Mead is made by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with fruits, spices, grains, hops etc. The words ‘mead’ and ‘honey-wine’ are often used interchangeably, but some cultures differentiate between the two. The defining characteristic of mead is that the main source of its fermentable sugar comes from honey.
While mead is quite possibly the oldest alcoholic beverage, what makes it fascinating is the honey.
If you’re a true honey aficionado, you’ll know that honey tastes completely different depending on what the bees have been eating. Bees tucking into a tangy orange blossom, or the deep flavour of heather, produce honey with a different flavour. So that’s where we start from – with the best honey from around the world.
It’s this difference in flavour that makes meads taste so different.
How to make mead
Equipment for brewing
Mead is a bit simpler to make than beer, so you need less equipment, too. Check out our guide on essential home-brewing equipment for more information.
- Demijohn to ferment in
- Airlock and bung for demijohn
- Short length of tubing
- Big food safe bucket – make sure it can handle boiling water (c.10 litres)
- Large metal spoon
Most of the specialist kit can be bought from homebrew shops (Wilko and Boots have a good basic home-brewing section).
- 750g of honey of your choice (more flavoursome the better)
- Sachet of brewer’s or wine yeast
- Extra honey to back-sweeten
- 25g of no rinse sanitiser powder e.g. SureSan (Sodium Percarbonate)
- Acid regulator e.g. citric acid at 1g/ltr (so 5g for a 5l batch)
- Yeast nutrients 2g/litre (so 10g for a 5l batch)
- 2 Campden tablets
Basic mead recipe
Step 1: Sterilising
As with all fermentation, it’s important to have a clean, sterile environment so the yeast grows, but nothing else does.
So, before you start, wash down your work space with warm soapy water. It’s also a good idea to wash all your equipment in warm soapy water if you haven’t used it in a while. Read more about how to clean brewing equipment to keep your kit in tip-top shape.
- In the bucket, mix the sanitisation powder as per the instructions on the packet with 5 litres of water to create a sanitising solution.
- Pour a portion of this solution into the demijohn and swirl around for a few moments to sanitize the fermenter. Empty this back into the bucket, making sure there’s none left in the fermenter.
- Sanitize the funnel, the bung, spoon, and airlock by placing them in the solution in the bucket.
- Remove the equipment from the bucket and place it on your clean work surface. The funnel can sit on top of the demijohn to keep it from touching dirty surfaces. Pour away the sanitisation solution in the sink.
Your bucket, demijohn and lid, and other equipment should now be sanitized and ready to brew with.
Step 2: Making the mead
These instructions produce a light session mead at around 4%, this means we’re going to start with 150g of honey per litre (so for 5 litres that’s 750g).
- Add 5 litres of boiled water to the sterilised and rinsed bucket.
- Add the yeast nutrient and acid regulator, and stir to dissolve using the spoon.
- Now, add the honey to the boiled water and stir again until all the honey has dissolved.
- Leave the liquid to cool for a while so it doesn’t damage or crack your demijohn, then transfer using the funnel.
- Leave your liquid to cool down to room temperature before pitching the yeast.
- Rehydrate your yeast according to the packet, and leave for 5 mins. Add to your demijohn and shake gently to mix.
- Add the airlock to the demijohn, fill the airlock with water and leave in a cool dark place where it won’t be disturbed for 2-3 weeks.
How do I know if it’s worked?
You’ll know your yeast pitch was successful if after about 6 hrs, when gas starts to bubble out of your airlock. This is CO2, which is a natural by-product of fermentation, and the reason beer has bubbles in it.
As the fermentation progresses, you will notice a layer of sediment building up at the bottom of your fermenter. This is dead and dormant yeast, and is completely normal. It can be removed to increase clarity and taste.
How do I know when it’s ready?
After a few weeks, (depending on temperature) you should see the bubbling in the airlock slow down and begin to stop, once this has happened the yeast has converted all the sugar into alcohol, so your mead is almost ready.
Place your fermenter upright in your fridge for 24 – 48 hrs. The cold conditions will cause your yeast to go dormant and drop out of solution. The longer you leave it, the clearer it will become.
Racking and back-sweetening
Always remember to sanitise all the equipment that has any contact with your mead.
Next, using a piece of tube or hose and syphon the top clear layer of your mead into your sanitised bucket. Make sure you leave the sediments at the bottom of your fermenter. Little trick – get your hose about 2cm from your dormant yeast, and when syphoning, keep as still as possible and let gravity do the work.
What is back-sweetening?
As your ferment is complete, all of the honey in it should have been converted to alcohol. While this is great, it will also mean that your mead will currently be quite dry and you may want to add some more honey back in to sweeten it, (this is known as back-sweetening).
This extra addition of honey may cause your mead to begin fermenting again so to prevent this add 2 Campden tablets in the honey. Campden tablets are made of sodium metabisulphite, an additive that kills yeast and bacteria. Sulphites are commonly used in wine and cider production.
Simply dissolve your honey and tablets in a small volume of hot water, and pour as much as you like into your mead. You should now have a 4-5 litre semi-sweet non-carbonated mead at 4% ABV.
Clean and sterilise your demijohn and transfer your mead back into it.
Conditioning your mead
Leave the container at room temperature away from direct sunlight for 2-6 weeks to condition. Conditioning allows the flavours to meld. When it’s ready, transfer to bottles for longer-term storage.
Want to try making more beverages at home? Read our expert guides…
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