How to make Mead:
A step by step guide to making honey wine
 
I can only assume that since you've come this far, you want to know exactly how to make mead, so here is a step-by-step, how to guide. These instructions will show you how to make a 5 gallon (19 liter) batch of my spiced mead. If you would like to make a batch of a different size, you can follow these same directions but use my Spiced Mead Redactor to modify the size of your batch. To see a larger version of the pictures or for more details, click on sample photos.

 
Ingredients:
All these can probably be purchased from your favorite grocery store, except the yeast and the campden tablets. You will probably need to get those from a wine making supply store or brew shop. If you can find a local store, great! Otherwise, on online store can help you find the special ingredients you'll need. Do NOT try to use baking yeast. You'll make lots of bubbles while it ferments, but your mead will taste horrible!


- 10 Lbs raw honey. The less processed it is, the better.
- 5 Lbs sugar.
- Juice of 10 freshly squeezed lemons.
- 2.5 quarts apple juice. (Helps act as a nutrient for the yeast)
- 1.5 tablespoons ground cinnamon.
- 1 tablespoon ground cloves.
- 1 package Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast, or any Champagne type yeast.
- 1 Campden tablet (to sterilize your equipment)
- Water to make 5 gallons (19 liters) total volume.

Equipment:
Most of what you will need is already in your kitchen; pitchers, mixing spoons, and maybe a scale and a juice squeezer. Some equipment you will need is a little specialized; two 5 gallon bottles (plastic or glass), a length of siphon hose, a rubber stopper with a hole in it to fit that bottle, and a water trap to fill that hole, sometimes called a "bubbler". This special equipment can also be purchased from a wine making supply store.

Cleaning the equipment:
Clean and sterilize all containers and mixing apparatus with solution of crushed Campden tablet completely dissolved into 2 cups of warm water. Save about cup sterilizing solution for the bubble trap. After cleaning all your mixing containers and fermenting bottle with mild soap and water thoroughly rinse all these things with this Campden tablet solution. This will help protect against infecting your mead with stray bacteria or wild yeast.

  
  
 

Preparing and mixing the ingredients:
Now we will want to prepare the 'support juices'. This is the part of our mead that the yeast will not ferment, but will contribute greatly the flavor of the finished product. Cut your lemons in half, and use your juicer to remove all the juice you can. It's OK if you get a bunch of pulp in there, just no fruit rind or seeds. Other types of mead may use limes, oranges, or even brewed tea. Chemically, what we need is the acid (citric or tannic) that these things provide. For this recipe, we'll stick to lemons. Set a little aside when you're done juicing, and add the rest to your big fermenting bottle. If you are using fresh apple juice, you're all set. If you are preparing from concentrate, be sure to use very warm water so the icy cold concentrate doesn't bring the temperature of the whole mix down significantly. Set a little apple juice aside and add your 2+ quarts to the fermenting bottle.
 
 

Start the yeast:
The next step is to "Start" the yeast. This helps the wake up the yeast so it ferments the honey well. Take cup water warmed to 95oF. Add 1 tsp of your lemon juice, 1 tsp apple juice, 1 tsp cane sugar, and tsp honey. Mix well, then mix in the package of yeast. The yeast probably will not dissolve completely, that's OK. Take the little bit of apple juice and lemon juice left from your starter and pour them into the carboy with the rest of the lemon and apple juice. This starter will probably grow a foamy head in about 15 minutes.

   
 

Preparing the must:
The must is basically the mixture of all the juices you intend to add your yeast to. This is what will become our mead. We've gotten a little bit of a head start by pouring the apple juice and lemon juice in to the carboy. Now we'll start filling it up in earnest. Add about 1 gallon (4 liters) of really hot water, about 120-130oF, to the carboy. Then, using a dry big funnel, add the 5 Lbs of sugar. It may not dissolve right away, so we may need to pick up the carboy and carefully slosh it around until the sugar all dissolves. Add another 2 liters of warm water, about 100oF. Pour in the honey. This could take a while. Once the honey is all in, dump in your spices. Add more water and get everything mixed together as you add it. Try to get the temperature of the must to end up somewhere between 90o and 95oF. A little cooler is OK, but if it's too warm, we'll want to wait for it to cool off before adding the yeast starter mix. When the temperature is OK, add the yeast starter mix. Leave some space at the top of the carboy. This is called "head space". If the mead starts fermenting vigorously over the next 2 or 3 days, it will make a lot of foam. This space keeps the foam from getting up into the air lock.
 
 
  
Sealing it up:
Now that everything is in the carboy, we're almost ready to seal it up and wait. Put the rubber stopper in the carboy. Take the cap off of your water trap. Fill it to the level line with your set aside Campden tablet sterilizing solution, and replace the cap. Twist the water trap into the rubber stopper. Take your carboy to a place where you can leave it undisturbed and it will stay relatively warm, hopefully about 70oF or so. Be careful, it's heavy!
 
 
  
  
  
Fermenting and racking:
You will want to put your carboy some place warm. On top of a water heater works pretty good if you have the space; it's kind of high, out of the way, and relatively warm. You want someplace about 70oF. A little more or less is OK (10oF either way), but too warm will cook the yeast and kill it, too cold will hibernate the yeast and slow or stop the fermentation. Different types of yeast like different fermenting temperatures, so read the label, and/or talk to the wine making shop staff. After a day or so you will see and hear air moving through the trap. The faster the yeast eats the sugar, the faster the bubbles come through the trap. For this recipe, we will let leave it alone for 2 months. By then most of the fermentation will be done. When the 60th day arrives, you will transfer the contents of this carboy into another sterilized carboy. Get a nice long piece of hose, sterilize it, and use it to siphon your mead into the 2nd carboy. Try to avoid disturbing or picking up the mushy stuff at the bottom of the carboy. This is the lees or dregs. It is basically the dead yeast and stuff that we don't want. It won't hurt you, but it's not very tasty. If you have to leave a little bit of the liquid gold behind to avoid sucking up a bunch of the lees, that's OK. We don't want to just pour our mead from one container to the other for two reasons:
  1. Pouring disturbs the dregs and lets the cloudy stuff back into our mead.
  2. Pouring mixes a bunch of oxygen in with your mead. At this point we don't want that.
 
 
  
Clean off your rubber stopper and water trap and seal up your new container. You might want to take this opportunity the replace the sterilized water in the trap. Put this carboy back where the other one was, and let it sit. Clean out the old carboy, you'll be needing it again to repeat this racking process in about a month. This recipe will get racked 4 or 5 times, with about a month in between each one.

By the 4th racking, you'll probably notice that the mead has gotten a little clearer with each racking, a little easier to see through. You hopefully have also noticed that the water trap is bubbling much slower, or has stopped. This is good! At the 4th racking, you will save a little bit off into a separate container for taste testing. There probably isn't much if any live yeast left, and the alcohol content should be up to about 16-18% or so. Taste a little, and see what you think. This recipe is supposed to end up being moderately to quite sweet, with the flavor of the spices very prevalent. If the mead isn't as sweet as you would like, add some more honey to the carboy (about a cup or two), seal it up, let it set for another month, and rack it again. When your mead is as sweet as you would like, and the trap is no longer bubbling, you are ready to bottle.

  
Bottling and labeling:
At this point you need to decide if you're going to use sulfides. Sulfides are chemicals that assist to stop fermentation, and to inhibit a new fermentation starting up. Most modern wine contains sulfides, but some people are allergic to them. You may want to read this section on Stopping fermentation and do some outside research before continuing. My research indicates that medieval brewers of meads, wines and ales never used chemicals to stop the fermentation. However, I have personally seen bottles that I thought had 'stopped naturally' blow their cork and make a big mess. But, the decision is yours. Once you are confident that you are ready to bottle, proceed.

You will need to gather enough bottles to contain ALL this mead (about 24), the same number of new corks, a corker, and your siphon hose. Clean and sterilize your bottles, corks, siphon hose, and all the other equipment that comes into contact with the mead. After sterilizing, I usually try to keep the corks wet so they can compress and slide into the bottles easier. Take a wine bottle and siphon it nearly full with your mead. You want to end up with perhaps about an inch of airspace between the level of the wine and where you expect the bottom of the cork to be. Place your moist cork in the corker, position the wine bottle so the cork lines up to it, and follow the corker's instructions to insert the cork. You want the top of the cork to end up just level with the top of the bottle. Wipe off any excess moisture and set the bottle aside. Repeat until you are out of wine. The last bottle almost never has just the right amount to fill it properly, so I'll usually drink it that night in celebration of a job well done. I call it the bottler's tax. :)

When everything is bottled and corked, apply the labels as you like. I've had very good luck with plain paper printed in the computer, cut to the appropriate size, and stuck to the bottle using regular school supply type white glue sticks as the adhesive. They stick great as long as the bottle stays dry, but wash off easily with mild soap if I want to recycle that bottle.

You can store the bottles upright for a couple weeks. For long term storage, lay them on their side. This keeps the cork moist and in contact with the alcohol, which helps the cork keep it's seal and prevents bacteria from getting in and ruining your wine. It's a shame to see months of work wasted because someone wants to save a little storage space.

  
Aging: The hardest part of all!
Last but not least is the aging process. As you might have guessed, this is the part I find the hardest to do! When bottling, taste your mead again, this time paying attention to how the flavor comes across your mouth. This is the "bite". Does the flavor come on very strong, maybe a bit sharp? Or does it kind of sneak up on you very subtly? The stronger the flavor comes on, the more you may want to let it age before serving. Aging helps mellow the flavor of mead. A year or two of bottle aging is not uncommon for mead. I happen to like my mead with a little bite, so I'm quite happy to start drinking it right away! Your taste buds may vary.

Congratulations! You've completed a batch of mead. May you drink well and share with your friends.

 
 
  
Please be sure to see the Pictures section for some examples of my other work. As with everything else on this site, feel free to contact me via email with any questions or comments. There's contact information on the home page of this website. I'd love to hear how your projects are going, and if there's anything I can do to improve the information here. Thanks, and Enjoy!