Mead is a wonderful beverage that is somewhat of a cousin to wine. While it’s not made from grapes it is made using the same process and yields similar levels of alcohol.

There are an infinite number of variations that you can make with mead.This recipe uses only honey and water however, you could add fruit juices, tea, or even baking spices from your kitchen cabinet.

Previously I outlined a recipe for making mead, however, I’d like to update that recipe as well as show you how to go through the steps from beginning to end.

What You Need to Make Mead

Mead, also known as honey wine, is an incredible fun beverage to make.

The main ingredient in mead, honey.

The recipe and method included here are all based on creating a single gallon of mead. You can feel free to scale this recipe up to make more than one gallon.

To make this recipe you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • D-47 Yeast
  • 2.5 – 3lbs honey
  • water
  • yeast nutrient

Additionally you’ll need the following equipment:

  • 2 – 1 Gallon Glass Jugs
  • 1 – No 6. Drilled Plug
  • 3 Piece Airlock
  • Kitchen Thermometer
  • Wine Making Hydrometer
  • Test Jar
  • Racking Cane or Autosiphon

You can either make slightly less than one gallon and ferment in the glass jug or if you have a small food grade bucket you can ferment in that instead. If you do decide to ferment in the glass jug just know that you’ll wind up with only four bottles of wine due to losses from racking.

Getting Started

Just like with wine the first thing we’ve got to do is sanitize all of your equipment and utensils. I use Star San but use whatever you’re comfortable with.

Start with 1/2 gallon of water and add 2.5lbs or so of honey. Continue adding water until you’re a few inches below the 1 gallon mark if you’re fermenting in a glass jug. If you’re fermenting in plastic bucket or carboy go ahead and mix enough to fill up a little past the 1 gallon mark of your container so that when you rack you minimize the airspace.

Now you need to measure the specific gravity. You’ll want it to be around 1.100 to produce around 14% alcohol when it’s all said and done. If your specific gravity is too high add water and add honey if it’s too low. Here’s a handy alcohol content calculator you can use to estimate your final alcohol levels.

With your must at the correct sugar concentration go ahead and stir in 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient (your specific brand of nutrient may vary so be sure to read the label). Set this aside.

Pitch The Yeast

There are two ways you can go about this. You can either toss the yeast in dry and wait for it to start or you can re-hydrate the yeast to get things going faster. I prefer to hydrate the yeast, however, you don’t have to. Here’s an article on how to hydrate yeast if you’d like to try it out. Otherwise just add your yeast straight from the packet.

If you pitch the yeast dry expect that fermentation will begin within a day or two. However, if you decided to hydrate your yeast you can expect to see activity within two hours or so.

During the first 7-14 days of fermentation gently swirl the jug to mix the yeast up a little bit. They like to collect on the bottom and things slow down when that happens. Allow fermentation to continue for six to eight weeks before racking.

Racking the Mead

After six to eight weeks rack into your other sanitized glass jug. Use a racking cane and tube or an autosiphon to rack the wine. Get as much liquid as you can without dragging the lees along with the mead.

At this point you’ll also want to take a sample and check the specific gravity. Depending upon the yeast, fermentation temperature, and the honey you used it may be as low as 1.0 but could be higher.

If you are careful to sanitize your hydrometer and test jar you can pour your sample back into the jug to continue fermenting. Usually you wouldn’t want to do this, however, when you’re dealing with such a small volume of mead every bit counts.

Re-attach your airlock and store your mead for another six to eight weeks to allow fermentation to complete.

Rack it Again

After the second eight weeks has gone by fermentation will likely be winding down if it hasn’t stopped completely. A quick sip will tell you if there’s any sugar left in there and if you taste bubbles it’s still fermenting.

Either way it is time to rack back into your original sanitized glass jug and re-attach the airlock. Eight weeks is the recommended maximum time to leave mead on the dead yeast. Letting it sit longer puts it at risk to pick up decomposing yeast flavors.

Back Sweetening

If you’d like to back sweeten your wine you’ll need to stabilize it to ensure fermentation doesn’t begin again when you add more honey. See the potassium metabisulfite calculator for more information on how much to add.

Once your mead is stable you can start to add honey, stirring well between additions, until it starts to taste good to you. This is subjective so I don’t have a specific amount to recommend.

As for timing you can do this after six to eight weeks from the second racking. Be sure to stabilize it first, then add the extra honey to taste.

Bulk Aging

After racking two or three times comes the really hard part of mead making, having the patience to let it age. Mead takes a long time to come together after fermentation and the higher the alcohol content the longer it will take.

While back sweetening your mead will make it drinkable sooner it will still benefit from aging. With time all the flavors will integrate better and you’ll have something really special on your hands.

If the airlock is no longer bubbling you can replace it with the solid plug. You’ll still have to check on the plug to make sure it hasn’t unseated itself, however, you won’t have to worry about the water in the airlock any more.

Your mead should clear on its own with time. Be patient though, it can take a long time for it to completely clear. You can use bentonite to clear it up if its not clearing fast enough.

After six months or so periodically taste the mead to see if it is time to bottle. This is purely a matter of your preference here so if you like what you taste bottle it. If it’s a little harsh leave it be for another few months.

Making mead can be very rewarding. It will, however, teach you patience.

Photograph by: Dino Giordano

  • I love the walkthrough and the videos and calculators it links to! Very useful.

    In my own experience, my first few meads tasted like jet fuel, having fermented hot and fast with all the nutrient additions added up front.

    The two things that helped me the most over the last couple years are:

    1). Stagger the nutrient additions

    –For example, if you add 2 tsp overall to a 5 gal. batch, split them up into something like 4 additions, of .5 tsp for 4 days including one at initial pitch. It helps the yeast reproduce in a nutrient environment much more barren than wine or apple must.

    2). Temperature control

    –One of the best things I did to improve my cider and mead was to get a temperature controller and hook it up to my chest freezer to use the latter as a temperature-controlled fermentation environment. Using the online data sheets for various wine yeasts, I will find the optimal range and ferment at the low end of that, coaxing things along. It takes a few weeks longer to finish primary fermentation, but the end product is cleaner without as many off flavors…at least from the yeast. If you added a ton of strong-flavored additions like clove (a little goes a LOOONG way), you’ve got a different problem 🙂

    • Thanks for the feedback Dan! I’ve got a “jet fuel” mead sitting at 15.5%. I’m hoping a few years in the bottle will tame it. Staggering the nutrients is a great idea and something I need to try when I make another mead.

      My meads were fermented in the mid to upper 60’s (F). What temperature range do you recommend?

      • I look up the temperature range and then start at the low end. Not very scientific, I know–I’ll play with it more in the future.

        For example, 71B is listed in the chart below as having a range of 15-30 C and I’ll set my temperature controller for the low number when using that yeast (figuring it will be safe since the fermentation adds a degree or two (F) to the temperature of the must).

        The staggered nutrients and degassing seem to keep things going pretty well–if it slows down too much I’ll increase the temperature setting a few more degrees upward.

        http://www.lallemandwine.us/products/yeast_chart.php