Mead Follow-Up

Previously, I said that I’d mention my mead making process.  Well, here it is:

Fermentation Cask
Cask, lid, and airlock

The recipe that I use to make mead is not mine; it was given to me by someone – literally, a stranger – during a conversation on the subject.  That said, I’ve used the recipe several times, and not only does it work for me, but it seems to give me a bit of wiggle room to try different things.  The following is for one gallon of mead; if you want more than that, you’ll have to adjust your equipment (and ingredients) accordingly.

Well, the first thing you’ll need to do is to get a fermentation cask and lid.  This is essentially an industrial pail with a secure lid that has a small hole in the top.  The one I use is actually a two gallon cask, but this is perfect because it allows the mead a little room to expand during the time it resides there.  You’ll also need an airlock, a plastic straw-type device with a curved channel and a tapered end, that limits the amount of air that enters or escapes the cask.  According to this recipe, I take six pounds of honey (I like wildflower honey), and dump it all into the cask.  Then add about one gallon of bottled spring water (so as not to have local bacteria effect the fermentation process).  Save about a tablespoon of the water.  Mix the honey and water together thoroughly.  Take a small bowl or cup and pour into it a packet of brewer’s yeast (for wine), and gently add the water.  This is to activate the yeast.  Let it set for about five minutes – in fact, you may want to do this while you’re stirring that honey and water together.   After about five minutes, pour the watered yeast into the fermentation cask with the watered honey and add about a teaspoon of yeast nutrient (also for wine).  Put the lid firmly on the cask, then gently (or else it’ll break) insert the tapered end into the hole in the cask lid.  This can take some doing because you need to have it firmly in the hole, but if you put too much pressure on the airlock during this process, it will break.  The airlock has a cap on the exposed end; remove it and pour a small amount of water into the plastic straw.  It’ll settle in one of the curves.  You’re not filling the thing up, so don’t go nuts – just add about a teaspoon’s worth.  Return the cap to the airlock.  Now, if everything is set – the lid is on tightly and the airlock is firmly fixed – shake the cask from side to side.  You want to agitate the contents, but be careful so you don’t spill it all over the place.  You will have air from inside the cask rushing out through the airlock – expect a very serious amount of effervescence and flying droplets, especially on the lid of the cask.  Put the cask in a dark and cool area – I use the basement.

You’ve just done about 80% of your work and it took all of about fifteen minutes.

During the next five or six days, you’ll have two responsibilitiesFirst, make sure to add yeast nutrient to the cask each day.  This can be tricky.  See, you don’t want to remove the lid or do anything that’ll allow more air into the cask.  And the seal on that lid is such that lifting up even a small part can require a herculean effort.  But it can be done, and after the first day, it gets a bit easier.  Just add one teaspoon of nutrient, try not to shake the cask too much, and seal the lid back up.  Remember – you need to do this once a day, every day for the next week.  Second, once you’ve sealed the cask again and are satisfied that it’s tight, you’ll need to agitate it for a bit.  I prefer moving the contents from side to side as that makes it less likely that the lid will come undone.  Use a little force (you are mixing this stuff together, you know), but don’t go nuts, either.  If that lid comes off, you’ll be cleaning for months.  Don’t freak out over the bubbling going on in the airlock; that’s supposed to happen.  You should routinely check it, however, to make sure that the airlock is in tight.  The liquid – this raw mead – is called the must.

On the seventh day, pull out your cask and agitate the must one last time.  Now its time to add fruit(s).  Put your fruit into a cheese cloth bag (or a nylon one from a brewery supply store).  I generally use between three and four pounds of frozen fruit, and once in the bag, I tie in a knot.  Every brewing bag I’ve uswas long enough to do this – do not use any other binding appliance (rubber band, string, twist tie, etc.).  With your fruit at the ready, open the cask and gently place the bag inside.  Once you’ve done that, recap the cask and return it to its space.  Other than occasionally (and gently) agitating the cask and checking on that airlock, your work is done for the next month.  Just let the container sit in that dark, cool place for the next thirty days or so.

Mixed Berry
Carboy, stopper, and airlock

Now, you’ll need a carboy, a large glass cask that’s similar to a watercooler bottle; the one I use is one gallon.  There is a rubber stopper that goes into the mouth of the carboy; it has a hole in it for an airlock.  When the thirty days are over, take the cask and remove the lid.  Take out the bag with the fruit (you can dump the whole thing).  You need to transfer the must into the carboy.  Personally, I pour it in (using a funnel), but you can purchase a siphoning hose and do it that way as well.  The point is to get the liquid contents of the cask into the carboy.  I say liquid, because there will be a lot of sediment at the bottom of the cask.  You don’t want this in your carboy, and honestly, pouring (as I do) will probably do just that.  In any case, once the must is in the carboy, cap it with the rubber stopper and place the airlock (with a bit of water in it) into the hole.  Make sure that the stopper and the airlock are in their respective places tightly – or else you’ll lose the batch.  Set the carboy in a dark and cool place, andthat’s it.  (Clean out your cask and lid with bleach and soap; cap them and put them away for next time.)

Over the next 12 months, check on the mead (since that’s what it’s now becoming) but try not to agitate the carboy too much.  You should notice that it is becoming clearer, and in some cases, darker.  You should also notice a small amount of sediment at the bottom of the carboy.  Periodically – I did so once every two months – uncap the carboy long enough to pour yourself a small amount.  You don’t want too much air to hit the mead, and if you’re only making a gallon, you don’t want to drink it all before it’s ready – so take small samples.

Some meads will sit in their carboys for years – one guy told me of his concoction that took nearly three years to age properly.  Yow!  This is a little simple mix.  I’ve made this recipe with mixed berries, and it was drinkable in as little as six months, although in retrospect I should have waited a full year before serving it.  Another attempt with peaches was so-so, and my last attempt with strawberry was already mentioned.  Recently, I bought some beer bottles and capped off my mead.  I’m very interested in seeing how it’ll taste when I open one of them after another year or two . . .

I am by no means a “mead master,” or any kind of brewing guru.  A lot of what I’ve learned (and that’s not much) I gained through trial and error, and the help of a couple of guys at a local brewing supply store.  If you try this, good luck.  I don’t imply anything here, so if you manage to blow up your kitchen or soil that Persian rug in the basement, it’s all on you.  Sorry, but given just how litigious we are nowadays . . .


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