Mead is a wine made with honey. It is fermented in the same manner as grape juice, but water must be added to the honey to get the proper sweetness of 24º brix or higher. Honey lacks chemicals present in grapes that are essential to fermentation, like tartaric and other acids that give the must the proper level of total acidity and pH. These and other chemicals are added prior to fermentation and also adjusted at the end of fermentation and racking to produce a stable wine that will age well when bottled.
Yeast nutrient, diammonium phosphate, about 20 grams added to a yeast starter, is a critical addition needed at the beginning of fermentation to help the yeast multiply. Potassium metabisulfite is also used to provide oxygen early in fermentation to help the yeast reproduce and to kill and or retard bacteria and wild yeasts. The best yeast to use is the Champagne variety, a 5 gram packet, as it allows for the highest level of alcohol to be produced, around 15 to 16 percent, provided the honey is added in increments during fermentation. Champagne yeast is better than other varieties in tolerating higher levels of alcohol before dying.
The overall ratio of honey and water used is 3 pounds of honey and enough water to make one gallon of liquid. That is extrapolated upwards to make a total volume of 5 gallons, the amount needed for a medium large carboy. But a high initial amount of honey can retard fermentation so the must is created with that in mind. First, the ratio used for the first four gallons of must is limited to 2.5 pounds per gallon. That must is pasteurized one gallon at a time at 150º F for five minutes, the foam is removed from the top and then the pasteurized must is introduced into a sterilized five gallon carboy. The remainder of the must is created separately with 5 pounds of honey and enough water to make a total volume of three quarts. That must is also pasteurized and the foam removed. That portion of the must is then put into three one quart sterilized containers and refrigerated until it is needed.
Tartaric acid is mixed in sufficient quantity with one cup of sterilized water and added to the four gallons of pasteurized must to increase the total acidity of the must to 0.7% and to reduce the pH to around 3.4. Measures of total acidity are done via titration, and pH is measured with a pH meter, and the readings from the original must are used to determine how much tartaric acid to add.
Potassium metabisulfite is added to the must at the rate of 60 parts per million by mixing the dry chemical in one cup of water and adding that to the must. The must is stirred with a long wing tipped stirrer and an electric drill to make the tartaric acid and potassium metabisulfite additions mix evenly with the must.
The yeast and yeast nutrient and ½ teaspoon of sugar are mixed with warm water in a two cup sterilized measuring cup and the yeast is allowed to form an active starter mixture in a warm place for a few hours. Then the contents are added to the must.
An air lock is used to keep outside air from contacting the must during fermentation. It is a two or three piece plastic device used with a rubber stopper at the top of the carboy, that holds a small amount of water, through which the carbon dioxide gas formed during fermentation escapes the carboy without letting outside air into the carboy.
After a week of fermentation in a room around 65ºF to 70ºF the first container of the reserved must is removed from the refrigerator and allowed to stabilize to room temperature. It is then added slowly to the fermenting must in the carboy by briefly removing the air lock. One week later the second container of reserved must is stabilized to room temperature and added to the carboy. Similarly, a week later the third and final container of reserved must is stabilized to room temperature and added to the carboy. Fermentation is allowed to complete for another one to two weeks. It is completed when bubbles no longer exit the air lock. If, for any reason, fermentation stops early do not add any reserved must as it will not ferment and will make the mead too sweet. Hopefully fermentation will not stop early. Refer to wine making books about "stuck" fermentation and how to handle it if it occurs.
After fermentation it is important to rack the mead to get it away from the dead yeast on the bottom of the carboy (the lees) so the lees do not impart an unpleasant taste to the mead. That simply means moving the mead to a second carboy and leaving the lees behind. Use a carbon dioxide pressurized system to transfer the mead to a second carboy which has been flushed first with carbon dioxide gas. Additional potassium metabisulfite is added at the rate of 30 parts per million by dissolving the required amount in a cup of water and adding it to the must midway through racking. An air lock is used again and the mead is stored for two weeks to allow any residual fermentation to occur and any additional formed lees to settle to the bottom of the carboy. Then a second racking is done.
After the second racking the mead is normally aged for three months in a dark room around 60ºF. At that point it is important to again measure total acidity and pH and make adjustments accordingly. If the wine has a total acidity above 0.7% then add calcium carbonate mixed with water in the amount necessary to reduce total acidity to 0.7%. If the pH is higher than 3.6 then add ascorbic acid and citric acid mixed with water to reduce the pH. The idea is that the mead will age without fear of spoiling provided the pH is controlled to no higher than 3.6 and provided the alcohol content is 14% or higher. Similarly, total acidity should be controlled to no more than 0.7% to create a smooth tasting mead, by allowing the calcium carbonate to precipitate out tartaric acid as the insoluble calcium bitartrate.
The aged chemically adjusted mead is then put through a sterilized filtration system where the finest and last filter of a 4 stage filtration system is 0.45 microns, which will both clarify any haziness in the mead and remove any residual yeast cells. Refer to the wine making article in this section for more details about the filtration system. Also, I will personally help readers ambitious enough to build a filtration system to guarantee that it is done correctly. The filtration system is sterilized first by having carbon dioxide pressure force water containing 30 parts per million of potassium metabisulfite through it prior to processing the mead. Residual potassium metabisulfite in the sterilized filtration system will provide a very small but useful amount of that preserving chemical to the mead as it passes through the filtration system into a sterilized holding carboy that has first been flushed with carbon dioxide gas. The carboy will fill with the filtered mead, causing enough mixing to make the residual potassium metabisulfite have even distribution within the mead. Then the mead is ready for bottling.
Mead exiting the filtration system carboy via applied carbon dioxide pressure of 4 psi is immediately bottled and corked using sterilized wine bottles and sterilized corks, avoiding all contact with air. That is accomplished by flushing the air out of each bottle with carbon dioxide gas immediately before introducing the mead into the bottle. Note that the bottles were sterilized first with boiling water while the corks were stored in water containing 60 parts per million potassium metabisulfite. An inexpensive and much easier alternative is to use one liter soda bottles with very tight fitting screw-on caps where the bottles and caps have been washed and then sterilized with the potassium metabisulfite and water mixture.
The cases of mead are typically aged for another three months in a dark area around 60ºF and then consumed within a year. This recipe should yield semi-dry or lightly sweet mead of high alcohol content. It should have a fresh smooth character with a notable level of alcohol. Five gallons of mead, bottled in 750 ml wine bottles will make 25 bottles. If you use one liter plastic soda bottles you will get 19 bottles.
If you want a sparkling mead then each aged plastic soda bottle of mead you want to turn into sparking mead is connected after freezer chilling to the carbonation apparatus described in making lemon-lime soda elsewhere in this Beverages section of the recipe book. About three ounces of the mead should be removed from the bottle prior to carbonating so that you can agitate the contents during carbonation as that is required to assist getting the carbon dioxide gas into solution. Do not attempt to do carbonation with regular glass wine bottles … use only plastic soda bottles that have been designed to be safe under pressure. Regular thin wall glass bottles will burst under high pressure, though champagne bottles can be used if you have a means to cork them.
Commercial mead producers often include fruits or fruit concentrates in making different flavors of mead. Examples are blueberries, blackberries and strawberries. In all instances the sweetness levels desired in the final product and the chemicals the added fruit provides affect the amounts of honey and water and other chemicals used. Similarly, fermentation is typically stopped at a level lower than that obtained in the above recipe, in the range of 11 to 12 percent alcohol. In that instance the finished mead may be sterilized via heating briefly to 150ºF to avoid any possible secondary fermentation after bottling.