Mead and Honey Wine - Amazing Bees | Melbourne Australia

Amazing Bees
Melbourne Australia
Amazing Bees
Go to content
Making Mead and Honey Wine
Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of honey and water and is one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages.

In Northern Europe mead remained popular until grape wine was imported from southern regions.

Variations evolved through the ages: mixing grape and other fruit wines with mead enhances the flavour and can be traced to Roman times.

In ancient cultures mead was believed to have magical healing powers and increase fertility.

Believing in the healing power my grandmother used to make wine and the tasting always made her very joyful.
joyful grandma

Mead Ingredients

Honey: The type of honey used has an impact on the flavour and colour of the final product. A light honey produces lighter coloured and flavoured mead and dark honey, darker coloured and more robust flavoured mead.

Yeast: Cultured wine yeasts are commonly used to make mead. In general, those used for white wines, work well. Matching the appropriate yeast culture to the honey variety is key to developing the desired taste and mouth feel of mead.

Nutrients: In addition to sugar/honey yeast needs Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium for growth. Ingredients such as Urea, Peptone and Potassium Phosphate are used to supply these nutrients. Specially packaged nutrients for wine making are available from home brewing supply stores.

Water: The quality and chemical composition of water used to make mead is critical. Water with high chlorine levels may produce off-flavours. Recommended is spring water. Not recommended is distilled water as it lacks sufficient minerals for the yeast.

Acids: Small amounts of acids, such as malic, tartaric and citric acid are added to balance the flavour. It offsets the sweetness of the honey and stabilises against spoilage.

Tannin: Tannin is used to aid in brewing and clarification.

Fruit: To create a fruit-containing mead 10 – 20 % fruit juice or mash are added to the honey-water mixture. Whole, pitted fruit can also be used. 6-8 kg of fruit with 6-8 kg of honey in a 20 litre fermenter is recommended.

Processing Aids & Equipment

Cleaning chemicals: Detergent or chlorine bleach to clean all equipment as the first and most important step in the wine making process. Strict sanitation practise is required throughout the entire process to prevent contamination.

Sulphites: Sodium bisulphite or Potassium metabisulphite in tablet or powder form are commonly used for sanitation in wine making.

Stabilisers: When making still mead, Potassium Sorbate or wine stabilisers can be added at the bottling stage to prevent a second fermentation by killing remaining yeast cells.

Fermenter: Available from home brewing supply stores are “Fermenters”. Traditionally glass containers, nowadays plastic containers with an air-tight lid on top and a fermentation lock fitted. A tap at the bottom allows draining the mead into another container and into bottles. Commonly used are 20-30 litre Fermenters. You need two to be able to drain the mead from one container to another, filtering out the solid residues such as fruit and dead yeast cells.

The Process
There are seven basic steps to making mead.

Step 1: Clean and sanitise all equipment and containers.
The single most important step in making good mead is sanitation. Contamination with wild yeast, moulds or bacteria will result in mead that is cloudy and off-flavoured.

Step 2: Preparing the Must.
“Must” is the unfermented mix of honey, fruit, water and other ingredients, excluding the yeast!

There are different methods preparing the must:
  • Boiling: Boiling the Must for 10-30 minutes sterilises it. Disadvantage: it drives off the delicate flavour components of the honey.
  • Pasteurisation: Heating the Must to 85 Celsius for 10-20 minutes destroys the wild yeast in the honey but preserves more of the volatile flavour components.
  • Sulphating: Some people are allergic to sulphites – don’t use it.

Nutrients and acids can be added before or after Must sanitation.

Step 3: Adding the Yeast.
If the Must has been sanitised by heating, the Yeast can not be added until the Must is at room temperature. Temperatures above 40 Celsius damage and can kill the yeast. When the Yeast is added close the Fermenter air tight, i.e. close the lid and fill the fermentation lock with water.

Step 4: Fermentation.
Fermentation takes from several weeks to several months. During this process the sugar in honey is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. It is important that no air gets into the Fermenter during the fermentation process – ensure that the air lock is functioning at all times (top up with water if necessary). If air gets into the fermentation process you are producing vinegar.

Step 5: Racking.
Racking involves siphoning off the clear mead into a second sanitised Fermenter, leaving the sediment behind in the first. This step is repeated as many times as necessary to achieve the desired level of clarity; usually at three months intervals. Strict sanitation practise is required to prevent contamination. Care must be taken to not incorporate oxygen during racking after the onset of fermentation. When filling the Fermenter, headspace must be limited to minimise the available oxygen.

Step 6: Aging.
Aging requires the most patience. During this step, the mead clears and develops its flavour. Usually it moves from a harsh unpleasant taste to a smooth, mellow beverage with a nice bouquet and fragrance. As the dead yeast cells continue to settle it is important to continue racking. A steady temperature between 15 and 20 Celsius is recommended through the aging process. The length of aging can take months or years.

Step 7: Bottling.
The last step is bottling – provided you have got any mead left to bottle - all the tasting during the process takes its toll (I know from my grandmother). Strict sanitation practise is required to prevent contamination.

Most Common Problems

Off Flavours: Most off flavours are the result of poor sanitation practise. The Must needs to be clear of any wild yeast and bacterial contamination before fermenting starts. Strict sanitation practise is required throughout the entire process to prevent contamination.

"Stuck" Fermentation: After adding the yeast to the must, fermentation should begin within several days. If fermentation does not start within 5 days, it is probably because of a poor nutrient balance or a weak strain of yeast. The best remedy is to rack the must into a sterilized fermentation vessel and begin again by adding new viable yeast.

In other cases, yeast activity may stop in the middle of the fermentation period. All activity stops and the specific gravity indicates that there is adequate sugars still available for fermentation. The most common cause of this behaviour is that the alcohol produced by the yeast has reached a level in the mead that is too high to support yeast activity. When the level reaches approximately 12 percent, yeast metabolism is inhibited.

Mead Recipe

Mead with Orange Juice - This simple recipe is to fill a 30 litre Fermenter.

6 litres of dark honey (9 kg), mixed with
17 litres of water,
5 litres of orange juice, pressed from 12 kg oranges in a fruit juicer (no preservatives!)
30 g citric acid  
1/2 tea spoon of tannin, dark grapes
3 tea spoon (flat) of yeast nutrients
Yeast (white wine)

Follow steps 1-3 in the process described.

Common Questions

What is Yeast and what does it do in the process?
Yeast is a unique type of fungi that grows quickly by rapid cell division. It metabolises sugars in honey to carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.
At low temperatures (0-10 °C) yeast will not grow, but not die either. At temperatures within 10-37 °C yeast will grow and multiply, faster at higher temperatures with an optimal growth at 30 or 37 °C (that depends on the species). At higher temperature the cells become stressed, meaning that their content becomes damaged, which can be repaired to some degree. At high temperatures (>50 °C) the cells die.

What purpose has the air lock?
The air lock prevents the mead to get exposed to oxygen.

What happens when the mead is in contact with air during the fermentation process?
If it gets exposed long enough the mead turns into vinegar.

How do you know that the air lock is working?
If no gas bubbles rise through the water in the air lock, apply gentle pressure to the Fermenter and make sure gas bubbles rise through the air lock.

Where does the word “Honeymoon” come from?
The word “Honey Moon” is derived from the ancient practise of newlyweds drinking mead for one month after the wedding. The saga says If the mead was “proper” a son would be born nine months later.

Relevant websites

Vicbrew - The Voice of Craft Brewers in Victoria, Australia

The Brewers Den - Home Brewing Supply store in Boronia, Vic 3155

Honey Recipes - by National Honey Board USA

Back to content