Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mead in the Bottle

It's about time for some news you can use.

Today's topic is mead-making.

To make a bit of mead, you need: some honey, some water, a bit of yeast, & lots of time.

My own method is a bit more lengthy, but this works well for a single bottle.

First of all, avoid sulfides. If the bottle you have states on it, "Contains sulfides," this is unacceptable.

These sulfides are the product of metabisulfites of potassium or sodium. If you've never been around it, this stuff can lay you out cold if you catch a good whiff of it. It's used as a preservative and a sanitizer, and it's particularly caustic.

It also gives you headaches in the morning.

So, if the bottle says, "Contains sulfides," you need to get rid of them. Rinse the bottle out really good, and look through the top into the bottom to make sure there's no residue. You can cook the bottle in an oven on a low heat for a bit to sanitize it.

Here's a verified procedure for a 750 ml bottle.

Take about 2 cups of water and boil it for 20 minutes (with a lid over low heat, so you end up with near the same volume). In this operation, you're sanitizing the water and releasing chlorides. You don't want any chlorine in your final product (although certain chlorides are desirable-- long story, and I'm not going into it here).

When that water has gone its time, dump 1 cup of honey into the water. Stir it up, and let it cool. Filling a sink with cold water and setting the pan into it works well. You need a thermometer to make sure that it's below 80F (26C) before proceeding to the next step. (I like mine to be a bit below 70F)

Now, get all that into your 750 ml bottle, and put a bit of yeast on it. You want the bottle to be about 2/3 full at this point.

For yeast, it's better to bake with brewer's yeast than to brew with baker's yeast. Liquid yeast runs about $8 a pack, and it's enough to give you 5 gallons (19L). Dry yeast costs around 47¢ a packet, and about enough to give half that amount. The liquid has more variety, but the dry does just fine. Use half a packet if you go for the dry.

After you get your yeast into the bottle, wrap the top with a bit of foil. Put a balloon over it, or a plastic bag. Anything to keep things from falling into the stuff; and we're talking about a microbiology level here.

Store it in a place with a stable temperature, and the colder the better, at least down to 64F (17C) or so. (Mine is kept at 68F)

It will foam up quite a bit for a few days, and then the foam will fall in. That foam is your 'krausen,' and that's why you fill the bottle only halfway full to begin with.

After the krausen has fallen, boil up a bit more water, cool it down, and fill your fermentation vessel up to about a thumb's breadth from the top.

When it's done, the yeast will drop out (flocculate), and the liquid will be bright and clear. That tells you it's time to do away with the foil and cap the stuff, chill it, and imbibe.

But don't get too excited. It's going to take a month-and-a-half to two months to do it.

Now, there's a lot more to it that what I've told you, but I've told you right.

The honey is better not boiled, and it helps to cool the boiling water. It needs to stay above 170F for 10 minutes to sanitize it.

More attention should be paid to following the instructions than questioning them.

For yeast, there's Lalvin and Red Star which are readily available at any brew shop or online distributor. A white wine yeast works best.

I was going to publish this recipe for the gruit which flavored Queen Elizabeth's mead, but now I've taken a mood. Maybe in the comments somewhere.

EDIT: And I had forgotten this earlier, but honey is deficient in magnesium, which the yeast needs in trace amounts to ensure proper growth. If you have tap water or well water, then you have plenty of magnesium already. If you're using filtered or distilled water, two to three grains of epsom salts is essential to ensure proper attenuation.