Making Honeymead

Saturday, 11 FEB 2006

My wife for my birthday bought me a book titled 'Caveman Chemistry'. This is one of the most unusual written books I have ever read. The author of this work attempts to teach us some evolution of chemistry, starting with charcoal and ending in plastic. He tells the story from a different character viewpoint. These characters are modeled after the elements Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Well reading this book is to say the least entertaining and has learning value to boot. I would suggest it to my fellow curious friends. You can find the book at Lindsay Books located at

After getting through the introduction and the first couple of chapters the author starts talking with one of his Earth characters, 'Sampson' and gets into a discussion about Honey. Honey as the author puts it is comprised of mostly sugars and a few other tasty treats like pollen and is stored in such a concentrated solution that micro organisms are unable to survive in the mix. Well we find out that was the Bees way of preserving their feast for themselves and the soon to come baby bees to prevent it from spoiling.

Well next we learn that if the honey is diluted with water, the these little micro organism creatures can then survive and prosper in the solution. The micro organism the author writes about in particular is yeast. He tells us that yeast has the unique ability to eat sugar either in the presents of air or without any air being available to it. He describes the process something like this:

Yeast eats sugar and is there is oxygen to breath pisses water (H2O) and farts Carbon Dioxide (CO2). But if the yeast is deprived of oxygen to breath it can still eat sugar but only partially process it. So the yeast still farts Carbon Dioxide (CO2) but instead pisses Alcohol ().

Well, to make a long story short, the author is teaching about the chemical changes happening through fermentation and the project for this chapter is ... you guessed it, making some homemade honey mead.

This is but the crudest way I suppose you could brew your own honey mead, but I figure if this process works at all, I just may have to try it on a better equipped scale. This way, if it does not work at all, I am out very, very little. My noble assistant for this experiment is my youngest son Michael. Now Michael is one of those children, that is, if you didn't see his arms and legs you may think I had some strange growth protruding from my butt. Now don't take me wrong, I really don't mind because I know sooner or later dad just won't be cool any more. (Secretly, I dread when that day arrives, but I digress.)

Mike with all the stuffHere we have Michael with all of our goodies gathered to make our homemade brew. (The poor little blighter has no clue that I am not sharing it with him.) In this picture you see we have a 2 liter soda bottle (Our fermentation chamber), A bottle of clover honey (The stuff the yeast gets to gobble up), yeast (now I know this is not wine or beer yeast, but hey, I bet these little fellows can piss alcohol and fart carbon dioxide too) and finally you see Michael holding a balloon and on the table is a bottle of rubber cement. (These items will be used to make our fermentation lock.)

Putting honey in the panTo start with we had to make our wart. The wart is the starter for the honey mead. Here you see Michael squirting honey into the pan. Now I guess if you really wanted to replicate your mead so that future batched tasted the same you would carefully note how much honey and water and other ingredients you are combining. Well, I am just curious is the process will work for me using such crude equipment. In case you are wondering we used about half of this bottle of honey for our wart. I am guessing that would be about 12 ounces of the 24 ounce bottle. To this honey we added 1-1/2 cups of water and 2-1/2 table spoons of lemon juice. (Later I noticed that I overlooked adding a cup of brewed tea. The tea is supposed to give nutrients to the honey to help them grow and multiply. I will be a little more careful next time.)

Cooking the wartNext we took our wart to the stove to cook it. Now cooking your wart is a bit of a controversy in the mead making world. Some folks believe that you are killing the flavor of the mead because you are driving away some of the natural aroma of the honey (or something like that) while other folk believe that you are doing it a great justice because you are killing off the bacteria and wild yeast from the wart allowing the yeast you are using to do a better job (or something like that). Well Michael decided he wanted to cook it, truthfully, I think it was to get good and close to the stove where he isn't normally allowed to be. So I turned the burner on the lowest setting and let him stir it for a little while. Well, when I was happy that the honey was dissolved in the water and all was mixed well, I made poor Michael hand the stove over to me. I brought the wart to a hard boil and lit it do it's thing for about five minutes. What happened was a creamy froth rose to the surface. I suppose this is where the dead protein and wild yeast and whatever goes to when you boil it up. From this point I skimmed the scum off and disposed of it and poured my wart into a four cup measuring cup to let it cool a bit while Michael helped with cultivating the yeast!

Adding yeast to a bowlHere we have a lot of pictures for a little amount of work, but hey, that is how it goes with child labor (I mean noble assistants) isn't it? Here we have a clean bowl and Michael is pouring in the packet of yeast. Now I really don't know anything at all about home brewing and yeast and all that stuff, but I figure one package might be enough for one bottle of home brewed honey mead. Also, you will notice this is bread yeast. I suppose if I really wanted some high quality stuff, I should have jumped onto the Internet and found me some brewers yeast. But, in the heart of cheapness demands that you use what you have on hand. I had this stuff. hahaha ;-D

Adding warm water to the yeastNow before we go pouring yeast into our wart that we worked so hard to make, we have to make sure that our yeast is alive and happy. You do this by adding some amount of water and some sugar. Here Michael and I are following the package directions and adding 1/4 cup of warm water. (Now I figured it it was warm to touch it was probably close to what they ask for temperature wise. I guess I could have found a thermometer and measured but hey, I don't want to turn it into rocket science.)

Adding sugar and mixingAnd finally with a teaspoon of our wart added to the broth Michael mixes it up and we let it set. Now the directions on the package of yeast says to let it sit for 10 minutes and it should double in size with lots of froth on top. Sure enough, 10 minutes later, it had double and had lots of smelly yeasty foam on top. I am guessing that our yeast is good and it likes to eat our wart. I am feeling better and better about this as we go along. In the mean time, Michael and I added cold water to our boiled wart and poured it into our fancy fermenting chamber. Then we added enough cold water to fill the bottle up to the shoulder.

Pitching the yeastAfter scraping the foam from the top of the yeast, Michael poured it into the ferment chamber. Next we put the cap on and gave it all a good shaking. See I guess you want to make sure the yeast have oxygen to breath when you start out so they can quickly multiply to get lots and lots of little CO2 farting little yeast going. So at this point we just let it sit to do it's thing. HMMMM .... Is it just me, or does this boy look like he is up to something?

Sunday, 12 FEB 2006

Today started out like any other Sunday at our house. Kids fighting about the bathroom, trying to get them dressed for church, getting them fed, HEY - I said go brush your teeth! Anyway, about 10 minutes before we had to leave for church I thought I would visit Michael and I's little honey mead project. I squeezed the bottle. OH BOY, I think we have just made a bomb. These little yeast must really be going to town. I mean they must be in there have on hell of a flatulence war. The bottle was as hard as a rock. I could not even dent the plastic when I squeezed it. I figured I better let some of the gas out before I had a honey mead mess all over the kitchen. And I am sure you know what that means ... no more experiments in the house. We couldn't have that. Well, I cracked the lid and up comes the foam, a lot like what happens when you open a coke that has been shaken up. I had to close it off and let the foam dissipate before I could let more gas out. I had to slowly bleed the gas off. This took the whole 10 minutes before church so I figured I was safe to leave.

When we got back I decided to check the mead. Well, it was not rock hard, but still it had a lot of gas. I figured my yeast were really having a party. Well I don't want to have to constantly check this stuff so I decided it was time to make a fermentation lock. Now this device is supposed to let air escape but not let air in.

Home made fermentation lockHere you have it. A homemade fermentation lock. Well it does not really let the air out, but at least I have a gauge indicating when it is time to bleed the gas off. I suppose you could save the Carbon Dioxide for something if you wanted too.

Fermentation lock attached to bottleFinally you see the fermentation lock in place. This picture was taken a few minutes after I put it on. It did not take long to fill the balloon with gas. I will keep you posted how it all turns out and put a few pictures up as we go along. Stop by and check it our sometime!

Thursday, 16 FEB 2006

I decided after re-reading the experiment I noticed that the author mentioned putting stuff into the wort to add flavor and help energize the yeast. The two things he mentioned were lemon juice and tea. In the first go, I overlooked the tea some how or another. Maybe it was in my excitement to make the stuff. I have also looked around the Internet for honey mead too. This looks like a serious hobby, with all kinds of tools, equipment and other stuff available to do this sort of thing. I would imagine anyone stumbling across My Heap and seeing honey mead would quickly dismiss me as a lunatic based on how I am making it. But Hey, that is OK too. Any way, I noticed that most people suggest leaving the wort uncovered for 24 - 72 hours to get the yeast growing before starving ti from the air. Well, I decided to do a second batch a little different than the first.

My first wort consisted of:

  • 12 ounces of Walmart Great Value Clover Honey
  • 12 ounces of water
  • 2-1/2 Table spoons of Lemon Juice. (Equal to one medium sized lemon.)

My second wort consisted of:

  • 12 ounces of Walmart Great Value Clover Honey
  • 12 ounces of water
  • 2-1/2 Table spoons of Lemon Juice. (Equal to one medium sized lemon.)
  • 1 cup of brewed tea. (I used a lemon spice tea. It does not tell you what the spice is, but it smells like maybe honey and cinnamon)

I tasted both worts when they were done cooking. The first I remember tasted like honey with lemon, nothing worth writing home about. The second wort though had a unique taste. Adding the tea added some subtle flavors that in my opinion made the second wort taste better than the first. I prepared both worts the same. They were brought to a boil and held there for five minutes. After boiling they were skimmed of any foam laying on top of the wort. The wort then poured into the fermentor and adding enough cold tap water to bring the level up to the shoulder of the bottle.

Both batches use the same Fleshman dried yeast. I used only one packet per bottle. I activated the yeast by adding to it 1/4 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of the wort before diluting it. I mixed and let it set for 10 minutes. (I just followed the directions on the yeast packet substituting wort for the sugar.) After the required time I made sure that the yeast at least doubled. (They did.) I skimmed the foam off and added it to the fermentor. I capped the fermentor and shook it to get air mixed in with the yeast. And it is here I took a different road on the second batch. I left the lid off and let it get air to promote the growth of the yeast. I have capped and shook the mix up about every 8 hours to keep the air in with the yeast. Now at 8:30 tonight when I hit the 24 hour mark I will put a fermentation lock on the bottle and let it do it's thing.

The only other thing I am wanting to do is transfer my first batch to a clear bottle. But at the same time I do not want to introduce air into it. I may just have to buy a hydrometer and check on it that way. But the bottle is yellow (a ginger ale bottle) and I am wondering if I will be able to see the wort clear up when the fermentation process is done.

I will try to get a picture of them on here soon. I really don't think there will be much to post about it all till they are done, other maybe some observations from time to time. Come back once in a while and see what's happening! :-)

Sunday, 19 FEB 2006

I thought I would place an update to my Honey Mead making attempt. Nothing has really changed to this point except that the fermentation process has really slowed down on the first batch. It will barely fill the balloon enough to make it stand up on the cap now. Also, it is looking like it is starting to try to clear up. I decided to go out on the limb and I poured a shot glass about half full to sample it. What I expected was some gross tasting stuff since it still was cloudy and had yeast working in it, instead what I experienced was a drink that had similar taste qualities to a Merlot wine. It did have a bit of an aftertaste but I think that may have to do with the yeast still floating around doing it's thing. Also, it tasted just a little carbonated, again, I am guessing because of the yeast. I m guessing that once the mead clears it will have a bit of a different taste, but even if it does not change from it's current state, I think I would be able to enjoy the beverage. :-) More to come as things progress.

Sunday 26 November 2006

OK, I have to be honest with you guys and tell you how the rest of the story went. I made a total of four batches of mead of varying success. The first two batches that you see on the top of the page were actually drinkable but had a bread yeast aftertaste and lots of alcohol. The other two batches were a bit disappointing but I suppose that is how it goes. Since the start of this project I have leaned a few things along the way. These are:

  1. YEAST - The yeast you use really makes a difference in the final product you end up with. For example, I used bread yeast in this experiment. The regular bread yeast seemed to do its job and fermented into a somewhat drinkable mead. (Depends on your palette) The Rapid Rise yeast I used consumed the sugar like mad and foamed like crazy, but still it done its job. Now, the drawback to all this is that the bread yeast was not designed to brew alcohol, but instead, release lots of CO2. When that happens, you literally percolate any subtle flavors from the wort and impart a nice (sarcasm) yeasty taste to your mead. You can buy wine and ale making yeast from a number of suppliers located on the Internet, or if you have a local wine making shop, stop in and buy some real yeast. You will be pleased with the results.
  2. AIR LOCKS - You can use a balloon for and airlock and it will work fine with only a small catch or two. If you followed what I done above, you will notice that the balloon would catch all the CO2 and as the balloon filled, I would bleed it off. What I didn't realise was that under the pressure of the gas, the mead would slowly absorb the carbon dioxide and be carbonated, much like beer or soda but with less carbonation. If you are going to use a balloon for an air lock, take a needle and pierce a small hole in it to allow the gas to escape. The point of the airlock is to starve the yeast of oxygen so that it produces alcohol rather than something else. Not to mention you keep out wild vinegar spores and other nasties. Again, my advice is to buy a regular air lock. They are less than $2.00 US each and are really hassle free.
  3. FERMENTORS - Now for the above experiment, I used 2 liter soda bottles for my fermentor and it works well. My only problem was that it was not enough mead to sample as it aged and would run out. I switched to one gallon glass jugs and have been brewing wine and mead in them since. I suggest you use whichever you want, but buy a food grade cork or bung to fit the jug or bottle. You can get these from the same wine supplier you get the other equipment. Measure the opening of the container you are using and buy the size you need to for that particular container. They are cheap so buy a couple of spares.
  4. NOTE TAKING - take meticulous notes about everything you do with your mead. For example, did you boil the wort, how much of what ingredients did you use, what process did you go through to get you wort where it is, did you steep spices in the wort, what was the starting temperature when you pitched the yeast, what kind of yeast do you use? etc. etc. Note taking is your best friend when making mead (or wine) When you make a GREAT batch, you will want to be able to do that again, when you make drain cleaner, you want to try to figure out what you done wrong. TAKE NOTES, LOTS OF NOTES!
  5. OTHER EQUIPMENT - If you are planning on brewing a lot of mead over time, then there is some equipment you may want to get yourself. This stuff is not too expensive and makes your life a bit easier when it is all said and done.
    • HYDROMETER - This handy device measures the specific gravity of your wort. By measuring the gravity, you have an idea of how much fermentable sugar you have, how much potential alcohol it will make and gives you a gauge to repeat those tasty batches you made before.
    • RACKING CANE - A racking tube will allow you to siphon your mead off the dead yeast without taking the yeast with it. It is important to rack your mead so that it does not sit on the yeast cake or lees too long. Leaving your mead on this will impart off flavors to your mead. Racking also allows you to transfer your mead to another container with the least amount of air exposure. When making mead or wine, air is your enemy. Oxygen oxidises your mead giving it off flavors.
    • SANITIZING SOLUTION - When making beer, mead or wine, you just cannot be too clean. Take the time to sanitize your equipment. Sanitizing prevents any unwanted bacteria from producing off flavors or ruining an otherwise great batch of meed. You can sanitize with bleach, but if you do, rinse very thoroughly and use cold water not hot. Hot water breaks down the bleach. Other sanitizing agents are available from your wine and beer brew shop.
    • BOTTLES AND RELATED ITEMS - Mead really tastes better when it has had a chance to age. You should age your mead about a year to get the best flavor from it. And if you can wait, aging it longer only improves it more. To properly age, you should put your mead in glass bottles and cork them. Glass unlike plastic does not allow oxygen in (except very slowly through the cork) and allows the mead to age without oxidizing. If you are going to get serious with your mead making, save you old wine bottles and use them. (Make sure they are clean and sanitized), invest in a small hand corker and some corks. You can even buy labels and sleeves that go over the neck of the bottles if you want to get really fancy.
  6. TIME - Time is your best friend when making mead. Let the yeast do its thing, keep it cool and let it work slowly, because if you ferment to fast, you are taking away some of the product your trying to make. Let it age, mead is much better as it ages. Just don't hurry yourself, patience is its best reward here.

Where to from here?

Well, since I have started this project, I have made 4 batches in two liter bottles using the methods above. I have also made a 1 gallon batch using real yeast, and some other equipment. The difference for me was this. My wife who is a fan of Merlot wines told me that the stuff I brewed with the bread yeast was not fit to drink but this last batch was very good. As a matter of fact, she went as far as telling me, that if this stuff gets better with age, that I may want to hide it to keep from it getting drank before it has enough time to age properly. I managed to get four of the five bottles stored with only one of them drank. The mead was delicious. The only real difference from what I made above was the yeast. Do yourself a favor and do it with the real stuff.

I plan on making another batch of mead soon. This in this batch I plan on adding mulling spice to the mix to see what kind of effect it has on it. I will also post my last recipe for those of you who would like to try it out. In the mean time, pop back in occasionally to see what is happening at the HEAP and send your friends! HAPPY BREWING!

*** UPDATE *** Monday, 9 April 2007

I received an email from Randall Reese with his thought about making mead and a recipe to boot. His email follows.

Saw u r Blog on making mead! Interesting. For the last year I have been making mead due to living in the middle east so therefore not being able to purchase ready made hang overs in a bottle I make my own.
Anyway I have also tried various recipes with some being quite complex and found the best to be a simple one as follow:

+/-1 gallon water, 3.5 pounds of honey, 1/4 teaspoon Cream of Tartar, 1 lemons juice, a touch of Cinnamon,and some times I have put 1/2 cup tea.I use a pilsner beer yeast I bought on Ebay in a 1 kilogram bag.

I have tried boiling the wort and just heating it up. Its hard for me to tell any difference in the end.I also use a balloon and it works fine for an airlock.It takes about 1 month for initial brew to stop pretty much then I rack it to another 1 gallon bottle and let it sit 1 to 2 months.Then bottle it in 12 oz bottles and let it sit 2 weeks or more before drinking. In all its a +/- 3 month time lag here so I have several brews going at one time. Right now I have 4 each 1 gallon brews going.
About 4 each 12 ounce bottles "will light my fire" with a low flame!! ha ha
Its pretty stout stuff.
20 years ago in India I had lots of home made kit beer practice but I have become quite happy with my Mead. I also put 1/3 teaspoon of sugar in each 12 oz bottle when capped to give it some carbonation.

Randall Reese