The following pieces of equipment are useful, although not necessary:
Yeast Starter Bottle – We should first make note that there is a difference between a ‘yeast starter’ and ‘rehydrated’ yeast. If you are following the instructions on the dry yeast packet, you will be rehydrating your yeast with nothing more than slightly warmed water approximately 15 minutes before pitching. A ‘yeast starter’ involves adding your rehydrated yeast to a small solution containing nutrients, energizers, and food (some of the Must is an excellent choice), and letting it start to reproduce. There are two main advantages to doing this:
- The yeast will become acclimated to the conditions they will soon be poured into (i.e. acidity, sugar content, nutrient level), which will prevent potential shock that could stall your fermentation.
- The numbers of the yeast will be such that they will completely overwhelm any other bacteria or yeast that have found their way into your Must.
Any container that can be sanitized can be used for rehydration, but having a container that can have an airlock attached is a good idea for the starter since you do not want to cultivate unwanted yeast. Glass or plastic is best, but metal is fine as long as it is not aluminum (see above).
Scum Skimmer – If you are using raw and unprocessed honey and you are boiling or pasteurizing it, a fair amount of scum will rise to the top that needs to be removed. This scum is made of wax, proteins, bee parts, pollen etc. that will do little for the Mead at this point. A Tea Strainer works well for this as the mesh is small enough to grab all of the scum, but will still let the precious Must through. If scum continues to rise to the top of the Must during fermentation, you should continue to use the strainer to remove it, making sure to sanitize it properly before each use.
Measuring Spoons – Needed to measure out the nutrients, energizer, spices, and anything else you plan on adding to the Must.
Funnel – If you intend to ferment everything in jugs or Carboys, then this is a necessity. Pouring any liquid into the neck of a Carboy is hard enough as it is, but it can also be hazardous if the Must is hot. Any funnel will do, but it must be able to handle the heat of a freshly boiled Must without warping. Some funnels available from Homebrew stores come with filters, allowing you to remove unwanted ingredients as you pour it.
Bottle Washer – A bottle washer is a device that shoots water into the bottles and helps flush the gunk out. One type is a simple brass gizmo that screws onto the faucet and shoots a high-pressure spray of water when the bottle is pushed onto it. Another type that mounts on top of a bottle drying tree includes a reservoir that allows a cleaning fluid to be added to the water to aid in sanitation. From my experience, the brass model works tremendously well.
Blow-off Tube – Very active fermentations sometimes result in Mead and foam being pushed up through the Air-lock, resulting in a mess. To avoid this, a simple device can be made that allows any blow-off to be directed into a container while preventing any air from entering the fermenter. All that is needed is a stopper with a hole large enough for a siphon tube to be inserted, a 3 foot length of siphon tube, a small bowl, and some sanitation fluid. Push the siphon tube into the stopper hole and insert the stopper into the fermenter. Pour the sanitation liquid into the bowl, and put the other end of the hose into the liquid so that the end is held under the surface.
Aeration Stone and O2 Bottle – The yeast need to have a good amount of oxygen early in the fermentation process. This can be achieved by either shaking the mead vigorously, by stirring it rapidly, or by aerating it using a stainless steel aeration stone and an oxygen bottle. The stone is very easy to use and introduces sufficient oxygen into the Must in just a couple of minutes.
Testing Equipment – Acid testing kits, Brix Refractometers, and other laboratory equipment can be helpful in the brewing process, particularly when something goes wrong and you are trying to find out what to do differently next time. For example, acid levels are sometimes high enough that the fermentation does not start or it stalls part way. If you can measure the pH of the Must at the beginning, you may spot this and make some ingredient adjustments to raise the pH. None of the testing equipment is absolutely necessary, particularly for a beginner. Vicky – “Mainly, I go with my instinct, and my taste buds.”