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Rules of Thumb

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Registered Member
Sep 4, 2005
After cruising through these forums, trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible, I find myself reading "Well, the experts say . . ." over and over again, but I can't ever find where these things were originally said. And there's a lot of "Rules of Thumb" out there for mazing that I just haven't seen until someone states one of them in a reply to someone's question - and then I say to myself "That would have been helpful to know!" *grins* So I was hoping that we could get some of the experts on these forums to put all of the Rules of Thumb they can think in one place.

Some examples I have come across:

If your bubbling activity slows to one blip every 30 seconds or more, you should probably rack.

If you want your mead to retain the original fruit flavor, put the fruit in the secondary.

These should just be Rules of Thumb, not something that is true every time, but something you can use to gauge your mead by. Like what percent alcohol is usual? What does a "vigorous" fermentation look like in terms of bubbles per minute (as opposed to "a really pretty red color all over the floor and ceiling")? About how long does fermentation usually last from mixing the must to stopping, and then how long for clearing usually?

I do have a copy of the Compleat Meadmaker, and while it is an amazing source, there are some things it doesn't cover (or I haven't read yet as I skip around reading this chapter, then that one).

For instance, as a total newbie to brewing, when I was setting up my first batch (AO), I took one look at my bubbler and said to myself "Well, the oxygen can get right in through this thing!" And then I saw one of the animated graphics on Jack Keller's website, and realized you needed to put water in it. Kinda Duh!, but I didn't know. Most recipes just say "Fit the airlock". They don't talk about how to prepare it. *shrug*


Registered Member
Sep 23, 2004
Cedar Rapids, IA

There are not necessarily good rules of thumb for all of your questions. For instance, the percentage of alcohol in the final product is determined by the yeast and amount of fermentable sugars provided to the batch. Once you settle on a yeast type, then you can have a "use between x.x and y.y pounds of honey per gallon" rule that applies.

Likewise, the amount of foam is a function of many things including yeast type, nutrients, fruits or juices present, and whether you heat and skim the must. For instance, if you heat and skim the must you will see very little foaming for even the most active yeast while you throw that same yeast into raw apple juice and you will blow foam through the trap.

So I will post a couple of the rules of thumb I have heard...

1. Rack when the lees is 3/4 of an inch or more in depth. Rack again when fermentation stops or when the lees gets to 3/4 of an inch again.

2. Fill a carboy to the curve in the glass to leave just about the right amount of headspace for a fermenting batch.

3. Headspace is not an issue while a batch is still fermenting because it is producing a layer of CO2 that protects it from oxidation. (I believe this applies mainly to trapped batches, not ones covered with cheesecloths)

4. A batch can remain exposed (covered with a cloth) for the first few days but should generally be trapped after 3 days. (I usually trap mine immediately.)

5. Use 1.5 pounds of fruit per gallon.

6. The taste of your mead will reflect the taste of the things you put into it. (Kinda like garbage in equals garbage out) If you put nasty tasting water or fruit into a batch then you can expect nasty tasting results. I suppose the same can be said about things that are tart, bitter, sour, etc.

And one I adher to that may cause controversy...

1. Use glass for your fermentation vessels. (Has to do with sterilizing knicks and scratches in plastic.)

Good luck and remember that it's actually pretty easy to make mead.


Got Mead Partner
Dec 26, 2004
The OC
Here's mine:

Design your must to allow your yeast to ferment to completion, if you want sweet or semi-sweet bump up the brix so you'll have enough residual sugar to fit your tastebuds.

Rack based on the yeast you are using. That is, don't rack on your schedule, rack on the yeast's schedule. This obviates the need to do your diligence on the yeast you're using and know what to expect.

Nutrients, oxygenation and agitation during the first 3 - 4 days or so is key to helping your yeasties grow up healthy, strong and hungry. Ferment open but covered with a sanitized cloth for the first three days or so and then airlock. Use bargain bin Vodka to fill your airlock.

For melomels you'll need to adjudicate what level of flavor you desire and use that as your gauge for fruit additions. If adding to the primary add more fruit because you lose some of the fruit character during the ferment. If adding to the secondary add depending on how intense you want the fruit flavor to be. I've added as much as 20 some odd pounds of fruit to my melomels on occaision. It just depends on what you want.

Yeast stress and the by-products thereof are the most common cause of off flavors in your mead. Adequate levels of nutrients (including oxygen during the first part of the primary) are necessary to keep your yeasties from stressing out.

Plastic is fine for primary if you don't have enough glass vessels to use. Be sensible about it. If there are some scratches in the plastic bucket, use something else or buy a new one. Be diligent about sanitizing no matter what you use for primary, secondary, etc.

When racking, check your lines and chase any air bubbles out to minimize aeration. Also flood the vessel you'll be racking into with CO2 to minimize additional aeration as the vessel fills. I wrap some saran wrap around the mouth of the vessel and the tubing to cut down the air exposure as well.

When taste testing, pulling for brix/sg readings, etc. make sure to sanitize the bung and inside of the carboy neck BEFORE you slide your theif in. Any little beasties that have been living around the bung seal on the outside can be picked up by the thief as it slides through the mouth, and be innoculated into your mead. Sometimes I flame it with a small torch, or a quick wipe with iodophor, sanitizer, etc will do the trick. Make sure to sanitize the bung again when you stopper the carboy up again.

Goose your carboys weekly with CO2 as headspace grows and temperature rises/falls.

When sur lie aging, hit your mead with the baton about once a month. Just a nice slow swirl, you don't want to aerate, just suspend your yeasties to impart those nice round mouthfeel saccharides and peptides.

When bottling flood your bottling bucket and bottles with CO2 and lay your sanitized caps, corks, screws or whatever you're using to seal on top of each bottle before you fill them. If you have someone helping you you can have them flood the bottle right before you fill it and cap it after you've filled it.

Mead is fun, drinking is fun, drinking mead is even more fun.

Make mead, age mead, drink mead . . . repeat.



Dan McFeeley

Lifetime Patron
Lifetime GotMead Patron
Oct 10, 2003


"Rules of thumb" is a good phrase. The guiding principles in meadmaking are just that, principles that give an idea of the general direction to be followed. They're not rules set in stone.

I think the operative word here is "empirical," meaning what you see and observe, but not necessarily connected with research and theory. Without specific references, it's likely that advice given is empirically based, i.e., what worked for the particular meadmaker, using that particular honey, particular methods, etc., etc. Good advice to follow, but read between the lines and make adjustments when necessary.

Oh yeah, in order to make the adjustments, you have to ask lots of questions, gather more input, read background stuff. ;D
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