Mead Lover's Digest #36 Sun 15 November 1992
Forum for Discussion of Mead Brewing and Consuming
John Dilley, Digest Coordinator
Date: Tue Nov 10 16:52:37 1992
From: John Dilley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Mead-Lover's Digest README / FAQ
This is a special issue of the mead-lovers digest. There were
no articles submitted today, so instead this README/FAQ is going out. I
hope you find it useful and informative. Please feel free to contribute
information to it if you have some to share. Send it to the request
address, email@example.com, so it gets in the master copy
of this file. Thank you, enjoy — and of course, Wassail!
— jad —
Subject: Mead-Lovers README file
Contributed-by: Thomas Manteufel and John Dilley
With-Thanks-To: Michael Tighe
Version: $Revision: 1.6 $ $
Date: 92/11/10 16:55:45 $
This document is a list of basic information about mead and mead making
for the beginner. It is intended to get you started and answer your
initial questions about mead and mead making. Please feel free to post
any questions you have after reading this document to the mead-lovers
digest mailing list, firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to
subscribe or unsubscribe send mail to email@example.com.
The History and Tradition of Mead
Mead is a honey based fermented beverage that has been produced and
enjoyed since the beginning of recorded history. Because of its
antiquity, mead has acquired an almost magical reputation in our
mythologies. For example, the term honeymoon is intertwined with the
custom of drinking honey-based mead for a month (moon) after the
wedding; this practice was said to to ensure baby boys. Mead making was
once the province of a select, trained guild. Now, it is open to all
who have the patience and skill. You are continuing this long and
honored tradition. Welcome aboard and enjoy.
The Types of Mead
Mead is classified not by the kind of honey that it is made of, but by
what else may have been added to it for flavoring.
- TRADITIONAL is mead made with only honey, and perhaps a small
amount of acid (to balance the sweetness).
- METHEGLIN is mead made with additional spices, typically cloves,
cinnamon, or spices like that.
- MELOMEL is mead made with the addition of fruit to traditional
mead. Melomel may also contain spices, like Metheglin.
- CYSTER is a melomel made from apples.
- PYMENT is a melomel made from grapes.
- HIPPOCRAS is a spiced pyment.
Depending on the initial amount of honey, and how attenuative the yeast
is, the final mead may be dry or sweet. A dry mead may also be called a
What Kinds of Honey
There are many kinds of honey, based on which flowers the bees collected
the nectar from. Honeys range in taste and color from the light clover
and alfalfa to the stronger tasting (and darker) buckwheat. Which you
will use depends both on which you like the taste of, and what type of
mead you are trying to make. Stronger flavors go well in metheglins,
while the milder honeys make a good base for melomels.
You can buy honey in bulk from road side stands, or health food stores.
You may also be lucky enough to live near a honey farm (or apiary) and
can buy right from the beekeeper. Look in the phone book for honey, or
health food, or beekeepers. Sometimes, exterminators will remove hives
and give the bees to beekeepers, and sell the honey. University
agriculture departments occasionally sell honey. Be inventive. If all
else fails, you may have to buy it from the grocery store.
The honey will be either raw or processed in some way. Raw honey has
bits of wax, bee parts, dust, pollen, microorganisms, and the like in
it. You have the most control in how you process raw honey, but you
also have the most to do. Honey may be filtered, or blended, or even
heat pasturized. The more processed it is, the milder it is likely to
be. Processing also evaporates some of the honey's aroma. Commercial,
grocery store honey is the most processed.
Acid is added to the must both to adjust the ph and to balance the sweet
flavor of the honey. Yeast love an acidic environment. Many other
microorganisms don't. The acid you add protects the must before the
high alcohol level creates a hostile environment for the competition.
Acid can be added in many forms. Winemaking suppliers sell acid blends,
powder or liquid. Acid is measured in "as tartaric", or how acidic the
must is compared to pure tartic acid. For example, if the must is 0.5
percent acid as tartic, it is as acidic as if 0.5 percent of the must is
pure tartic acid. Inexpensive test kits will let you measure the
acidity so that you can adjust it. Acid blends may be a combination of
tartic, citric, malic and other natural acids. Sometimes you may be
able to get pure acids. Acid may also be added from tea (tannic acid)
or from the natural acid in fruits and berries. This is why many
melomels do not need additional acid.
How to Prepare the Must
Raw mead is called "must". You will want to add the honey to hot water
in a large pot, but make sure the pot is not on the heat while doing
this because the honey will fall to the bottom and carmelize (or stir
vigorously if you leave it on the heat). Use stainless steel or
enameled (the acidic must will leach metallic flavor from aluminum
Some mead recipes recommend only heating the mead to a high enough
temperature to pasteurize it. This is because boiling mead will drive
off some of the delicate honey flavors. Refer to the recipes from the
mead-lovers digest (a list of them to follow).
While heating if you skim the scum off while heating the must you will
get a more clean and delicate flavor. If you don't skim, you may wind
up with a much less interesting brew: too much "waxy-taste" and
"dullness" to the resulting mead.
Mead is more a wine than beer, with a final alcohol level anywhere
between 12 and 18 percent. Wine yeasts, which have a higher alcohol
tolerance, will ferment faster, or more completely than ale or lager
yeast. A partial list of some of the popular yeasts are:
Champagnes (there is more than one strain), Epernay, Montrachet,
Prise De Mousse and Tokay, Wyeast European Ale, Werker.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Each yeasts will impart its own
unique characteristic to the mead. Champagne ferments out very dry with
small bubbles, and has a high alcohol tolerance. Epernay has a fruity
bouquet. Montrachet, Prise De Mousse and Tokay are good general purpose
wine yeasts. Some yeasts will produce detectable levels of phenols (the
throat burning part of cough medicine), but this ages out in bottle
There is a mead yeast (Werker) which has been reported to be quite good.
It makes a very sweet and very lightly bubbly mead (it works to keep the
sweetness of the honey). Be aware that the Werker yeast starts slowly,
so be extra careful about cleaning your equipment and pasteurizing the
must so that the must does not get infected before the yeast has a
Honey by itself is low in some of the nutrients that yeast need to
reproduce and quickly ferment out the mead must. Fermentation times can
be measured in months as the yeast slowly trickles along. Mead makers
can add a nutrient to help the yeast. Usually, the nutrient is added
when the must is prepared.
There are several kinds of nutrients. Most winemaking shops will sell
various salts designed for grape musts. While this is helpful for mead,
too much can leave an astringent metallic flavor that will take months
or years in the bottle to age out. Yeast extract, pulverized yeast, is
also available. Dead yeast are exploded ultrasonically or in a
centrifuge, and sold as a powder. Yeast extract will not leave the same
metallic flavors as nutrients, but may be more difficult to find. It is
not possible to make your own yeast extract at home.
Mead will take longer than beer to ferment. Fermentation times can be
measured in months, so get another carboy. Mead likes to ferment a
little warmer than beer (70F – 80F), but should be stored in a cool
place to bottle condition. You will have to rack mead (transfer it to a
separate vessel, leaving behind the sediment) while it is fermenting.
If you make any kind of mead beside traditional, you will have to rack
about a week after starting to remove the bits of fruit and spices that
settle out. Rack again every several weeks to get the mead off the
dormant yeast and other matter that settles out. This improves the
flavor and clarifies the mead.
First, you must make sure the mead has stopped fermenting. Mead is such
a slow fermenter that it may appear completely done, but continue to
ferment in the bottles producing glass grenades. Some techniques to
make sure the mead is done fermenting are to take hydrometer readings
for three to five consecutive days and make sure the readings aren't
still falling; or make sure they are down around 1.000 or below. You
can also tell by seeing if the mead is clear and there are no visible
(tiny) bubbles rising through the mead. Be careful, though, because
being clear is not enough.
Use sturdy bottles, either cheap champagne (which are thick enough to
take the higher carbonation) or returnable beer bottles. The bottles
may be capped or corked. Do not use the thinner walled disposable twist
off beer bottles.
Mead that has finished fermentation and is then bottled will be flat.
Sparkling mead is primed by adding a small amount of sugar at bottling
time so that it is carbonated; the amount will vary depending upon how
complete the fermentation is when you bottle. The most you would ever
want to add is about 1/2 cup of sugar for five gallons.
Store the bottles in a cool dark place. Mead is not as sensitive as
beer to light (unless you have hops in it), but should not be left in
While reading the mead-lovers digest you will occasionally see the word
Wassail. The following is the dictionary definition of wassail:
was.sail' n. 1.a. A salutation or toast formerly given in drinking
someone's health or as an expression of good will at a festivity. 1.b.
The drink used in such toasting, commonly ale or wine spiced with
roasted apples and sugar. 2. A festivity characterized by much
drinking. v. To drink to the health of; toast.
The dictionary lists two pronunciations (wahs'ul, wah-sale').
Other Topics and Further Reading
Beyond this basic information you should refer to recipes and further
reading for details on how to make mead. A compendium of recipes will
be sent out in a special issue of the mead-lovers digest.
Books and Other Sources of Information (a partial list)
The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Knight, Opened, edited by Anne MacDonell,
1669, 1910, Philip Lee Warner, Publisher.
Digby worked for Queen Elizabeth I in her kitchen as, among other
things, her mead maker. This is a collection of over 100 recipes from
the time. This book may be ordered from the International Bee Research
International Bee Research Association (IRBA)
18 North Road
Cardiff, Wales, CF1 3 DY, UK
Copies may also be obtained from the Society for Creative Anachronisms
(SCA) in the states. You might try rec.org.sca for pointers.
Brewing Mead/Wassail! In Mazers of Mead, Lt. Col. Robert Gayre and Charlie
Papazian, Brewers Publications
Making Mead, Bryan Acton and Peter Duncan, Amateur Winemaker Publications
The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, Charlie Papazian, 1991, Avon Books
"Stimulate Your Senses With Mead", Susanne Price,
Zymurgy, Fall 1992, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 32-39
The Mead Lover's Digest, John Dilley, Coordinator,
End of Mead Lover's Digest