There’s no better time than now to learn how to brew mead. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and in just a couple months, you will have a crap ton of alcohol that you, yourself made. My partner and I have been brewing for the past three years and it’s a hobby that’s brought us together and reduced our alcohol bill. Can’t get better than that.
Here’s a list of ingredients and equipment:
You need three lbs of honey for every gallon of mead. So, three gallons of mead = nine lbs of honey. A gallon of honey is 12 lbs. It helps to have a scale, or you could just wing it! The three to a gallon makes a pretty standard mead, not too sweet, not too dry. If you want to go one way or another, add or subtract honey until you get it where you want it. It’s a learning process. Remember, you can always add sweetness in the reracking process. You can’t take it away.
Locating honey has been the most difficult part for my man and me in our mead making process. We located a beekeeper who supplied us for $25/gallon for a while, but due to colony collapse, our source was cut off. We’ve also bought honey from brewery stores, online, and even at our local restaurant supply chain. The most we’ve ever paid is $65/gallon, but we usually average about $30/gallon.
The rest of those supplies are available online or at your local brewery store.
The Big Mix
The first thing you need to do is sanitize EVERYTHING. Honey is a natural antibiotic so it will sanitize after you, but it’s a good idea to use the Starsan stuff just in case. We put it in a squirt bottle and spray everything down, including the insides of tubes, insides of carboys, insides of bottles, etc. Follow the directions on the bottle for proportions.
Once everything is sprayed down, start putting your honey into the carboy. I like to layer it with the water so things don’t get too settled, but you will probably have to mix or shake it up anyway. Some people boil their honey and water together in big brewing pots. That’s worth doing, but you will need to wait for it to cool down before you add the yeast, otherwise you might kill it.
Once the honey is added, finish adding the water. Don’t fill it up all the way! Leave the neck of the bottle empty, plus an inch or two down (depending on the size of the carboy).
Next, you have to activate the yeast. This is a hard part but it’s easy to remedy if you mess it up. Measure out your yeast. One of those packets listed on the item sheet is good for five gallons of mead. If you’re making under five gallons, it doesn’t really matter how much you use (if you want to use a full packet for three gallons, go for it, it won’t change anything). Mix the dry yeast with dry nutrient according to what the nutrient bottle says. You can also use sugar here if you don’t want to use nutrient. It won’t make a difference– the nutrient just feeds to yeast and gets it excited.
Now, this is the part everyone messes up: you need warm water. Water that is not scalding or boiling, just generally warm. I usually put a pan on the stove for a couple minutes, then test it on the skin on the inside of my wrist with a turkey baster. If it hurts, it’s too hot. The problem is, you can kill the yeast! But don’t worry. You can just put more yeast in if that happens.
Mix like, a cup of water with the yeast/nutrient mix, then wait ten minutes. The water should start looking bubbly and gross. Once it does, throw it into your carboy. Mix it on up.
Then, affix the airlock. Put either vodka or more Starsan into the airlock (if you are using an actual airlock) up to the fill line, then put it in the bung (the rubber stopper), and put both in the neck of the carboy. Then, store the carboy somewhere safe, dry, and with room temperature. It needs to be warm enough for the yeast to thrive, but cool enough the yeast won’t die. We just keep it in our laundry room.
Within a day, you should see the yeast start to get excited. You can tell by the bubbling in the airlock and in the mead itself. It might blow out the airlock if there’s too much in the bottle. It happens. The airlock should keep it from getting infected, though you might want to put some towels down around it just in case. You can taste-test it any time, although we usually wait a week or so, otherwise it just tastes like yeast honey water.
Leave it until the bubbling stops. Then, it’s time to rerack, woo! Reracking is removing the sediment (IE the yeast, and any fruit or spice pulp that might be left over). Put the mead up somewhere high (like a kitchen counter), then use the auto siphon and the tubing to take the liquid out of the carboy and put it into a sanitized bucket (remember to sanitize your auto siphon and tubes too!). Now is also a great time to taste test your mead, so go nuts.
Once you have the majority of the liquid out of the carboy, clean the gunk out of the carboy, re sanitize it. Now, have the carboy and the bucket full of mead exchange places like a little dancey poo, with the bucket on the counter and the carboy on the floor. Re-auto siphon the mead back into the carboy. You will notice the carboy is less full than before. Aw, don’t cry. Add some additional water, simple syrup (if it’s not sweet enough), fruit juices, or spirits to make up space, or just leave it if you like the taste as-is.
When that’s all set, resantize the airlock and put it back on! The mead might start a refermentation process (especially if you added something sugary). Wait until it’s done, then you can rerack it again. If it doesn’t referment, wait until it becomes clear and bottle it using the bottling wand. This might take a couple weeks or a couple months. We don’t really have it down to a science yet. But you can keep drinking it the whole time!
There will probably be a little sediment left over in your bottles. That’s completely normal. Brewers who sell have to use some pretty crazy filtration systems to get that out, and even then, it doesn’t hurt anything, so don’t worry about that.
Don’t feel like making mead? No problem – there are some great meaderies out there doing it for you. [Here’s one of our guides to some American favorites].