Mead (or Honey Wine) is made by fermenting honey.  Despite being one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known, few commercial meads are produced or sold in the U.S..  Thanks largely to home brewers and wine makers, mead has gained its own following as a unique and readily produced drink.  Mead is generally made like wine, with a lot of honey, wine yeast, and a long fermentation process resulting in a typical alcoholic strength of 9-15%.  Mead can finish sweet or dry, carbonated or still, wine-like or beer-like depending on how you make it.  In addition to straight mead, think about making Melomel(fruit added to honey base), Metheglin(spiced mead), and Braggot(honey base with malt sugars added).  If you’ve brewed beer, than making mead will seem easy.  The biggest differences between beer making and mead making are time and clarification.  Mead benefits from a long fermentation time and careful racking (or transferring) into glass carboys for aging.  Plan on racking 2-3 times prior to bottling.  In addition, we recommend using generous doses of yeast nutrients and clarifying aids such as Irish Moss, Bentonite, and Turbo Clear.  Mead does not require a long boil process like beer brewing.  A short boil or 180 degree rest for 10 minutes are common techniques.  Mead can also be made like wine using sulfites rather than heat to acheive a relatively sterile must.


As an example, lets look at a sample recipe we’ve put together called, “A Simple Mead.”  For 5 gallons, 15-16 lbs of honey should yield a starting gravity of around 1.100-1.115 Using a Champagne Yeast,  this should ferment near 1.005-1.008,  leaving some (limited) residual sweetness yielding an overall alcoholic strength of around 14%.  Plan on letting this mead ferment at least 4-6 months, or until clear.  We’re targeting a hearty mead that’s balanced, not too dry or too sweet.


A Simple Mead Recipe

For 5 gallons

15-16 lbs Honey (preferably a fresh light bodied flowery honey in bulk)

3 tsp Tartaric Acid (this provides tartness to give to the mead some complexity)

3 tsp each of Yeast Nutrient and Yeast Energizer  (aids the yeast in completing a thorough fermentation)

1 teaspoon Irish moss (helps clear the heaviest particles and proteins from the initial boil)

1 15 gram Package Pasteur Champagne DryYeast  


BREWING UP IN THE KITCHEN:  This recipe is based on a "quick boil" technique which offers a sterile must without the use of sulfites

Prepare a sanitized fermenter, either glass or plastic, and add 3 gal of clean, cold foundation water.  Add sanitized lid and airlock assembly.  Know and mark the 5 gallon level on your fermenter.

Bring 4 cups water to a boil in mix in .5 tsp Irish Moss.  Let this sit off heat while you brew.
Using a 3 gallon pot or larger, Put 1.5 gal of water on to a low boil.  At boil, add honey, stirring to avoid scorching.
Let honey regain low boil, being careful not to boil-over or scorch.

Skim of most of the foam that coagulates to the surface then add the Irish Moss slurry to the boil.  5 minutes of total boil time sufficient. 

At end of  the boil, shut off heat and add yeast nutrient(s) and acid blend additions. 

CAREFULLY pour the must into your fermenter.  If using glass as a primary, wrap towels around the carboy neck and use a  LARGE funnel to pour.  Top-off to get about 5.25 gallons and check to make sure the temperature is not too hot (above 85 degrees) for the yeast. 

Take a hydrometer sample and record the reading.  Discard the sample.

Add 1 package of yeast to 1 cup sterile water, let the yeast rehydrate for 15 minutes, then add this slurry to your batch.

Place sanitized lid and airlock on fermenter and place the fermenter where it will remain at room temperature (60-70 degrees) without extreme temperature fluctuations and direct light.


First 2-3 weeks:  Active fermentation, lots of sediment, rack to secondary fermenter after about 3 weeks

1-2 months later: Less activity, some sediment, mead is clear or starting to clear, you may rack again if  substantial sediment build-up occurs.

1-2 months later:  Terminal (finished) gravity is reached, no signs of  activity, mead is very clear and ready to bottle.  Clarifying and stabilizing agents can be added at this stage.

This is a hypothetical scenario, just be patient and let the mead works at its own pace.  Keep your mead protected from radical temperature changes and bright light during  fermentation and maturation.



6-7 Gallon primary fermenter (plastic or glass)

5 Gallon glass secondary fermenter

Racking cane and tubing for transferring and bottling


Airlock and stopper set for each fermenter

Bottle filler tip (attaches to racking tubing)

Bottle capper and caps (or wine corker and corks)

Enamel or Stainless steel stock pot capable of boiling at least 3 gallons

Funnel, Sanitizer solution, 55 12 oz Beer bottles (or wine bottles)






Mead can range from dry to overtly sweet depending on your original gravity,  yeast, and yeast nutrient selection.  In addition to residual sweetness, the primary components for overall flavor, body and sweetness include alcohol level and acid balance.  Honey unlike grapes or berries typically have very little acid component, which can result in sticky dense sweetness in some cases.  Mead makers often add acid agents or add adjunct fruits or berries (like raspberries or blueberries) to contribute additional complexity.  Melomel or fruit mead are their own sub-style.  “Straight” mead can benefit from additions of refined acids like acid blend and tartaric acid.  Similarly honey is typically nutrient poor as a must.  This means that fermentation can take a long time, or worse, get stuck.  Basic winemakers’ yeast nutrient will help but stronger agents like yeast energizer and D.A.P. are highly recommended.


Here’s a quick look at some basic recipe parameters:


Original Gravity:

OG: 1.100

OG: 1110

OG: 1.125



Off-dry to sweet*


#’s Honey to water

2.5 to 1

3 to 1

3.5 to 1

Batch Size (gals)

lbs of honey:

lbs of honey:

lbs of honey:


















*Note your yeast and yeast nutrient will affect these assumptions




            Your choice of yeast is important in targeting the qualities you desire.  All wine yeasts are relatively hardy and will ferment dry to about 10-12%.  Above that, less attenuative yeasts stop working.  More attenuative yeast strains may continue to ferment to higher alcohol levels, up to 15.5%.  In some cases, hardy wine yeast strains with a strong addition of yeast nutrient(s) can result in alcohol level approaching 16-17%.  Remember that with mead, yeast nutrients will affect yeast performance.  So if you desire a high alcohol level and as dry as possible finish you would choose a highly attenuative yeast and use a generous nutrient addition.  Conversely, if you desire a sweet finish, pick a less attenuative yeast and use a minimum level of yeast nutrients.  Here’s a quick look at yeast strains:


Premier Cuvee: A very good all-purpose yeast, works relatively fast, easily finishes dry to about 14% alcohol, higher with aggressive nutrients (up to 15-16%), a fast all purpose yeast!
Cotes De Blanc: A good choice for fruity wines, not very alcohol tolerant, finishes dry at around 11% Our recommended yeast for cider, fruit wines, and many light white wines!

Pasteur Champagne: A hardy, but slow yeast, also cold tolerant, can finish dry to about 14-15% (with nutrient additions) Popular for meads!
Pasteur Red: A classic red wine yeast strain robust and tolerant of aggressive conditions of warm and highly extractive primary conditions.  Finishes dry to about 13-14% alcohol.

Montrachet:  A traditional all purpose yeast, should be used with some nutrients.  Medium attenutation, finishes dry up to about 13%


ORIGINAL AND FINISHING GRAVITY:  Putting it all together


            The key driver of overall body and sweetness will be your original gravity the resulting spread between original and finishing gravity.  Knowing that yeast selection and nutrients matter let’s put together some sample recipes:


Style Suggestions: 5 gallon examples

Dry Mead


Medium Sweet

Strong Sweet











Honey (lbs)

13 lbs

14 lbs

15-16 lbs

16-18 lbs

Strong nutrients ? (y/n)





Acid blend in tsp

2-3 tsp

2-4 tsp (or fruit)

3-5 tsp (or fruit)


Other agents?

Clarifying agents


Fruit or oak aging

Oak or oak aging

Target qualities:

Dry, fruity, fast fermenting 10-11% alc

Off dry, 11-12% alc, food friendly

Semi-sweet, full body, 13% alc, age worthy

Sweet, warming, strong hi-alc (14-16%), age worthy

Yeast Suggestion

Cuvee or Cotes De Blanc

Cotes De Blanc, Montrachet

Montrachet, Champagne





            A good honey should have (obviously) good flavor, good aroma, and decent clarity.  My experience has been with single source honeys, not mixed bulk honeys.  I seek out relatively aromatic/fruity/acidic/delicate honey as possible.  My favorites include Fireweed, Raspberry, and Blackberry.  Try to find local sources for both freshness and volume pricing.  Ken Schramm’s THE COMPLETE MEADMAKER provides comprehensive information on honey components and attributes.




            Melomel or mead with added fruits or berries is an interesting take on mead.  Acidic, tannic and aromatic additions are very complementary to interesting meads.  Fruits or berries can be steeped in a nylon bag at the end of a cooking phase at temps below 180 degrees.  For more “extractive” qualities, fruit  can be “co-fermented” in a nylon bag in an open poly fermenter for 3-7 days.  The fermentation process leeches color and tannin components.  In a 5 gallon batch, using 2-4 lbs of fruit will add significant color and acid complexity, adding 6-10 lbs of fruit can add a substantial sugar contribution to your original gravity so reduce your honey input accordingly.


OTHER AGENTS:  Oak chips, Clarifying Agents, Sulfites


Oak chips are a convenient way to added oak tannins and aromas to mead.  Simply drop 1-3 oz per 5 gals into your secondary carboy and assess in about 1 month.  Stubborn haze or suspensions can be combated with common clarifying agents like Bentonite or Sparkolloid, add these late and allow time for them to work.  Delicate, low alcohol meads or meads destined for long term aging may benefit from low levels of S02 or Potassium Metabisulfite at levels up to 50ppm.  Sulfites help offset wild yeast infection, long term oxidation, and browning.




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