This is a good starter guide to making a simple, pure honey mead recipe at home.
If you want some more interesting and complex recipes, we can recommend some of the following books:
- Make Mead Like a Viking: Traditional Techniques for Brewing Natural, Wild-Fermented, Honey-Based Wines and Beers
- The Complete Guide to Making Mead: The Ingredients, Equipment, Processes, and Recipes for Crafting Honey Wine
- Making Mead: A Complete Guide to the Making of Sweet and Dry Mead, Melomel, Metheglin, Hippocras, Pyment and Cyser
If you don’t know where to start, read about the different kinds of mead you can make.
Where to buy homebrew mead kits
- Honey (1.4kg or 3lb) — Use real, natural honey for the best results.
- Distilled water (1 gallon or 3.8l)
- Any other flavourings such as fruit or spices
Fully sterlise any equipment as the fermentation process is favourable to growth of bacteria and other microorganisms too. Many of the kits listed above come with a sterilising solution or powder.
Make up “must” mixture for your mead
First you need to liquify your honey (preferably using a warm water bath) and then mix it with the distilled water. There is no need to heat or boil this mixture. You now have what is known as “must” (the same term used in wine making). At this point you can optionally mix in fruits or spices to add some unique flavour to your mead.
Now you can add the yeast to your must. Some yeasts require some rehydration first, so check the label for any instructions.
Store and ferment your mead
Place in a fermantation bucket or any other large, sterilised container. You want to ensure the following:
- The container should not beoverly full — leave room for a lively fermentation!
- You need to stop air getting in, while still allowing carbon dioxide to escape. Many of the kits listed above come with a proper airlock, but a you can get away with poking holes in a balloon and stretching over the top of the container (secure with tape or an elastic band).
- Leave the mead fermenting in a location that keeps it at the right temperature. Check the label for your yeast to see if any particular temperature is recommended.
Check the gravity
Specific gravity (SG) is the density of your must at any time. You can get the original gravity (OG) by measuring with a hydrometer. Pure water has an SG of exactly 1, so your mixture is going to be something like 1.100 (each 1lb of honey seems to add 0.035 of gravity).
SG is expected to go down (attentuate) during the fermentation process as the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol.
You can predict what the final gravity (FG) will be by predicting how much sugar your yeast will convert into alcohol. First we can use a simple formula that estimates the ABV of your fermented drink:
(OG - FG) x 131 = ABV
That is, if your original gravity is 1.100 and then you measure the final gravity after fermentation stops to get 1.005, then you can plug OG and FG into the formula above to get:
(1.100 - 1.005) x 131 = (0.095) x 131 = 12.4%
Your yeast should have a known alcohol tolerance. For example, Lalvin EC-1118 is a popular Champagne yeast that is good for making a strong mead and its rated tolerance is 18%.
If we use that tolerance as an estimate for what our final ABV will be, we can use the formula above in reverse:
OG - (ABV / 131) = FG
And then plug in 18% as our estimated final ABV along with an example original gravity of 1.150 (this example is higher as more honey is needed for such a strong mead):
FG = 1.150 - (18 / 131) = 1.150 - 0.138 = 1.012
Note that if the original gravity had been 0.100 as per our first example, the formula would suggest a FG below 1, which is impossible! In that case, it’s telling us that the yeast would ferment all the sugar out of the must and the final mead will be quite dry.
If you want to retain some sweetness to your final mead, choose an ABV for the formula 1% or so above what the yeast can manage. So we might make a must with an original gravity that would create an ABV of 19% or 20% for a yeast with a tolerance of 18%. This ensures that fermentation stops before all the sugar turns into alcohol.
Aerate for the first sugar break
Once we know the estimated, final gravity (FG), we can get the attenuation from the simple different of OG and FG, e.g.
Attenuation = OG - FG = 1.100 - 1.005 = 0.095
If we divide that number into thirds (e.g. 0.032), then our first sugar break is at:
1.100 - 0.032 = 1.068
In our example here, the yeast needs aerating (i.e. allow oxygen in) while the specific gravity is between 1.100 and 1.068. Ensure that you aerate daily for that first third of gravity attenuation, maybe more than once a day if you can.
You will need to ferment for probably at leaast 8 weeks. You can bottle after that time if you wish, but there’s a few more nuanced things to look out for if you want to be more precise.
A simple sign that fermentation has stopped is when the bubbling has stopped. If you are using an air lock and see no bubble for 3 weeks, then you’re good to go.
Another sign is that there is no change in your specific gravity for several days.
Image titled Make Mead Step 66
There are a few different ways to know when the mead is done fermenting:
The most accurate way to know is to measure the specific gravity with a hydrometer when you first mix it, then measure it every two weeks. The chosen yeast has a published ABV tolerance, and the hydrometer reading can be used to determine what the final gravity of the mead should be. When the mead reaches this gravity, wait a minimum of 4-6 months before bottling to ensure all CO2 that was in suspension in the mead has degassed. If the mead has not properly degassed and too much CO2 for the rating of the type of bottle the mead is bottled in is transferred, there is a risk of bottle explosion with temperature swings.
Wait at least 8 weeks. The amount of time it takes for the mead to ferment will depend on a variety of factors, but 8 weeks should be enough time for most scenarios.
If you’re using an airlock, wait until 3 weeks after it stops bubbling.
Age your mead
Transfer your fermented must to a large container such as a demijohn to store for aging. Make sure there is no space for air if possible. We want to minimise the amount of mead touching the air.
The longer you spend aging the mead, the better. You will probably want to leave this for a good 6 to 8 months, but some advice on other sites advocates bottling after 2-3 months!
Transfer the mead into bottles, seal, and store in a cool dark place. Open and enjoy when you feel the need for mead.