The techniques for brewing mead are as diverse as the number of brewers. Everyone seems to have their own “never fail” secret for making that “perfect” batch. The bottom line is this: you’re going to try different recipes, and you’re going to ‘tweak’ them to your own taste, and you’re going to come up with your own “never fail” secret.





Of course, there are some tricks that we’ve come to trust, and which just seem to stay the same from batch to batch. Some of these are related to the recipe formulation itself, while others are part of the “process”. Those are the ones we’ll be primarily discussing here.







·         The first technique is the “rule of fives”. Basically, the honey should make up approximately one-fifth of the overall batch volume. Of course, there are exceptions. Obviously, you would increase the amount of honey for sack mead and reduce it for a hydromel. Also, depending on whether you’re are doing a high-honey mead (antipodal or metheglin) or a low-honey mead (melomel, pyment, or cyser), you would adjust the amount of honey due to the additional sugar in the fruit juices – or lack thereof in the more plain styles.



·         For flavoring the mead, there are two techniques used. One is to add the flavoring agent (spices or juices) directly to the fermenter, and let the sugars ferment out with the flavoring already added. Generally, this results in a more pungent aroma, but with the taste of the additive somewhat muted by the process. It works great with fruit juices, cloves, ginger, or cinnamon. However, for more subtle flavorings, such as vanilla, tea, mint, or coriander, flavoring the mead after the primary ferment works better. In this case, the flavoring agent is boiled down in water to make a liquid concentrate, then added to the batch just before bottling, and gently stirred into the mead (being careful to avoid aerating the mead too much) until thoroughly blended. In this way, the concentrate can be added in small amounts until the correct flavor is achieved.




·         If you’ve tried to homebrew wine before, you’re familiar with the fermentation schedule… 1 to 2 weeks primary, 4 to 8 weeks secondary, and 3 to 4 weeks per rack until clear. With mead, the schedule is a little skewed – mostly due to the fact that honey is much harder for the yeast to process. Expect to add a few days to the primary, and as much as double the secondary time. Rack time depends heavily on the type and style of mead, but is generally the same, making mead a long-term brewing commitment. However, there are some techniques for speeding up the process:

ü  Warm it up. Brewers generally like to keep their carboys in a cool place – around 65F or so – for that slow, smooth ferment. By raising the temp to 72-76F, the primary and secondary ferment time can be cut by nearly 20 percent. Make sure to keep the temperature constant, since fluctuations of as little as 5 degrees can negatively affect the finished flavor. Also, whatever you do, don’t ferment above about 80F. The yeast will start putting out esters and formaldehyde which both cause nasty off-flavors.

ü  Use liquid yeast or a yeast starter. My introducing already-active yeast to your mead, you give it a 3 to 5 day head start on primary ferment.

ü  Use a touch of yeast nutrient. Yeast nutrients are like vitamin pills for the yeast, plussing-up the little guys for the awesome job ahead of them. Natural ones are actually made from the ‘guts’ of yeast cells. There are also chemical equivalents that work nearly as well.

ü  Yeast energizer works a little differently than nutrient. Energizer actually absorbs impurities in the mead that hinder the yeast. By removing these impurities and settling out to the bottom, the yeast energizer frees the yeast to work faster. Natural energizer is made form the skeletons of dead yeast. There are also chemical equivalents that work nearly as well.

ü  Replace some of the honey with sugar solution. While not highly recommended, regular sugar ferments out faster than honey. Unfortunately, this technique will significantly change the flavor and body of the mead, making it more like a ‘honey wine’ and less like quality homebrew we’ve come to know and love.

ü  Reduce the total amount of honey and use yeast with a lower alcohol tolerance. By using yeast that finishes out at 8 percent, you cut a lot of time. When you do this, remember to adjust the amount of honey to avoid an overwhelming sweet, sticky finished product.



·         Sometimes, homebrew doesn’t turn out quite right. It’s the same thing with mead. There are factors, both controllable and uncontrollable, that can significantly affect the flavor of mead. Occasionally, the effects are pleasant, and we seek to repeat them. Other times, the effects are distinctly unpleasant. With homebrewed beer, the solution is generally to pour it out. However, mead is much more costly to make, and the thought of pouring even a single gallon of the stuff down the drain is daunting. There are two things that are wonderful for this:

ü  Cloves. If you have a slightly ‘off’ flavor – especially in the aftertaste, cloves do the trick. Remember Adams Clove gum in the sixties? Just take a few whole cloves – about 3 to 5 per gallon of mead, boil them into a ‘tea’ and add to taste. The cloves provide a pleasant (and slightly numbing) sensation while subtly masking the off-taste.

ü  Vanilla – it’s the finest of the flavors. Particularly if you have a melomel gone bad, vanilla is wonderful at blending with (rather than masking) the fruit essence. While the result is not exactly what I would call ‘pleasant’, it does make a bad mead an ‘acceptable’ drink. On a side note, vanilla makes a good metheglin by itself, and makes a great contribution to cherries and strawberries, even when they turn out good.



·         Want your mead to sparkle? Sometimes a hydromel tastes special with a little carbonation. Basically, you do it just like champagne – and make sure you use champagne bottles. Put a half-teaspoon of sugar in each bottle, fill with mead (remember not to use a stabilizer), and cap it with a standard bottle cap. Store upside down until a sediment layer starts to form in the neck of the bottle. Turn the bottle periodically to shake the sediment off the sides of the neck. When the sediment is about ½ to ¾ inch deep, place the bottles neck-down in a slurry of crushed ice and rock salt. The sediment will freeze. When you turn the bottle right side up and pop the top off, the pressure behind the sediment will push it out of the bottle. Simply replace the cap with a champagne cork and wire it down. Voila! Clear, sparkling mead.



Do you have a favorite technique you use? Send it to Chris Miller at and you might see it on future iterations of this site. The important thing to remember about any technique is that it’s just that. It’s something to make the hobby a little easier, or to make the product a little better. The key is to experiment and find the techniques that work for you.







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