have fallen to 1.030 or less. If you had a very vigorous fermentation, it may be as low as 1.010 to 0.990, if at 0.990 or under1.000. If so, add Potassium Sorbate to your carboy at a rate of ½ tsp per gallon to sterilize your yeast. Wait a minimum of (24) hours. Remember add potassium sorbate at the rate of ½ teaspoon per gallon. Stir it in and allow to work for at least a day.
- Then add (a high-end honey i.e., Orange Blossom or Tupelo) at a rate of 1/2 pound per five-gallon batch, repeat as needed until sweetened to your liking. I prefer to add honey 1/2 pound at a time, stirring thoroughly and tasting after each addition until the desired sweetness level is attained. Adding one to 1 ½ pounds at the most. Take hydrometer reading when it’s a flavor you like.
- Do not go over 1.030. or your mead will be too cloying if you do. If it is above that range though there is no real need for concern, Patience yes; Concern, no.
- Spices and Methiegilin’s, I would recommend that you utilize small amounts of fresh spice or spice blend in a fiber” tea bag” boil the bag for five minutes first. Place the spices in the bag, and push the bag into your secondary fermenter with a racking cane. Some people like to add a marble or two, or a clean stainless-steel nut or bolt to persuade the bag to sink. Sample the mead regularly. Always use at least 12 to 15 lb.’s of honey in a five-gallon batch.
- One or two cloves in a five-gallon batch, remember small amounts first. One quarter ounce of ginger at a time, cinnamon can be cracked onto chips for use in a muslin bag, Nutmeg is added at 1 to 4 ounces per 5 gallons start small, a small amount of fine black pepper is all that is necessary-use with darker honeys like buckwheat or tulip popular. Anise less than one ounce in 5 gallons, Coriander is added after the mead is sufficiently aged to near its peak, Lavender leaves are dried first and is added 2 ounces at a time to start during the secondary, Rose-two ounces at a time and adjusted upward-make sure no pesticides were used. Vanilla extract especially good with raspberry and cherry melomels and in metheglins. It is always a good bet to add split down the middle vanilla Madagascar beans soaked in vodka to the secondary or to primary at 1/2 to 2 beans .
- Clarifying agents can be Gelatin, Egg whites, Isinglass, Sparkolloid, Irish moss, and super-kleer.
- Your young meads can possess a strongly astringent element, sometimes described as Listerine or dry-cleaning fluid. This detractor falls off markedly in the first three months to a year of aging. Oak ageing will help a lot; Oak and mead are a match. Oak chips or cubes steamed in one pint of water to about 20 small cubes is right, boil for 15 minutes with the pans lid on go ahead and all pour the cubes and oak tea in the carboy; American toasted, French or medium toasted European oak chips work the best, if chips use a hop bag as chips can be small and don’t want to have any in the finished mead. Aging away from bright or direct light and at cellar temps between 50 F and 60 F are highly recommended. Note! Do not potassium sorbate If you want sparkling or petillant mead: just add 1/4 cup corn sugar or honey at one-half cup. Boil water first / then cool to under 100 degrees. Your bottled mead will take at least a week, and generally more like a month, to become carbonated, I prefer using a keg for this. You should age your mead for more than a month and it is a good idea to rouse at least once the dusting on the bottom of the bottle to ensure that you will have completed carbonation process. Have fun working with your hobby!!!
About the Author:
John is a highly accomplished home brewer and mead maker. John has been involved with Central Florida Homebrewers for over a decade and has recently started collaborating with Brewers Anonymous. John has won over 60 medals in his time as a home brewer for his beers and meads and he is a highly ranked BJCP judge. Whenever he offers you something to sample, it is highly recommended that you try it.