Mead making

You asked for it! Rosanne’s mead making tips
We had some visitors one day, a while back. John and Jenny from Sydney. They came to lunch. It was a casual affair and they brought a bottle of white wine which was very nice. It evaporated quite quickly.
“Perhaps you’d like something else to drink?” I asked them. Their answer was affirmative. Having anticipated that this would be the case, I’d tucked a few bottles of rather good Mead into the fridge. I uncorked a bottle and poured us each a glass.
“My!” exclaimed John, who fancies himself as a bit of a wine buff, “What an excellent sherry!”
“Mmmm……it certainly is!” replied Jenny.
“May I have another glass, please?” asked John, who had finished his first one.
“It’s not sherry, it’s Mead!” I said, refilling his and Jenny’s glasses.
“I’m sure you’ve got that wrong!” said John. “One of the best sherries I’ve tasted in a long while!”
“It’s Mead! I should know, I made it myself!”
“You made it yourself? Don’t be ridiculous! Nobody can make a sherry like this in a bucket. I say, is there any more?”
I uncorked another bottle.
“Here, give me a look at that bottle!” said John.
“It’s a hand made label,” said Jenny, “and it says ‘Mead’. I say, Mead’s made from honey, isn’t it?”
“Honey?” exclaimed John. “Honey? Oh, that’s right, you keep bees! You can’t make sherry from honey!”
“Look, dear, I don’t think it is sherry,” said Jenny. “It’s Mead. Mead is made from honey.”
“Mead? This is Mead? I could have sworn it was sherry! Well, what the heck. I say, is there possibly any more?”
“Wouldn’t you like to have some coffee instead?” I suggested.
“Goodness! Is that really the time?” exclaimed Jenny. “John, hurry and drink your coffee, we’re due at Mum’s place in half an hour!”
But John wasn’t listening. He was staring at our slate floor.
“My goodness, your floor is shiny! It’s blinding me. What do you polish it with?”
“Nothing. I don’t polish it. It looks rather dusty to me!”
“Why John, you’re right! It’s really shiny. We’ll have to get slate like this in our new house.”
I shook my head in disbelief. Were they having me on?
“Are you sure you are OK to drive?” asked Martin.
“I’ll drive,” said Jenny. “I didn’t drink as much as John.”
“Hey!” called John out the car window, “Don’t forget to bring some of that sherry next time you visit!”
Martin and I finished off the bottle of Mead in peace. Funny thing, though, the floor never looked shiny to us. Maybe that’s because we’re used to drinking Mead?

Summer is the time to make Mead. If you have never tried any of this remarkable liquid brewed from honey, you are missing something! Brewing Mead, or anything, (because you can, indeed, brew wine from almost anything that is edible) needs a basic modicum of knowledge, and some basic equipment. So, if you have at least 1.5kg of honey available and a yen to turn it into the oldest drink known to civilisation at large, or at least turn it into something that glows wonderfully golden, served cold as ice, drinks smooth as silk and packs a punch (about 13% for the following recipe) then read on, and make notes on what you’ll need. The equipment listed below will enable you to make any sort of other wine, once you have bottled your Mead.

Equipment for making wine
Basic equipment needed for making wine includes: a large stainless steel pot that can be used to boil 5 litres of water, a 10 litre plastic bucket, a sieve, a plastic spoon for stirring and plastic cling wrap. These things can all be found at home or in the supermarket, along with the many kilos of white sugar you will use. (Except you will not need to use any sugar to make Mead.) Also needed will be a 5 litre glass fermenting jar, a bored rubber bung to fit the jar, a fermentation lock to fit the bung, a quantity of sodium metabisulphite for sterilising, (sterex if you are asthmatic), one packet of standard wine yeast per 5 litre jar and one packet of yeast nutrient, which will be sufficient for four brews. These items can all be found in a home brew shop, but if you can’t find one, contact me for more details. (Email address supplied below.)

Later on, you will need a length of plastic tubing, 7 wine bottles, and some corks. Corks similar to the re-useable corks on port bottles are fine for beginners to use. They are easy to push into the neck of the bottle and they seal well. A corking machine is expensive and not cost-effective for 5 litres at a time. A hand corker is available, but requires considerable strength.

Wine is easiest to make during summer and autumn, not only because this is when honey, fruit and vegetables are at their peak, but also because wine brews best at between 15°C and 26°C. Below this temperature, the yeast will be torpid, while if the temperature exceeds 32°C for too long, the yeast may die. A constant temperature within the range is best for ensuring good wine.

Ingredients used in wine must be ripe and of good quality. Bitter, sour and stale ingredients will produce equally unpleasant consequences. Honey for Mead should be light coloured. If anyone wants recipes for any other sort of wine, contact me. Meanwhile, as it is honey wine we are interested in at present, here is the recipe that I use.

Recipe for Mead
1.5kg honey,
4 litres water,
1 cup of cold tea,
25g citric acid,

Boil the honey, water and tea together, skimming the scum off the top until there is no more forming. Pour into a bucket, cover with plastic film and when cool add the citric acid, nutrient and the yeast. Stir twice daily for seven days or until it is fermenting well, and provided that it is not frothing violently, pour it into a five litre jar and fit a fermentation lock. When the fermentation has ceased (no more bubbles are rising) siphon the Mead into a clean jar and refit the fermentation lock. After two or three months the Mead can be bottled. From 5 litres you should get about 6½ bottles.

Taste your Mead at bottling time. If will probably taste pretty good! Mead will continue to mellow and improve for a couple of years, kept in a cool, dark place. But I doubt very much it will ever last that long! At least, that was my problem back in 1987 when I made my first batch. These days I make it 60 litres at a time.
Another honey based wine that makes a delightful, chilled drink is Melomel, a blend of honey, apples and raisins. But as it is a more complicated wine to make, it is best to start with Mead. I will put the Melomel recipe up some other time. Meanwhile, Happy Brewing!

Additional tips: