If you follow our Etsy shop you may have noticed an interest in Norse mythology. What you may not know is that this interest extends to Viking crafts and culture too: a well-known feature of which … is mead making!
Mead is basically a mixture of honey and water, left to ferment. In The Art of Fermentation, we learned that raw honey will naturally ferment once the water content is raised to beyond 17%. Sounds pretty simple, so this summer we decided to give it a go.
For a simple mead, with no added fruits or spices, here’s what you’ll need:
- honey (between 1 and 2 kilos)
- non-chlorinated (ideally spring) water
- juice of 1 lemon (optional)
Method and Measurements:
You’ll need between 1 and 2 kilos of honey for 1 gallon batch (which is the size of a standard demijohn). The amount of honey you decide to use will depend on how strong you want your mead. We wanted a lighter mead, so decided on 1.3kg (we read that this would result in an approximately 15% abv).
- Heat the honey slowly with a bit of water, so it becomes a bit more liquidy. This will allow the honey to mix easier with the water in the fermentation vessel.
- Fill the demijohn around half way with water, add the liquid honey, then top up with more water as required (a word of warning: we filled the demijohn all the way to the neck at this stage, which was a pretty terrible idea. Primary fermentation is an active process which creates a lot of bubbles so, we’d advise leaving around 500ml – 1l space and topping up again to the neck of the vessel once the vigorously-bubbly primary fermentation stage has passed).
- Add the juice of 1 lemon. This is an optional extra. Doing this will add nitrogen and minerals to help the yeast thrive, but your mead will ferment just fine without it.
- Cap the demijohn and give everything a good shake until the honey is well mixed.
- Add 1 packet of brewer’s (wine or champagne) yeast and shake again.
- Pop an airlock (aka. ‘bubbler’) on top and wait. Shake frequently, or whenever you remember.
- The demijohn should be kept somewhere cool, ideally around 15°C, so that it ferments slowly.
It’s up to you what you do from here. Essentially, you want to wait until the fermentation has finished (in other words, when the airlock stops bubbling – usually around 2 to 3 months) and then bottle your brew. However, many people will rack the mead at various stages in the fermentation process.
Racking Your Mead
After 2 months, once our mead had stopped bubbling, we racked it (syphoned from one demijohn into another) and kept a close eye on the airlock to make sure the fermentation process had fully come to an end.
Racking is the process of transferring the contents of one demijohn into another, leaving any sediment from the first demijohn behind. There are a few reasons for doing this, but the main ones are:
- to improve the taste
- to clarify the mead, i.e. make it look clearer
- to remove the yeast sediment before bottling, so there’s less chance of fermentation restarting in the bottles and exploding them
If you decide to rack your mead, you’ll notice that the level in the second demijohn is lower than the first, so we’d recommend topping up the second demijohn with clear, food grade marbles until the liquid reaches the neck of the vessel. The reason for doing this is that after fermentation has slowed, you want to ensure minimal exposure to oxygen.
Short explanation: Oxygen + alcohol = vinegar. Bad.
Long explanation: When exposed to air, the acetobacter bacteria in the brew will oxidize the ethanol and produce acetic acid, turning your mead into vinegar. The less surface area you expose to air, the smaller surface area there is for this process to take place.
Bottling Your Mead
Once we were confident that the fermentation process had ended, we transferred the mead into recycled wine bottles and corked them (we got a cheap, hand corking machine from eBay).
Many places will recommend soaking your corks in warm water for a few minutes before trying to squeeze them into the bottle. You should then leave the bottles standing up for 2 days while the corks settle and expand, and then lay them on their side to age. Apparently, the ideal ageing time for mead is anywhere over 1 year, so that’s what we’re aiming for. The bottles should ideally be left to age in a cool, dark place (for us, this means under the stairs), with minimal temperature fluctuation.
We hope this was useful … Skål!