Meadcraft: The Waiting Game

Why make mead? Ask Weasel Breweries' Master Brewer Olde Pyehole this question and he'll either answer, "Cause the chicks dig it!" or "Can't think of one damned reason!" Then, he'll probably spit in your eye.

The only answer that really works is, "Because." Mead is good. Sure, it takes a hell of a long time, but whether you're talking about meads, methyglyns, pyments, or whatever, there's just something magical, even mystical, about drinking fermented bee spit. It was good for your early homo sapiens forebearers, and it's still good for you, and some of the mead they made is probably about ready to drink by now.

Abbot Athos handles most of the mead making here at the Ann Arbor Abbey, so he's the one that has the most to say about the subject, which still isn't much, since there's so much great stuff out here on the web and in print about making mead. For links to some highly informative sites, visit the Weasel Breweries Links page. For the the weasel way to make mead in 75 simple steps, read on.

Step 0: Drink some mead if you've got any, and sanitize everything...

Drink something tasty while cleaning your brewing equipment. It is impossible to overstress the importance of sanitized equipment. It means all the difference between having really great mead and having fetid crap in a big, heavy bottle. Clean everything. Twice. And drink some more. Twice.

Step 1: Put water in a big effing pot...

In a 30 liter stainless steel brew pot, bring the appropriate amount of cold water to a boil. 

Step 2: It's honey time...

When the big effing brew pot reaches the boiling point, begin stirring all of that steaming hot water and add the honey. Do this slowly. Boil for 15 minutes. When boiling, foamy scum called "albumen" forms on the surface. This stuff will cloud the mead. Skim it all off of the top and keep skimming until it stops forming.

Step 3: Drink something tasty...

Do it.

Steps 4: Add the other stuff...

After boiling the mixture of honey and water, for 15 minutes and skimming, add all of the things you've decided to use to flavor your mead, like spices, fruit, hops, etc. Also add acid blend to raise the PH, and yeast nutrient to help the yeast get started.

Step 5: Drink something tasty...

Drink it. Drink it again.

Steps 6-18: Cool out...

Cool the mead to 85 degrees Farenheit or lower before placing it in the primary fermenter. Cool it as quickly as possible to prevent yeast infections (really). I do this with a "wort chiller" which is really a long coil of copper (or stainless steel) tubing attached to a garden hose.

When cool, pour the wort into the primary fermenter which, around here, means a seven gallon glass carboy with an airlock on top.

Step 19: Hey batta batta... suwing batta... pitching the yeast...

Without yeast, you can't have mead, so this is the big moment. Be certain that the temperature of the mead is below 85 degrees Farenheit and add --or "pitch"-- the yeast. You can use either dry (inactive) sherry or champagne yeast or liquid (active) mead or wine yeast. If you really want to start things off with a bang, you can grow a "starter culture" from the yeast several days ahead of time. We're usually too lazy around here, but directions on how to do this should be on the yeast packet.

Step 20: Primary fermentation...

Leave mead in primary fermenter until fermentation nearly subsides (this can take up to a month, depending on temperature). Make certain that your one-way airlock is firmly in place, so that gasses can escape the carboy, but can't enter it. It's also really important to keep the wort in the dark, either by putting the carboy in a dark closet or by covering the carboy with a crisply pressed shirt and tuxedo jacket... or a black plastic bag for those of you that don't know how to show your style.

Step 21: Secondary fermentation...

When fermentation has nearly subsided, clean the hell out of a another carboy using your sanitizing solution. Use the smallest carboy that will contain the mead, in order to fill the bottle as full as possible and keep as much oxygen out of the fermenter as possible. Using a sanitized siphon, transfer the wort into the secondary fermenter. Leave it in there for at least two months.

Step 22: Tertiary fermentation...

The mead isn't really fermenting much by this time, but transferring the mead again helps to clarify it. Using a sanitized siphon, transfer the wort into the tertiary fermenter. Try to arrange it so you've got more mead than you can quite fit in your tertiary, filling the vessel all the way up to the neck to reduce oxidation as much as possible. At the abbey, we use a 3.6 gallon carboy for this purpose; you lose some quantity, but that's still a lot of mead. Leave it in there for at least two months.

Step 23: More cleaning... wouldn't your mamma be proud...

Clean your bottles well. Around here, we dip them in santizer and then run them through the dishwasher *without detergent*. Then, when everything is sanitized, and I mean everything, you are ready to bottle.

Steps 24-75: Bottling and aging...

Bottling is an individual taste thing. Here we use wine and champagne bottles that we have dutifully emptied. Depending on whether we are aiming for a sweet mead or a sparkling mead, we either use wine bottles or champagne bottles, respectively. Corking is a little tricky sometimes, so make certain that you get the longest, highest quality corks you can find. After corking, drink some mead and label the bottles.

Finally, let the bottled mead age in a cool, dark place. We recommend a minimum of one year regardless of the style of mead. Aging and blending is actually better measured in years, so settle in for a good long wait.

Amen.

 


To comment, complain or confess, send email to the Monks of Ann Arbor Abbey.

Copyright © 1997-2011 Kirk R. Humphries and Sandy Marshall. All rights reserved. Weasel Breweries, Monks of Ann Arbor Abbey, and Olde Pyehole are trademarks of Kirk Humphries and Sandy Marshall. And so is a lot of other stuff. So there.

Last update: 29 August 2011