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Hello, and welcome to MoreFlavor!’s Mead Making Manual.
The goal of this manual is to give a complete, yet, easily accessible
overview of what is needed to make great mead the first
time out. We will begin by taking a look at some important
technical aspects that are unique to mead making, because
this will show us what is needed for a successful fermentation.
From there, we will look at a simple, yet elegant solution that
incorporates these considerations into a straight-foreward,
step-by-step process for preparing the mead for fermentation
that does not require heating and is done in around 30 minutes!
Finally, we will look at how to make different styles of
mead, such as sparkling mead and how to incorporate fruit.
Every so often in life we come across something that requires
very little effort on our part, yet winds up being extremely rewarding
and mead making is one of those things! Enjoy the
process and welcome to mead making!
Let’s Begin With A Quick Word About
Honey Quality And It’s Handling
As with most things in life, when making mead, what you put
into it determines the quality of what you get out of it. The
quality of the honey most definitely matters. The best mead
will be made from a honey that has undergone as little processing
as possible, i.e.: “raw”, “unfiltered”, & “unpasteurized”.
In addition, it’s important to be aware of the fact that
elevated storage temperatures over a prolonged period of
time can adversely effect honey quality, especially in the presence
of oxygen. In extreme cases, the end result is that honey
at higher temperatures (whether stored or heated) can lose
much of its’ delicate complexities, with the aroma and flavour
over time degrading to a flat-lined, generic something more
fit for a bear-shaped dispenser than as base for creating the
nectar of the gods! In short, use the good stuff, both you and
your mead will be happy that you did.
Important Note: While heat is bad, honey that gets cold often becomes
crystallized but this has no detrimental effect on the overall
quality. It only poses the problem of gently warming it up to get it to
liquefy again (the potential “problem” being that if too much heat
is applied, then as pointed out above, you start to lose some of the
more subtle aromas and flavours). Again, if you decide to heat the
honey, tread lightly.
Important Points To Touch Upon Before
Starting The Fermentation
1) Meadmaking is winemaking, and white winemaking at that. By this
I mean that all of the usual techniques that one is hoping to
employ for a quality white wine apply here, as well, namely:
• yeast strain selection (they all have quite different qualities)
• proper care and feeding of the yeast (extremely important
for a mead, more later)
• pH & TA% monitoring (also very critical for a successful
fermentation)
• controlling the fermentation’s temperature, if possible
(55° F to 75° F)
• complete absence of oxygen after the primary fermentation
has completed
Understanding and incorporating each of these above elements
into your meadmaking as a whole is important because
they are the very steps needed to avoid a prolonged, stuck fermentation,
avoid hydrogen sulphide problems, and to ensure
(as well as to preserve) the best, possible flavour and aroma
profile for your meads.
2) Honey, while being very fermentable from a sugar standpoint, is
extremely poor in nutrients. This is important to be aware of because,
just like we humans require nutrients to stay healthy,
yeast also need a balanced diet to perform at their peak. It
basically all comes down to cell wall maintenance: yeast is very
much like a small balloon, and it survives by both taking food
into itself and passing waste products out via a permeable,
two-way, selective membrane. This membrane, or cell wall, is
also the barrier that regulates the yeast’s internal pressure to
maintain an osmotic balance between itself and the environment
it needs to survive in, namely the fermenting must (diluted
honey mixture). This is a dynamic process, and throughout
the entire fermentation as the sugars drop and the alcohol
level rises, the yeast is constantly adapting itself as it tries to
maintain the efficiency of its cell wall transport mechanisms
within this changing environment.
What it needs in order to do this are nutrients. If the yeast have
the proper nutrients they need, then they will successfully be
able to keep their cell walls fluid: food can come in, waste can
go out and they will remain healthy well until the end of the
fermentation. However, if the yeast do not have the required
nutrients, then the cell walls become “leather-like” and the
ability to bring in food and push out toxic by-products starts
to become exacerbated. The yeast now have to struggle harder
to survive, they become stressed and the fermentation has a
greater likelihood of becoming sluggish, possibly even stopping
before the desired attenuation has been reached. And, as
Mead Making Instructions
A MoreManual !™ by Shea A.J. Comfort
MoreWine!™ MoreManuals are trademarks of MoreFlavor!™ Inc. This document is copy written by MoreFlavor!™ Inc. if this wasn’t already bad enough, the stressed yeast will often
“act out” by producing off-flavours and aromas, namely H2S
& VA i.e.: “rotten egg” and “vinaigre” aromas and flavours.
This cause and effect of a nutrient deficient must on a yeast
population is especially evident during the latter stages of a
fermentation, as it is often only at this point that you begin to
realize that something is wrong as in: “what’s that smell”…!
However, once you’ve already reached this stage it doesn’t
help to just throw some nutrients or DAP (inorganic nitrogen)
at the yeast with the hopes that they will take it up and
suddenly become revived enough to finish the fermentation.
In fact, not only are they now weakened and in overall bad
shape, but after around 10% alcohol the yeast actually stop
taking-up nutrients, and so this last minute feeding is rarely
successful. In short, it’s already too late…Therefore, based on
this information, it can be seen that the yeast need to be fed in
a more “pre-emptive” rather than “reactive” fashion. The idea
is that you prepare the yeast as much as possible during the
first half of the fermentation by feeding them while they are
still able to take-up and effectively use the nutrients they need
to stay healthy. By doing this, when they finally do get to the
latter stages of the fermentation and are no longer taking-up
nutrients, they will still be in good health and therefore better
able to handle the upcoming tougher conditions.
This nutrient feeding schedule is generally broken-up into two
steps: once at the beginning of the fermentation, and again
at the 1/3 to 1/2 waypoint (this usually equates to an 8–10°
drop from the original starting Brix):
1st feeding: The first feeding at the beginning of the fermentation
is done to ensure that as large of a percentage
as possible of your initial yeast-pitch will get off to a great
start, so that the fermentation begins with a robust population
of healthy, viable cells. Because of the fact that the
yeast’s state of health at these early stages will directly determine
the quality of the fermentation (and of the subsequent
finished wine, as well), this first feeding can be
thought of as laying your “foundation”.
2nd feeding: However, at around the 8–10° Brix drop the
yeast will have already used up most if not all of the first
nutrient set they were given and they may, in fact, ultimately
require more than what they have left-over in order
to optimally finish the fermentation. Therefore, very much
akin to the way a bear stores up food before it goes into
hibernation: a second feeding is needed as a way of replenishing
the yeast before they begin the final stages of
the fermentation. This second feeding is done to hedge
against the possibility of the yeast becoming stressed from
a potential lack of nutrients once they are in the latter
stages of the fermentation and are no longer taking them
up, and can therefore be thought of as a very real “insurance
policy” for a successful fermentation!
As there was a lot of information given in this last section,
a quick summing-up might be in order: The cure for a stuck
fermentation, and/or a stinky wine is often elaborate, time
consuming at worst, and damage control at best (either way
both you and the wine lose). Therefore, the best defense in
avoiding this scenario is an understanding of how to avoid
it in the first place and the best way to do this is to provide
your yeast with a balanced nutrient regimen made up of a fermentable
nitrogen source as well as various micros and amino
acids. This feeding is best made during the earlier stages of
the fermentation, before the yeast begin to shut down and no
longer take-up nutrients.
3) The pH of a mead fermentation should be taken into account,
and preferably earlier than later! Honey is naturally acidic and
often attains a pH of 3.5–5.0 once diluted to typical meadmust
densities (usually around 21–24° Brix). However, it has
very little in the way of natural buffers, and this means that
as the fermentation gets underway, with the rise of carbonic
acid (CO2) along with the various organic acids produced by
the yeast themselves, the pH of the must can quickly drop to
2.6–2.8 in a 24–36 hour period. This is well past the desired,
lower-end threshold for a wine yeast fermentation (which is
around pH 3.2). This low pH, if left uncorrected, will cause
the yeast to become stressed and the resulting fermentation
will often become sluggish or even stuck.
To avoid these potential problems, the answer lies in correcting
the pH upwards by the use of a carbonate about a day or
so after the must has been inoculated to maintain a pH of
around 3.4–3.5 (potassium carbonate is a good choice for
this). Later, once the fermentation has ceased, you can then
fine-tune the final TA% with an acid blend or more carbonate
if needed.
Note: that as each honey will have a different elemental make-up,
each honey must will therefore naturally differ in the exact amount
needed to achieve the desired pH adjustment. However, if you
don’t want to take the time and do a proper bench-trial in order to
find the precise amount needed, around 0.45 grams per gallon of
carbonate is usually a good “ball-park” figure. (That being said, a
bench trial is truly the best way).
4) The goal of any successful fermentation is to have only the organisms
that you want do all of the fermentation, while minimizing the contribution
of any of the so-called “bad-guys” (indigenous yeast and spoilage
bacteria). This is done to maximize on the positive attributes
that come with a known, selected yeast strain (mouthfeel,
complexity, reinforcement of a desired flavour profile, etc.,
not to mention having dependable fermentation characteristics),
while avoiding any of the off-flavours, bad aromas and
weak fermentation characteristics that can often come with
an unknown strain of “wild” yeast and/or bacteria. Therefore,
the first step in preparing a must for fermentation is to create
an environment that wipes-out, or contains a severely limited
population of the potential “bad guys”. This goal of achieving
a “clean slate” for your chosen yeast strain has traditionally
been accomplished either by:
Pasteurization: heating the must until a high enough temperature
has been reached in order to kill-off the bad guys
and then subsequently cooling it down until a safe pitchMoreWine!
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ing temperature has been reached, or
Chemically: usually with some form of sulphite,often referred
to as “SO2”, at a high enough concentration to kill
the unwanted yeast and bacteria, but still low enough not
to inhibit the more SO2 tolerant cultured yeasts from doing
their job.
There are pros and cons to using either of the two methods
mentioned above, and it’s true that good mead can be made
using either of them. However, the following should be noted:
while pasteurization works, the heat does indeed drive-off
some of the more delicate compounds from the must, and
these don’t come back. As for the SO2, even thought it is necessary
on many levels, it still is somewhat of a ‘necessary evil’
and its use should be kept to the bare minimum whenever
possible. Therefore, with this in mind, it would seem that an
ideal way of preparing the must would be to avoid heating it
and minimizing (or leave out entirely!) the use of SO2 at this
stage if at all possible. Yet, is there a way to do this and still
be able to selectively control the start of the fermentation? In
short, the answer is “yes”, but it’s all dependent on how we
structure and carry-out a set series of steps right from the very
beginning of the fermentation…
The “No-Heat”, No So2 Method Of Preparing
Mead For Fermentation:
Basically, honey in its pre-diluted form is too dense for anything
to grow in it (that’s one of the reasons why you can store it for
so long and it never goes bad). Yet, as soon as it gets diluted
to must levels, it’s ‘open season’ for any yeast or bacteria that
find their way into it, and now the clock starts ticking. So, the
goal here is to pitch a large quantity of healthy, viable yeast
as soon as the honey becomes diluted so that they can rapidly
colonize the must completely and thereby overrun any smaller
populations of undesired organisms before they have a chance
to establish themselves in the must. So, how do we do this?
Timing: Since it takes around ½ an hour to correctly hydrate
the yeast and about 5 minutes to dilute* the honey, it would
make sense to first prepare the yeast, then deal with the honey.
Once the starter is ready, you quickly dilute the must and then
immediately pitch the yeast into it. That should do it!
*Note: that the dilution water should be clean and fresh, and that
it need only be around 10° F warmer than the honey itself in order
for it to easily dissolve the honey into solution. Constant stirring
with a sanitized spoon in a sanitized bucket while gradually adding
the honey will assure a complete and even dilution.
Important Elements To Be Aware Of When
Using The No-Heat, No-So2 Technique
• Good, standard sanitization practices must be employed
in order to avoid potential contamination, and this goes
for anything that will touch the mead and yeast at any
stage of the process, i.e. buckets, spoons, bowls, carboys,
thieves, racking-canes, hydrometers, and so on.
• In order for the yeast to be able to dominate the fermentation,
the starting population of yeast must be healthy
and robust, which means that they need to be correctly
hydrated using “Go-Ferm” and then properly fed during
the fermentation using “Fermaid-K” (see MoreWine!’s
manual: “Yeast Hydration and a Recommended Nutrient
Regimen” for complete instructions).
Managing A Successful Fermentation
• It is highly recommended to oxygenate the must just
after the yeast has been pitched into it. This will help
the yeast build-up their cells walls and get off to a great
start. Note: oxygen can be introduced by gently agitating (sloshing/
rocking) the fermenter at 1 minute intervals, 2–3 times
before fermentation starts. An even better solution is to use an
oxygenation system made up of an oxygen tank and a stainless
steel diffusion stone.
• If you have an oxygenation system, this oxygenation can
then be repeated after a 5° Brix drop from the starting
gravity (this usually equates to a day or so after the first
signs of fermentation are visible).
• Throughout the fermentation, it is a good idea to stir
the lees back up into solution once a day, especially towards
the latter stages when things begin to slow down.
This allows a greater percentage of the yeast to have access
to the needed nutrient sources in the must and it
also avoids the scenario where yeast are being buried
alive, become starved and then react by producing H2S.
In short, stirring the yeast helps everything and hurts
nothing.
• Try to keep the fermentation temperatures from becoming
too high, i.e.: do not ferment above 85° F. Above
this and this and the yeast will begin to become stressed
and they will produce less than ideal flavours and aromas.
In general, 55–65° F will produce a more focused
and delicate mead, while 65–75° F will produce a more
complex and “heady” one. This has to do with the fact
that the same yeast will produce different esters and
other compounds at varying temperatures but it is also
strain-dependant, as well.
Recommended Step-by-Step Guideline to
Making Mead
1) Sanitize everything that will be used to prepare the
yeast and mead mixture: buckets, bowls, fermenters,
spoons, hydrometer and sample jar, thermometers, stoppers,
airlocks, etc. We recommend using Star-San CL26.
2) Prepare the yeast:
• Dry yeast: hydrate with “Go-Ferm” in 104° F water, as
per the instructions. Use 1 gram of yeast per gallon for
starting gravities up to 24° Brix, and 1.25 grams of yeast
per gallon for those above this (more yeast is needed if
the starting Brix will be over 24°).
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• Liquid yeast: is ready to go “as is” and is used at a rate
of 1 vial per 5 gallons. This being said, doing a “Go-
Ferm” soak using the same process for the dry yeast hydration
(outlined above) will also benefit a liquid yeast
before a mead fermentation.
3) Once the yeast has begun soaking, set a timer for
30 minutes. While you are waiting, prepare the must
(diluted honey mixture):
• In a sanitized vessel, hydrate the honey using clean, fresh
water (filtered water is great, but do not use distilled as
the lack of minerals will actually harm the yeast). The
water need be only around 10° F warmer than the honey
for an easy dilution.
Note: that all honeys have slightly different sugar levels, therefore
it may be useful to check the gravity from time to time
during the hydration process with a hydrometer to accurately
achieve a specific, desired starting gravity.
• Add 0.45 g/gal Potassium Carbonate to the must and
mix it in thoroughly.
4) Pitch the prepared yeast into the must as soon as
possible*:
• *Important: Once the 30 minute hydration-time is up
and you are ready to pitch the yeast, if the difference
in temperature between the yeast starter and the must
itself is greater than 15° F, then you will need to take
the following steps in order to avoid thermally shocking
the yeast: Add a portion of the cooler must to the yeast
starter at a ratio of .5 : 1, as shown here: Example: If
there is 120 mL in the yeast starter, then add 60 mL of the must
into the starter, for a total volume of 180 mL.
• Once this is done, mix thoroughly and wait another 15–
30 minutes. Repeat this process at 15–30 minute intervals
until your yeast’s starter temperature is within 15° F
of the honey mixture before pitching the starter into the
must. This intermediary step allows the yeast to begin
adjusting to the new temperature (as well as the TA%,
pH, and °Brix) of the must incrementally rather than all
at once, and thereby limits the possibility of it becoming
shocked by potential temperature extremes.
5) Once the yeast have been pitched, oxygenate the
must:
• This can most effectively be done using an oxygenation
set-up, which is made-up of a diffusion stone along with
a tank of oxygen and a mini-regulator (FE376),
• or by agitating the must as much as possible (i.e.: gently
shake/rock the carboy for 1 minute so the liquid sloshes
around, repeat 2–3 times).
6) At the first signs of fermentation — Add 1 gram
per gallon of Fermaid-K + 1–2 grams per gallon of
DAP to the must:
“Go-Ferm” by itself does not provide enough of the nitrogen
and nutrients needed by the yeast in a honey must (honey is
very poor in both), so DAP and Fermaid-K are added to makeup
what’s needed. Fermaid-K provides a well-balanced, complete
source of miconutrients, sterols, organic Nitrogen, and
unsaturated fatty acids. Fermaid-K has some Nitrogen (24
ppm N for every 1 g/gal) but this is still not enough to supply
the amount needed by the yeast. The rest of the required
Nitrogen is made-up using DAP (50 ppm N for every g/gal).
Mix the required amounts of Fermaid-K and DAP with just
enough warm, clean water to dissolve the white crystals of the
DAP and thoroughly stir it into the fermenting must.
Note: that the reason why the DAP and Fermaid-K are added now
at the first signs of fermentation instead of at the beginning during
yeast hydration or must preparation is two-fold:
1. During the hydration process the yeast’s cell walls are
not yet fully formed and at this early stage the form of
nitrogen in the DAP (note: Fermaid-K also contains DAP)
can actually burn the cell before it becomes fully formed.
Later, once the cell wall has become fully formed and
stabilized, it will then be able to handle the presence of
the DAP.
2. The DAP and Fermaid-K could very well have been added
as soon as the yeast was ready to be pitched into the
must, however, other organisms could have used it as
an energy source to gain a stronger foothold before the
yeast had a chance to dominate the environment. To
avoid this scenario, it is advisable to wait until the first
signs of fermentation are visible, then add the nutrients.
This way you are assured of feeding only the “guests”
you actually invited to the party…
6) At 1/3 sugar depletion — Add another 1 gram per
gallon of Fermaid-K + 1–2 grams per gallon of DAP to
the must:
This is the “mid-ferment” nutrient addition. At this stage, the
yeast will have used up the first set of nutrients we added earlier
getting to this point. This second addition will keep them
healthy as they finish the second half of the fermentation.
Mix the required amount of nutrients with just enough warm,
clean water to dissolve the white crystals of the DAP and thoroughly
stir it into the fermenting must.
7) For the remainder of the fermentation:
• Stir the lees back-up into the wine every day
• Make sure the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too much
• At the end of the fermentation, the activity will decrease
significantly, including the production of CO2. This
means that every time the vessel is opened for a stirring
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or a sample testing/tasting, then it may be possible to
gain a little oxygen exposure (even the 1” space below
the stopper in a topped-up carboy can potentially be
problematic). It is a good idea to flush the entire headspace
with inert gas each time the vessel is opened.
Once the fermentation is over
1a) If you want a still mead (non-carbonated): Add
SO2:
It is important to stabilize the wine as soon as possible, and
that means adding SO2 to protect the mead from oxidation
and to hinder potential spoilage organisms (acetobacter, for
example). The amount needed is the same as for a white wine,
and varies according to the pH of the mead (see the chart below).
However, if you do not know the pH of the mead, then
adding circa 50ppm (1/4 tsp per 5 gallons) is a good “down
& dirty” method to adding the sulphite.
1b) If you want a sparkling mead: Do not add SO2:
If you are looking to make a sparkling mead, then go ahead
and bottle the mead without adding any sulphite. However,
you will need to make sure that there is just the right amount
of residual sugar present at bottling so that the mead will continue
to ferment a little while longer after it has been bottled.
The best way to do this is to allow the mead to ferment to
complete dryness (when it stops bubbling), then add a small
amount of sugar back into the wine at bottling, either sucrose
or honey, to induce a final burst of fermentation. Because a
sealed bottle is a closed system, the resulting CO2 generated
from this renewed fermentation will not be allowed to escape
and it will ultimately go into solution, thereby causing the
mead to become carbonated (this is referred to as a “natural”
carbonation*, and is in fact the basis of the “méthode champenoise”
used to carbonate champagne).
*Note that the mead could also be “force-carbonated” using a keg
and a tank of CO2 , just like they do to make many Italian Pro Seccos
and Spumantes. If you are force-carbonating, then you do not
need to worry about using the yeast to carbonate the mead and we
recommend adding SO2 as soon as the fermentation is over.
2) The actual amount of residual sugar left in the finished
mead also needs to be taken into account. If the desired final
RS% will be above 1.0%, then in addition to the sulphites,
sorbate and/or sterile filtration (0.45 microns) should be
considered as part of the preparation of the mead for bottling.
3) If you will be adding fruit or spices to the mead, it’s generally
best to do so at the end of the primary fermentation.
Often the sugars from the fruit will cause a slight renewed
fermentation but this is not a problem. However, fresh fruit
is often a source of spoilage organisms with acetobacter &
various lactic bacteria being the most prevalent. Therefore,
in order to avoid any contamination, it is usually a good idea
to quickly pasteurize any additives before they are introduced
into the mead.
4) The pH and TA% may need to be re-adjusted, post-ferment
(if you will be adding any fruit or spices, it is best to wait until
after the mead has taken on these characteristics before tasting
to adjust the pH/TA%):
• If the mead lacks acidity, use tartaric acid or an acid
blend to acidify the wine to taste. It is a good idea to
add the acid in several small steps, tasting as you go to
avoid over doing the addition. (1 tsp = around 5 grams,
and adding 3.8 grams per gallon = +.1% TA).
• If the mead is too acidic, then use some carbonate (potassium
is best) in order to raise the pH. Again, this
must be done to taste, and proceeding slowly in several
increments is probably best. (1 tsp = around 6 grams, and
adding 3.4 grams per gallon = -.1% TA).
5) A quick word about oak: Oak can indeed be a part of
meadmaking and it is recommended to use the cubes over
the chips whenever possible because the cubes have a greater
complexity of flavours and a longer, slower extraction time.
Barrels can also do lovely things to mead. It is important to
keep in mind that oak added during the fermentation will ultimately
be less present up front in the finished wine, instead
becoming integrated into the final mead in a more complex
and “structural” way than if the same amount of oak were to
be added to the mead post-fermentation. For complete informaiton
on using oak in winemaking, please see MoreWine!’s
“Oak Information” and “Use and Care of a Barrel” Manuals
(available for free on our website).
6) Finally, in general, time and cooler temperatures will be
all that is needed to clear-out a mead before bottling. If you
like, you can fine, but as fining is by nature non-selective you
may be removing positive flavour components, as well. Filtration
is probably the better solution for the impatient, however,
this comes with two caveats: you should only use the
smallest micron size needed to clear the wine; and you will
lose valuable contact time with the lees (which gives the mead
a greater complexity and fuller mouthfeel) if done too early.
For a complete explanation of ageing on the lees, please see
MoreWine!’s White Winemaking Manual.
In conclusion
While what was offered here is a solid, basic foundation on how
to successfully make mead, it should also be pointed out that
this paper is in no way a substitute for an actual text devoted
to the subject. For further reading, “The Compleat Meadmaker”
(BK710) is an excellent choice, followed by “Making Wild
Wines and Mead” (BK700). In addition, the author would like
to thank Lallemand’s George Clayton Cone for both his paper
on the subject: ”The Basics of Mead Fermentation” as well as
for the many conversations had during the preparation of this
document!