An ancient beverage created through the fermentation of honey and water.
This simple Instructable is meant to help guide the beginner mead maker and is not intended to be a full discussion of the biochemistry, though I may provide a more thorough run down in a future piece. Mead has a lot of variants, so in order to keep things fairly simple, I've chosen to start off with a Metheglin, which is a mead that contains some herbs and spices. If you want to make a traditional sack mead or quick mead, omit the herbs and spices.
The ingredients in the Image 1 are all you'll need to make a fine mead. Equipment is not pictured here are: purified water, a sampling cylinder, pH strips, hydrometer, a clean mesh splatter guard, funnels, boiling vessels, bung locks, tubing, airlock, primary and secondary fermenters. You should also get yourself a Vinebrite filter.
1. Clean all your equipment thoroughly. This will require more than simply running it through the dishwasher. I recommend acquiring some OneStep or Starsan to make sure you've really done a good job sterilizing your equipment. (The old microbiology adage is that there is no such thing as a little sterile. Since you are not working in a Class 100 bioproduction suite, the cleaner you can be, the better.)
2. Ensure you have sufficient starting materials. Write out your recipe in your notebook. Nothing is more frustrating than having to run back out to the store when you're knee deep in this recipe.
3. Safety. A good apron and a set of kitchen mitts and gloves are vital to this recipe. Hot honey is not fun to spill on yourself or others.
Everything is ratios for this kind of work, which is nice because you can scale you recipe up and down more easily if you base everything on volume of the batch.
You will want to end up with a specific gravity of 1.09 (Image 2) to start the primary fermentation if you want your mead to have a punch to it. This works out to about 2.5-3 lbs of honey per gallon (1.1-1.4 kg/3.8 L). Make it a little heavier if you want sweeter and alcoholic meads, and a little lighter if you like it to be a bit more balanced.
You want to have a good amount of acid starting out in the primary fermenter. You'll accomplish this by juicing a few oranges and a couple lemons into the water when you set the honey on to heat. To improve the flavor of the mead and it's mouth feel, you can zest the lemon and the oranges into the batch. Check the pH on your final must to make sure you are in the pH 3.5-4 range (Image 3). If you need to go lower, add a bit of acid blend or lemon juice.
For the chemical additives, I recommend following the directions on the the yeast nutrient and the grape tannin to ensure you've used enough of them.
An important note on honey is that you don't have to boil it to sterilize it. Wild yeast can be killed in 22 minutes at 147 F (64F). The more important need to boil the honey is to facilitate the removal of the dissolved wax inherent in most commercially available honey. If you don't remove this wax the yeast may have a difficult time maintaining itself in solution and will agglutinate and fall to the bottom of the fermenter. While the honey water mixture is heating, it will begin to form a foam on the top of the solution. Use the clean splatter guard to remove this foam (Image 4). Once the foam is removed, you can add your cloves, vanilla bean, cardamon, and cinnamon to the batch.
Use the funnel to pour the hot (Not boiling) mixture into your clean fermenter. Once the material cools to ~ 65-75F (18-24C) it can be innoculated with the yeast. Take a sample of the primary fermenter, put in your yeast (number of packets depends on your total volume). Allow 15-60 minutes for this sample to begin fermenting. Innoculate the fermenter with the yeast mixture and stir the vessel. Once innoculated, the fermentation will be vigorous for the first 6-12 days. You will want to have a closure that allows for a lot of gas to escape, but prevents things like insects (Fruit-flies!) to gain access to the mixture. (Image 5 contains a blow off tube system. A tube is attached to a valved spigot which runs from the top of the fermenter to a jug full of water. The tube is placed down into the water. This allows gas to escape but nothing can enter the fermenter.) Be sure to leave some headspace in your fermenter or you will probably get some overflow as you volume will increase a bit as the yeast begin to release carbon dioxide.
Secondary and Tertiary Fermentation:
After the inital fermentation, the amount of bubbling should have lessened or even subsided. It's time to "rack" the fermetation into an airlocked vessel (Preferably glass, steel, lexan, or PETG). The primary simply needs to be put through a large strainer and into the secondary (Image 6). (You can add some vitamin C, ascorbic acid, to this to reduce the impacts of oxidation. Further you can use a liquid handling peristaltic pump or a siphon and run the solution down the side of the secondary fermenter.) Whatever your method, it is vitally important to be very clean during the racking. Once the solution is transferred, you can put your air lock onto the secondary and put the mead in a dark place where the temperature is stable. In 1-2 months, you should check your mead and rack it again (off the lees, which are the precipitated yeast and waste materials of the fermentation.) Each successive racking should go through finer and finer filter materials until it can pass through a vinebrite filter. Once it can go through this filter you are ready for bottling.
You'll know your mead is ready as it will be crystal clear, the amount of bubbles in the solution will be minimal and it will have a strong alcohol content. This will be evidenced by "legs" in your wine glass and by taking a sample of the batch and comparing the hydrometer reading to the original reading. The fermenter solution should read 1.00 at the end of fermentation.
Mead can be stored in barrels like a wine or a whiskey, it can also be bottled and corked in Wine Bottles. (You can even wax the tops of the bottles if you like, Image 7). Mead ages very well as long as it is kept out of the light and in a cool dry place. The average amount of time that I age my mead for is between 3-6 months. I always kick myself for not aging it to the longer end of that range (Image 8).
Good luck and enjoy mead making!