Midnite Bee-Beekeeper's: Tips
A New Type of making MEAD by Robert Berthold
About five years ago, I devised a different way of making mead. For four years
previous to that I had entered the Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) mead competition.
The first year my entry was marked down due to yeast sediment, and I took second
place. Then I learned about racking, which allows the dead yeast cells to settle
out, and the yeastfree liquid can be siphoned off the top. An old-timer told
me that to produce clean mead it needed to be racked three times. I followed
his advice and made a large batch, letting It settle (rack) for many months,
then repeated the racking two more times.
At the next EAS conference competition I scored perfect on sediment, but lost
points for cloudiness and again got second place. Roger Morse's book on mead
mentions that some, but not all, honeys contain protein which produce a cloudycolored
mead. To eliminate this, the honey/water mix has to be boiled for 10 minutes
to an hour.
I went the 10-minute route with success. The next year I scored almost perfect
in every category, except acidity, and again I got second place.
All the recipes for mead, except my new one, have citric acid as one of the
ingredients. A brewing expert in our food industry department said that adding
two grams (about a quarter teaspoon) of tartaric acid would solve the acidity
problem. I am sure that citric acid would have worked just as well. This is
the mead that I entered in this year's show and which finally won the grand
prize. The first time I made mead I took the worst flavored honey I had, diluted
it with some water, added some baker's yeast I got from my mother, and put this
alchemist's brew in an open crock.
There was some fermentation. and a superior growth of mold on the surface of
the liquid. The resultant "material" was ultimately thrown out.
Not being one to give up, I tried the USDA's instructions on making mead. After
reading these, my next batch of mead included nutrients, precise dilution of
the honey with water and the use of a fermentation lock. I used burned honey
and baker's yeast again, though. When the fermentative process had ended, the
finished product had the bouquet of burned bread - burned honey and baker's
We bottled this batch of poor tasting mead and moved it from grad school apartment
to grad school apartment, then on to Doylestown, when I began teaching here.
When we moved into our first home we thought about throwing away the well- traveled
mix, but we decided to open a bottle and give it another taste. Important lesson
number three in mead making (numbers one and two being use table-grade honey
and yeast designed for making mead) is that mead improves with age.
Over the years two things have caused me concern when making mead. The first
was obtaining the nutrients used in most mead recipes, specifically ammonium
phosphate, urea, cream of tartar, tartaric and citric acids. Some wine supply
stores carry these, and certain winemaking nutrient tablets work fairly well.
The second was putting these chemicals into a beverage that I would be drinking.
A few years ago, however, a new concept in mead nutrients "dawned" upon me
at a presentation by Dr. Fred Beam. He mentioned how the social structure in
Kenva was deteriorating because the government passed new, stringent hunting
laws. Men could no longer hunt, and so they spent their time at home. As a result,
alcoholism became a serious problem. The primary alcoholic drink in Kenya is
homemade mead. made by simply crushing combs containing honey, brood and pollen,
and mixing this with water. The mixture is then allowed to ferment.
After hearing Dr. Beam's comments, I wondered if we could make mead using pollen,
rather than the it chemicals mentioned above for our nutrient source. Our first
experiment seemed successful, but we wanted to put our product to the acid test.
A potential problem with nutrients derived from pollen is that they vary appreciably,
depending on source. However, we have made 30 different batches of mead, using
pollen from a variety of sources, and we've found all to be quite acceptable.
We have not experimented extensively with the quantity of pollen used in a batch
but have used about five tablespoons per gallon each time.
General Procedures All containers used for fermenting and bottling mead
should be clean. Eliminate foreign yeasts. Often. directions suggest sterilizing
the initial water/honey mixture with sulfur dioxide (camphden or bisulfate)
to kill all foreign yeasts. We have never done this and have not had any major
Records Insignificant differences - the water used to dilute the honey,
a five degree difference in the temperature at which the fermentation occurs
- can play a major role in the final product. Keep a diary of what you do for
each batch of mead that you make. Label the final product so you have a record
of what you did to produce that bottle.
Honey The importance of the quality of honey you choose to make your
mead can not be overemphasized. Non-table grades, such as those from the capping
melter, make a product with a -robust" flavor. Also, I have twice encountered
honey that had enzyme activity which prevented the growth of yeast (hence no
fermentation) unless the honey/water mixture was first boiled.
The sweetness of your mead depends on the type and the concentration of honey
you use. Some honeys, due to their sugar makeup, are sweeter than others. Generally
, three pounds of honey mixed with three quarts of water produces a dry (not
sweet) mead. Four pounds of honey with enough water to make a gallon produces
a sweet mead. Water Water is an often overlooked factor when making mead.
Water quality can vary appreciably, which can influence the action of
the yeasts as well as the final flavor of the mead. Some mead makers use wellwater
or bottled water from a supermarket.
Yeast Avoid using bakery yeasts. We have found that the acidtolerant
champagne yeasts lend themselves best to mead making.
Keep a record of all ingredients and steps used.
Try replacing standard nutrients with pollen.
Use an electric beater to blend honey and warm water.
Place mixture in fermentation vessel.
Add sulfur dioxide producing materials to sterilize solution. Use acid-tolerant
Exclude oxygen and foreign yeast by using a fermentation lock.
Ferment at 65 degrees F.
Store between 65 and 70 degrees F.
When fermentation ends, treat with sulfur dioxide and rack into a new sterilized
container using a sterilized siphon. Repeat this two or three times during the
remainder of the year before bottling.
Ideally, store mead for at least 18 months for maximum flavor improvement.
Dissolving the Honey For many years I dissolved the honey in the water
by shaking the container. My wife suggested using warm water and an electric
beater. Problem solved.
Non-Pollen Methods of Mead Making Most research on mead making has involved
non-pollen nutrients. Since honey is composed primarily of sugars and water
(with traces of' vitamins, minerals and other substances), it is necessary to
add nutrients, available from wine supply stores, to sustain the growth of the
yeast. Those usually recommended are urea, ammonium phosphate, cream of tartar,
tartaric acid and citric acid. Even though honey is highly acidic the actual
amount of acid is low. Therefore to enhance both the fermentative process and
the keeping properties of the resulting mead, tartaric acid and citric acid
are generally added to the initial mixture.
A general recipe for mead is as follows:
3 to 4 lbs honey (dry or sweet mead)
3 quarts of water
5 grams (about 3/4 teaspoon) cream of tartar
5 grams (about 3/4 teaspoon) ammonium phosphate
5 grams (about 3/4 teaspoon) urea
2 grams (about 1/3 teaspoon) tartaric acid
2 grams (about 1/3 teaspoon) citric acid
Proper yeast (champagne yeast recommended)
Containers Mead can be made in just about any type of container, but
I prefer to use glass containers with narrow necks. Old cider or vinegarjugs
work fine for small batches, and five-gallon jugs obtained from companies supplying
bottled water can be used for larger batches. These bottled water companies
often have jugs with slightly chipped tops available. at reduced costs. Check
your local Yellow Pages under "Bottled Water."
Fermentation Lock Once the fermentative process has started in your
fermentation container, it is important to exclude any foreign yeasts which
could contaminate your ferment and produce a substandard mead. Oxygen must also
be excluded. because if it is present during the later stages of the fermentative
process vinegar will result.
In addition to commercially available fermentation locks, the same effect can
be accomplished by inserting a plug of cotton in the mouth of the fermentation
container, or covering the mouth of the container with a balloon in which a
small hole has been pierced.
Temperature Although not absolutely critical, the ideal temperature
for mead fermentation is between 65' and 70*F. This temperature range is also
ideal for storing the mead later. The lower the temperature the longer the fermentation
will take. This increases the likelihood of unwanted yeasts getting into the
container and adversely affecting the end product. If the temperature drops
too low, the fermentation process will stop. As the temperature increases above
70'F. fermentation proceeds more rapidly. This generally results in a proportionate
decrease in the amount of alcohol produced. When all factors are ideal, it is
possible to produce a mead with up to 15 percent (30 proof) alcohol content.
Fermentation Time At the 650 to 70'F temperature, fermentation will usually
be complete within 21 days. when the mead should be treated with sulfur dioxide
and racked (decanted) into a new container leaving the dead yeast cells (mother)
behind. Every few months the sulfur dioxide racking procedure should be followed,
and after a year the mead is ready for bottling. Racking Racking is the technical
term used for the separation of the mead from the dead yeast cells which accumulate
during the process of fermentation. Synonymousterms are siphoning and decanting.
Most books on mead making suggest letting the fermentation vessel stand for
a period of months after fermentation is complete to allow the dead yeast cells
to settle to the bottom of the vessel. Often the mead will pick up the bitter
flavor of the dead yeast cells though. To avoid this, after fermentation is
complete (21 days), siphon off the mead from the initial container into a second
container which has been sterilized using one of the sulfur dioxide products.
This leaves behind the bulk of the dead yeast cells and reduces the bitterness
of the final mead. Aging Mead's bouquet (flavor) greatly improves with age.
The maximum benefit is achieved after about three years. It should be aged at
least 18 months before it is used though most of us are not that patient. We
suggest that every time you make a batch of mead you date and set aside one
bottle. not to be sampled until at least its third anniversary. Doing this has
converted many of us to making larger batches of mead and putting more and more
bottles away for future use after proper aging. Mead Shows Show mead should
be bottled in clear glass containers with sloped shoulders and a slightly punted
bottom. The bottle should be sterilized with sulfur dioxide solution. A new,
clean, perfect cork should be used, and the level of mead in the neck of the
bottle should be adjusted so that the distance between it and the bottom of
the cork conforms to the show criteria. We generally overfill our bottle, hold
the cork on the outside, measure down the side of the bottle's neck using a
ruler, and put an elastic band around the neck indicating where the mead level
should be. We use a straw to remove the excess mead from the bottle's neck.
A dry (not sweet) mead can be produced by using less honey - usually
about three pounds of honey per gallon. A sweet mead, sometimes called sack
mead, can be made by using more honey usually about four pounds of honey per
Hydromel is a mixture of water and honey, sometimes made by boiling
the two together, with or without fermentation.
Melomel generally includes fruit juices other than apple juice or grape
Pymeat includes the use of grape juice or the addition of honey to grape
Cyser includes the use of apple juice or fresh pressed apple cider to
which no preservatives had been added.
Metheglins are made with herbs and/or spices.
Hippocras, named after the Greek physician Hypocrites. are made using
Bracket (braggot) is made from beer or ale with honey and sometimes
Bob Berthold is Professor of Biology, Delaware Valley College