Homemade Mead

Enjoy an in-depth look at the components and creation of this versatile, honey-based beverage — a hearty addition to any homebrewing arsenal.

| December 2018/January 2019

  • Unlike beer, wine, or cider, mead is an alcoholic drink brewed with honey.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Isavira
  • Basic mead-brewing equipment includes a funnel, a container with a spigot, a jug with an air lock, and a siphon.
    Photo by Jereme Zimmerman
  • A wing-style bottle capper such as this one will easily seal any homebrewed concoction.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Hansgeel
  • Air locks should be half-full of water to keep fruit flies and vinegar-causing acetobacter out of your fermenting mead.
    Photo by Jereme Zimmerman
  • When racking, whether you’re brewing 1 gallon or 5, position the jugs so that gravity will help draw the mead from one vessel to another.
    Photo by Jereme Zimmerman
  • Five-gallon batches of mead require larger vessels and take up more space, but are well worth the effort.
    Photo by Jereme Zimmerman

When people ask me what mead is, I usually respond with something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not beer, it’s not wine, and it’s not cider. It’s mead!” Admittedly, that’s not a very helpful answer. But as mead earns recognition as a new contender in the craft beverage market, it’s important that it be accepted as its own entity. Mead can have similarities to all of the above beverages, depending on how it’s made, but the thing that sets it apart is its honey base.

To produce alcohol, brewers follow a simple equation: sugar plus water plus yeast plus time. Making mead involves many more subtleties, but it all comes down to blending a sugar source with water, adding yeast, and allowing time for fermentation. Beer gets its sugar and flavor profile primarily from malted grains; cider from apples; wine from grapes and other fruits and vegetables (usually with sugar added); and mead from honey. Historically, the lines were much more blurred than this; ancient peoples would often combine whatever kinds of sugars and botanicals they could find to make “grog.” In modern times, commercial alcohol producers must follow strict rules about the primary fermentable sugar and flavoring ingredients, and are required to name the resulting products appropriately.

Homebrewers can flavor mead with a wide range of ingredients. Each ingredient added will give the finished product a different name per homebrewing competitions, commercial sales, and mead nerds. The list is rather long, but these are the main contenders:

Traditional or “show” mead: mead made with honey, water, yeast, and minimal flavor-balancing ingredients.

Melomel: mead made with honey and any kind of fruit.

Metheglin: mead made with honey and herbs or spices.

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