Introduction: Mead Made With Science!
Mead is a wonderful summer drink, its very easy to make and there are lots of recipes on the internet. I'm going to take you through a basic recipe, with a little added Science! to help you understand why your doing things. Hopefully with your new knowledge you'll be making wonderful mead, trying different recipes and even making your own recipes.
Step 1: Equipment and Ingredients
For a basic 4.5l (English gallon)
- Fermentation vessel- a glass or plastic demijohn, you could even use a gallon mineral water bottle with a hole drilled in the top for the airlock (they're around £1.50)
- Siphon (or plastic tubing)
- Bottles-screw top, cork or cap.
- Honey 3 pounds- The variety isn't crucial, I don't think commercial mead makers use specific blossom honey
- Water- some would suggest mineral water, as it doesn't contain chlorine, which could add an off taste (you could also use the bottle it came in as your fermentation vessel)
- Yeast-a general or white wine yeast
- Citric acid- Either lemons x2 or citric acid powder
- Tannin- Not essential, adds a red wine texture, either tannin powder or a cup of strong tea
- Campden tablets- Contain sulphide, which inhibits yeast growth, to help stop fermentation, in addition to the wine stabiliser
- Bruclens powder-To form a sterilising solution, to clean equipment
- Pectic Enzyme- To break down pectin (found in fruits) and clear haze
- Yeast Nutrient- The building blocks of the yeasts enzymes, helps to ferment well, prevents stopping of formation prematurely
- Wine stabiliser (Potassium sorbate)- To stabilise and inhibit further fermentation on bottling (which can be explosive!)
Step 2: Getting Started
First clean all equipment as per your sterilising powders instructions. This is crucial otherwise you could contaminate the mead and grow nasties.
Add the honey(see next page), the lemon juice or citric acid (see page after next), 1/4 teaspoon pectic enzyme, 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient, the tea or tannin into the demijohn. Add water up to where the demijohn starts to narrow/get rounded, don't fill up higher than this or when fermentation starts the froth may overflow. See the 2nd and 3rd pictures, in the 3rd picture the one on the left is a little above where I'd fill up to. Sprinkle the yeast on top, I used a sachet of Wilko general wine yeast. Add the airlock and wait a couple of days till the bubbling settles, then top up/top off with water to the to bottom of the neck/narrow bit of the demijohn (just below the handles-as the one on the right in picture 3, or picture 4).
The fermentation should settle in a couple of weeks, this can be seen by air bubbles stopping coming out of the airlock. Leave the mead a couple of weeks, till the sediment starts to sink to the bottom and it looks clear.
Ideally you should siphon (or rack) the mead to another demijohn (or into something temporarily, then back into the same demijohn after washing out), leaving as much of the sediment behind as possible.
After this you can leave the mead a few weeks more to clear entirely, if sediment forms at the bottom, you can siphon to another container again, till no more sediment forms. You can use finings to speed up the process, but you want to age the mead anyway, so waiting to clear naturally isn't so bad.
After you happy its cleared, add 1 crushed campden tablet and the fermentation stopper as per its directions, which usually says leave for 3 days. If your happy to leave the mead dry or add more honey to sweeten, then bottle. You can use bottles with corks, caps or screw tops, even plastic screw top bottles, just make sure to sterilise them first.
Leave the mead for a few months ideally a year or two, it will improve over this time.
Here are a couple more recipes also, credit to creators:
Jack Keller Mead (Mr Keller really knows his stuff)
Now onto the science!
Step 3: Honey and How Much?
People often talk about making sweeter mead by adding more honey, but the yeast would convert all the sugar into alcohol, unless you added so much honey that the yeast died of alcohol poisoning (ie at 16-19% abv) and couldn't convert the remaining sugar to alcohol. I feel its better to pick an abv (alcohol by volume) add enough sugar to achieve this, let if ferment, stabilise, then add sugar or honey at the end to sweeten to taste.
How much honey? well this depends of the abv (%alcohol) you want to achieve, you can use a hydrometer to help work this out. But the above chart tells you how much honey approximately per gallon (4.5l, UK gallon) will achieve the abv. This assuming the honey is around 76g of sugar per 100g honey. But remember there will be additional sugar if you add fruit or juice.
In context, beer and cider are generally 4-5% abv, wine 11-13% abv.
So typically most recipes will go for 2 or 3lbs, for simplicity (most honey is sold in 1lb or 454g jars). You could make weaker mead, but it probably would keep as well, the higher alcohol percentage helps prevent bacterial growth.
So on to acidity...
Step 4: Acidity
Acid is key in wine as it gives the wine body, it also affects the tannins, which give red wine their distinctive character. In Mead acidity is less of an issue in terms of taste (although some people will disagree), some recipes omit additional acid entirely. Although in melomels (mead with fruit) extra acid is supplied by the fruit.
The acidity dose still have an important role, if the must (the honey and water mixture) is too acidotic (low pH) then the yeasts, enzymes will denature (break down or change their shape, is your GCSE/high school biology and chemistry coming back to you?), so they won't work and won't produce any alcohol. If there isn't enough acid (high pH), then there is a risk of bacterial contaminates growing and spoiling the mead (they don't tent to grow well at lower pH). At very low levels of acid (high pH) the enzymes may also denature, but unless you add alkalising agents it is unlikely to occur.
In wine it is generally though the ideal pH (in terms of flavour, preservation) is around 3.5. I try to achieve this with mead. Most recipes will (hopefully) be balanced in their acidity and aim for around this.
In the prior recipe I used 2 lemons, which is approximately the equivalent of 2 teaspoons of citric acid. Although the acidity and size of the lemons can vary.
If your making your own recipe its could be useful to check the acidity, the most accurate way to do this would be by titration (seeing how much alkali solution it takes to neutralise the pH of the must) and there are kits available for this. I haven't done this as its yet more equipment and following a reliable recipe is usually close enough.
You can buy narrow range pH paper, to roughly check:
Is it getting hot in here or are we just going to look at temperature...
Step 5: Temperature
Temperature affects the rate of activity of the enzymes of the yeast, too low and fermentation will be very slow. Too high and the enzymes could denature and then there would be no more fermentation. At higher temperatures there could be a greater chance of bacterial growth.
The graph shows the rate of fermentation of Gervin EC-1118 (wilko universal wine yeast in the UK), at different temperatures. This shows the greater rate of fermentation at higher temperatures, but unless it's very cold, the yeast will ferment all the sugar to alcohol eventually. So it's probably ok not to worry too much about the temperature, unless there's icicles in your hallway.
Finally what about the yeast...
Step 6: Yeast
I've looked for a 'mead yeast' and haven't found one, if you know of one please let me know in the comments. So generally people seem to use wine yeast (usually white wine), cider or beer yeast or bread yeast.
I've seen on lots of forums people using bread yeast and reporting good results. Some people feel using bread yeast isn't a good idea as it can make the mead taste bready. Not being selected for making alcohol, its hard to know how much alcohol the yeast could produce/tolerate before denaturing, so the fermentation could stop prematurely or produce funny tastes.
I tend to use white wine or champagne yeast for mead.
Why do yeast produce alcohol? I hear you ask (ok I know you didn't, but humour me, I'm nearly done).
Like many organisms yeast utilise sugar to create energy, via aerobic respiration (uses oxygen to break down to release energy). But in the closed fermentation vessel, the oxygen is used up so the yeast utilise fermentation, which doesn't require oxygen (its anaerobic).
The picture illustrates the basics of the reaction; the enzymes in the yeast breaking down the sugar to pyruvate then to ethanol (the alcohol we want) and carbon dioxide, which is why gas bubbles out of the demijohn.
Step 7: That's All for Now
Hope that didn't bring back too many bad (high)school memories.
Thanks for reading, any thoughts let me know, please be kind this is my first Instructable.
Oh yes, and I'm entering the Made By Bees Contest, so I'd be very grateful if you'd vote for me.
For further reading on wine making have a look at Jack Keller's wine blog, there's lots of reading
Or this book is quite good if your starting making wine
Bye for now,