From the HBD Archive
Subject: Mead info/recipe very long, but lots of good info!
Date: 1992-04-09 02:12:48 GMT

In the interest of those supplying all those who have asked about Mead
with some really great info, here are postings from both Kevin Karplus
and the late and sorely missed Cher Feinstein.

Both postings are 2 or 3 years old, but full of lots of info!


-Date: 29 Sep 89 17:36:00 EDT
-From: "FEINSTEIN" <>
-Subject: Meads & mead-making

Hello, all!

I noted 's recent request for mead-making info, but haven't had time to
respond until now.

Below you will find my basic recipe for making mead. First, however, some
basic tips and information.

Meads come in several basic types: meads, metheglins (spiced meads), and
melomels (meads made with fruit and/or fruit juices added). Many of these,
especially the melomels, are "species specific" (as it were). For example, a
cyser is by definition a mead made with apples or apple juice.

Use unblended honey when making mead, and raw honey if at all possible. Thus,
unless there is someone with an apiary in your neighborhood, the best place to
get honey is at a health food store or roadside stand. If the honey has bits
of wax, or other particulate matter in it, that can be strained out before
cooking. Do NOT, under *any* circumstances, use "blended to death" honeys,
like "SueBee". Remember: the taste and character of the honey you use will
be the principal determinants of the taste and character of your mead.

Please note that meads don't need any malt added, for *any* reason. Apart
from altering the flavor and character, there are quite enough fermentables
present already, thank you! :-)

Use a white wine yeast in brewing mead; "Montrechet" is recommended. *Don't*
use ale or lager yeast; the end result will most likely be exploding bottles!

Most mead recipes call for the addition of some citrus juice or tea (tannin).
This is important, as it balances the sweetness, preventing it from becoming
cloying. This is the same reason caffeine is added to many sodas.

The molecular structures of the sugars involved in meads are different from
those found in brews. Thus, meads can take anywhere from a few weeks or
months to several years to age properly. And, they won't taste very good if
one isn't patient; the time is necessary.

When adding honey to hot or boiling water, STIR CONSTANTLY!! Otherwise, the
honey will go straight to the bottom of the pot, where it will caramelize,
scorch, and otherwise ruin the whole thing. KEEP STIRRING, until the honey is
*completely* dissolved.

You will notice, in mead recipes, instructions to skim off any scum that forms
as the mead heats up. This is very important, as that scum is the equivalent
of the krausen in beer. Apart from the nasties in it that can contribute to
hangovers, there are nasties in the scum that can adversely affect the flavor
and appearance of the finished mead.

The length of time mead is allowed to ferment is the other principal factor in
determining not only the final alcoholic content, but how dry _vs._ how sweet
your mead will be. Remember: mead is not necessarily a sweet drink! Also,
meads can be sparkling, or still. It's all a matter of individual preference.

A word of warning about mead hangovers: they are the stuff of legend-- and
rightly so! The combination of high alcohol content (relatively speaking) and
high sugar content are perfect for the induction of the Ultimate Hangover.
One author I've read on meads, in an attempt to convey to the reader the
potential severity of a mead hangover, referred to the Biblical story of
Judith and the Holofernes. The author pointed out that Judith saw to it that
the Holofernes got thoroughly drunk on mead, waited until they had slept
awhile, and then had the Hebrew army attack-- beating on their shields! As
the author put it: "What else could the Holofernes do but throw down their
arms and accept slaughter with gratitude?"

Personally, I consider this description of mead hangovers to be both apt and
astute. :-)

Anyone with questions about mead-making can contact me at the addresses below.
The recipe for basic mead follows.

Yours in Carbonation,

Cher Feinstein
Univ. of Fla.
Gainesville, FL



NOTE: All equipment mentioned below is assumed to be either well-cleaned or
sterilized, as needed.

In a 1 gallon enamel pot, simmer the following until the infusion is done to
taste: 2-3 whole cloves, lightly cracked; 2 sticks of cinnamon, broken up; 2
thin slices peeled fresh ginger root. Add 2-4 tsp. orange peel (how much
depends on the honey-- with orange blossom honey use less, for example) and
simmer a little longer.

Add enough water to bring the volume up to 3 quarts. Bring back up to a
simmer. Add 2 lbs honey, stirring constantly. Some of the warm water can be
ladled back into the honey container to rinse it.

DO NOT BOIL! Continue to simmer at a moderate rate, skimming off any white
scum that forms on the top. If the scum is yellow, the heat is too high.
Once no more scum forms, turn off the heat, place the lid on the pot, and
leave overnight.

The next day, strain out as many of the spice particles as practicable. Pitch
the yeast. Replace the pot lid; the condensation on it will form a seal.

Twelve hours later, rack the mead into a gallon jug, leaving the dregs of the
yeast. After racking, top off the jug if needed, filling it to the base of
the neck. Take a piece of clean paper towel, fold it into quarters, and put
it over the mouth of the jug. Secure with a rubber band. Allow to ferment 36
hours. If the paper towel becomes fouled during this period, replace it with

After 36 hours, taste the mead. If it is still too sweet for your taste,
ferment longer. Repeat this as necessary, until a desirable level of
sweetness/dryness is achieved.

Place mead in refrigerator for 8-12 hours, then rack into a fresh gallon jug.
Seal new jug tightly, and place in refrigerator to carbonate for 12 hours.

Once the mead is nicely carbonated, add 1/4 cup of vodka or grain alcohol to
the jug to kill off the yeast. Rack into a fresh jug again, seal tightly, and
place in refrigerator for 3-4 days.

The mead may then be bottled; Grolsch bottles work extremely well for this

This is a "quickie" mead, drinkable in 2 weeks. However, it does improve
considerably with age, and letting it age for at least a couple of months
before drinking is recommended. This mead is excellent chilled.

- ------------------------------
-Date: Thu, 15 Nov 90 14:41:24 PST
-From: Kevin Karplus <>
-Subject: Mead recipe

Several people have been asking about mead recipes lately. Here
is one I've used for years. Incidentally, the meads I like best
are strong dessert wines, with take over 5lbs of honey per gallon
of water. They take months to ferment and years to mature, but
they're great for sipping.

(a fermented drink made from honey)
Generic Recipe

The basic ingredients of mead are honey, water, and yeast. The
proportions of the honey and water determine the final strength and
sweetness of the drink, also how long it takes to make. The ratio
ranges from 1 lb. honey per gallon of water for a very light
"soft-drink" to 5 lbs. per gallon for a sweet dessert wine. The less
honey, the lighter the mead, and the quicker it can be made. I've
successfully made a 1 lb/gallon mead in as little as three weeks, while
my strongest mead (5 lb/gallon) was not bottled for six months, and
could have stood another few months before bottling. Elizabethan
recipes varied considerably in strength, but 3 or 4 pounds of honey per
gallon was common.

The mead I make is spiced, so is sometimes referred to as "metheglin."
Elizabethan meads used large numbers of different spices and herbs, but
not always in large quantities. Kenelm Digby, after giving the recipe
obtained from "Master Webbe, who maketh the Kings Meathe," has this to

The Proportion of Herbs and Spices is this; That there be so
much as to drown the luscious sweetness of the Honey; but not so
much as to taste of herbs or spice, when you drink the Meathe.
But that the sweetness of the honey may kill their taste: And so
the Meathe have a pleasant taste, but not of herbs, nor spice,
nor honey. And therefore you put more or less according to the
time you will drink it in. For a great deal will be mellowed
away in a year, that would be ungratefully strong in three
months. And the honey that will make it keep a year or two,
will require a triple propotion of spice and herbs.

[The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened,

Here is a partial list of flavoring agents (mainly herbs and spices)
mentioned for meads by Digby: agrimony, angelica root, avens, baulme
leaves, bay leaves, bettony, blew-button, borrage, cinnamon,
clove-gilly flowers, cloves, dock, eglantine, elecampane, eringo roots,
fennel, fruit juice (cherries, raspes, Morrello cherries), ginger,
harts-tongue, hopps, juniper berries, limon-pill, liver-worth, mace,
minth, nutmeg, orris root, parsley roots, raisins, red sage, rosemary,
saxifrage, scabious, sorrel, strawberry leaves, sweet marjoram,
sweet-briar leaves, thyme, violet leaves, wild marjoram, wild sage,
wild thyme, and winter savory.

In my own brewing, I use mainly "sweet" spices (cinnamon, ginger,
nutmeg). The main herb I use is tea. Tea is an important addition to
the mead. It provides tannic acid, to give the drink a bit of bite.
It is particularly important for sweet meads, which can otherwise have
a rather syrupy taste (like Mogen David wines). Any sort of tea will
do--I've used genmai cha (a very light Japanese green tea), lapsang
souchong (a smokey Chinese tea), China Rose (a black tea with rose
petals), jasmine, oolong, and others. If you want to use Lipton's,
that should work as well. I have not seen any period recipes that use
tea in mead, but all my batches that omitted tea were not as good.
I am more interested in producing good flavor that in strick
authenticity, so continue to use tea.

Other ingredients I use include small amounts of orange or lemon
juice, fruit, cloves, and other spices. I've used bay leaves, cloves,
rosemary, anise, and galingale, in addition to the spices listed above.
Be careful not to over-spice the mead! It is probably safer to use
less of fewer spices, until you've had some experience.

As examples, here are the quantities for two of my mead batches:

Batch: M4
Type: Quick Mead

3 gallons water
5 lbs honey (Wild Mountain)
1/3 cup jasmine tea
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
ale yeast

Started: 1 July 1979
Yeast added: 2 July 1979
skimmed: 12 July 1979
racked: 15 July 1979
bottled: 28 July 1979

yield: 3.1 gallons
clarity: excellent
sweetness: fairly sweet
sediment: slight
carbonation: variable (some popped corks)
color: light gold
An excellent batch

- ------------------------------------------------------------
Batch: M7
Type: Sack Mead

3 gallons Water
16 lbs honey
1/4 cup keemun tea
1/4 cup oolong tea
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp whole aniseseed
18 cardamum seed clusters crushed (about 1 tsp)
20 whole allspice slightly crushed (about 3/4 tsp)
about 1 inch galingale root crushed (about 2 1/4 tsp)

(Fining agent: 1 pkg unflavored gelatin in 1 cup of water)

Started: 26 Dec 1981
Wine Yeast added: 27 Dec 1981
1 rack: 10 Jan 1982 (vat -> carboy)
2 rack: 31 Jan 1982 (carboy -> carboy)
3 rack: 30 April 1982 (carboy->carboy)
gelatin added: 23 May 1982
bottled: 3 July 1982
Yield: 3.7 gallons

sweet, smooth, potent. A dessert wine.
This is perhaps the best of my 20 or more batches of mead.
- ------------------------------------------------------------

I use tap water for brewing, but if your tap water has off-flavors,
then you might want to get a bottle of clear spring water.
Recently I've switched to filtered tap water, to remove some of the
rather grassy flavor that our water gets in summer.

The honey may be almost any cheap honey. Strongly flavored honeys
(orange blossom, buckwheat, wild flower (in some areas)) generally work
best. Clover honey works well, but very light honeys (like alfalfa)
generally lack flavor. If making a true mead (without spices), the
flavor of the honey is more important, and only strongly flavored
honeys should be used.

The yeast is important. Baking yeast is bred for fast carbon dioxide
production, and is not at all suitable for brewing. Some home cider
makers may be used to just letting the sweet cider stand a few days to
ferment on its own. This technique relies on the wild yeasts present
in the air, on the cider press, and on the skins of the apples. It
doesn't work for mead. The wild yeasts result in off-flavors, which
the honey is not strong enough to mask. For strong, still meads (3 lbs
honey/gallon or more) I use a white wine yeast, while for a lighter
beverage I use ale yeast. A beer yeast should work as well as an ale
yeast, but I find top-fermenting ale yeasts more fun to work with.
WARNING: the "brewer's yeast" sold in health-food stores is dead yeast,
it will not be usable for brewing.

The equipment you need is a large pot (I use a 20 quart canning pot), a
5 foot plastic tube to use as a siphon, and strong bottles. In
addition, a 5 gallon water bottle with a stopper and fermentation lock
is a very useful piece of equipment. Everything you use should be
sterilized to prevent the growth of vinegar-forming bacteria. There
are chemical sterilizing agents available from wine-making supply
stores, but I prefer to sterilize everything in boling water. I'll
mention sterilizing over and over. It is the single most important
part of brewing mead rather than vinegar.

If making a still, wine-type mead, any sort of bottle will do for the
final bottling. However, this recipe is for a fizzy "ale-type" mead,
so strong bottles are essential. Champagne bottles and returnable pop
bottles are usable, disposable bottles of any sort are not. I once had
an apple juice bottle explode in my room, embedding shrapnel in my
pillow from 9 feet away. Don't make the same mistake--use strong

Steps to making the mead:

1. Boil the water, adding the tea and spices.

2. Remove water from heat and stir in honey. (Note, stirring
implement should be sterilized!) Some mead brewers boil the honey in
the water, skimming the scum as it forms. This removes some of the
proteins from the honey, making it easier for the mead to clarify.
However, I don't mind a bit of cloudiness, and prefer the taste of
unboiled honey. If you are making a wine mead, you can avoid the
cloudiness simply by waiting an extra month or two for the mead to
clarify. If you're buying a clear honey from a supermarket, it may
already have been cooked a bit to remove pollen and sugar crystals, in
which case, a bit more cooking probably won't change the flavor much.
Digby's recipes do call for boiling the honey.

3. Cover the boiled water, and set it aside to cool (to blood
temperature or cooler). This usually takes a long time, so I overlap
it with the next step.

4. Make a yeast starter solution by boiling a cup of water and a
tablespoon of honey (or sugar). Let it cool to blood heat (or all the
way to room temperature) and add the yeast. Cover it and let it
ferment overnight. The yeast should form a "bloom" on the surface of
the liquid. (Of course, the cooling and fermenting should be done in
the pan or other sterilized vessel.)

5. Add the yeast starter to the cooled liquid. Cover and let ferment.
After a few days, it is useful to siphon the mead into another
container, leaving the sediment behind. Here's where the 5 gallon
bottle comes in handy. A fermentation lock provides a way to close the
bottle so carbon dioxide can get out, but vinegar-forming bacteria and
oxygen cannot get in. Remember to sterilize the bottle and the siphon

6. Ferment for a few weeks in a warm, dry place. When a lot of
sediment has collected on the bottom of the bottle, siphon off the
liquid (without disturbing the sediment). This process is known as
"racking," and helps produce a clear, sediment-free mead. Again, make
sure all your equipment is sterilized. A wine mead may need to be
racked three or four times before the final bottling.

7. For a fizzy mead, siphon into strong (sterilized) bottles a bit
before fermentation stops. With the strength given here 4 weeks is
about right. The exact time depends a lot on the temperature, the
yeast, the honey, ... . I use plastic champagne corks to seal the
bottles (sterilized, of course!). Crown caps are also good. Real
corks should only be used for still beverages, since the amount of
carbonation is unpredictable. Too much carbonation and you'll pop the
corks, too little, and corks are hard to remove from champagne
bottles. Don't wire on the corks, unless you're willing to risk an
occasional broken champagne bottle. Still meads should not be bottled
until fermentation has completely stopped. I generally wait until the
fermentation has stopped, and the mead has cleared. This can take more
than six months for a strong wine mead.

8. Age the mead in a cool place. Note: ferment warm, and age cool. I
sometimes keep the champagne bottles upright in the cardboard box they
came in. That way, if a cork pops, there is something to absorb the
overflow, and if, despite my care, a bottle breaks, it won't set off a
chain reaction.

9. Drink and Enjoy! The light quick meads should be served chilled
(like beer), while the wine types are better at room temperature or
only slightly chilled.

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