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As mentioned last time, for some reason mead generates quite a bit of interest. It baffles me somewhat because, judging by what people will pay money for, mead hasn’t been popular for several hundred years, and can no longer be used for paying taxes. Anyway, for this month’s meeting we had decided to gather and discuss it, and make some. If you are the buying and selling type you can't do this with mead ('cos it's alcohol), but you can turn your mead into Vinegar!

 

I make it occasionally, mostly because I’m lazy about dealing with cappings and wet extractors, but I’m a bit ‘old school’ and only ever make a basic dry ‘hydromel’. It’s a nice thing to get right. Mead isn’t to everyone’s taste and I can quite see why there is interest in other styles – sack meads (sweeter), metheglin (with added spices) and melomel (fruit meads). Something for everyone.

 

The simplest mead is indeed very…simple. When you’ve finished extracting wash your cappings with warmish water, (don’t melt the wax!), strain and collect the sweet wash water in a bucket. If there is enough honey dissolved in the water a fresh egg will just float, otherwise just add honey or water to adjust the density (up or down) until it does. Add some yeast. Wait. Wait longer (years). Done.

 

Of course there all little nuances that produce a more predictable and consistent result. First, cleanliness is your friend. Sterilise the equipment and utensils you use. Sodium metabisulphite is good (or Campden tablets – potassium metabisulphite). Many mead makers bring the honey/water mix to a boil to kill off any wild yeasts or bacteria present so only the chosen yeast added once the liquid has cooled will ferment the brew. Others hope the added yeast out-competes anything else. Take your pick. Second, understand the honey/water concentration using a hydrometer. For a reliable basic drink you want to be in a range roughly between 1.060 and 1.100, the lower part of the range for dry, the upper end for sweet, low alcohol to high (8 – 13.5%). The floating egg (as above) is around 1.080 – 1.090.

 

The third variable is the yeast. Yeasts are extraordinarily diverse and work best with the food source they were selected for. Mead is not a particularly good food source for them, and some advice adds a mineral/protein supplement you can buy in a small packet. Lemon juice and cold tea are a workaround for the truly impoverished. High alcohol contents kill yeast strains at some point. My initial advice is to use a champagne style yeast from the wine shop – reasonably alcohol tolerant (up to about 15%) and less dependent on nutrients than a red wine yeast would be for example. Plenty of people will tell you they just use a brewer’s or baker’s yeast and I’m sure they do, but I’m telling you not to. If you wish to make one of the fruity, spicy concoctions ask the wine shop, they will have a library to choose from, and know more about it than I do.

 

I needn’t point out that yeasts are living organisms, and the various strains have different preferences for the environment conditions they will multiply in. It shouldn’t be too acidic (pH <4), too cold (>15C), or too hot <32C, and they are less tolerant of alcohol as the temperature increases, so your fermentation should start (say) at 30C and tend to fall (to 17-18C). Yeasts are remarkably tolerant, and generally before you manage to kill them they just stop working, or work very, very slowly. I start fermentation in a covered bucket. Once it’s going I’ll fit a lid sealed with an air lock, and as it finishes I decant/syphon in to a carbouy (demijohn) fitted with an air lock. While in the bucket I can float a hydrometer to monitor what goes on, and I can scoop away any unhealthy-looking yeast foam, flies, or dog hairs that might taint the liquor from the surface. Fitting water-filled air locks later on vents the CO2 produced but protects it from invading yeasts and bacteria while it breathes, settles and matures. The active fermentation takes about two weeks, the settling takes a few months, and you might start drinking after a year. If you can temper your enthusiasm it’ll be much improved after three.

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As mentioned last time, for some reason mead generates quite a bit of interest. It baffles me somewhat because, judging by what people will pay money for, mead hasn’t been popular for several hundred


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