Brewing Mead in Quantity: My New 6-gallon Fermenter

I shared the last of my vanilla mead last month with friends who have educated palates, and they were all favorably impressed. Even though it was young, it wasn’t immature: tangible notes of caramel, light floral and a taste of apricot.

Meads are notoriously slow to ferment, which is why I get the ball rolling by adding extra sugar. The last time I used this method, I ended up with a very drinkable beverage that was 12.3% ABV. Since I got universally positive feedback, I decided to super-size this next batch and experiment with some new flavors.

Honey from Rose Garden Apiaries.

Research indicates that I’ve been using the wrong words this whole time. Vanilla mead isn’t technically mead, it’s methergin (mead, plus spices and flavorings). Also, adding sugar makes this “short mead,” or I suppose, “short methergrin.” Now that I understand that mead is a global beverage, the potential flavor combinations are firing up my imagination.

The liquid now burbling in my kitchen will make another batch of vanilla methergin, a ginger batch and a few bottles of melomel — mead made with fruit. My friend Peter Christy owns Far Leaves Tea, so I plan to infuse the melomel with his Blood Orange Tea to give a few bottles a very distinctive ruby color and flavor. I also have some champagne bottles I can use to make sparking mead!

Obviously, it all starts with the mead:

  • 4 liters water
  • 5.5 kg honey
  • 25 g Premier Premier Cuvée wine yeast
  • 1.6 g Fermaid K yeast nutrient
  • 400 g granulated sugar
  • a few gallons of room-temperature filtered water
  • an airlock

For me, it’s easier to calculate Metric than Imperial; trying to remember the exact number of ounces in 3/4 of a gallon is a PITA.

Twelve pounds of wild honey atop a 6.5 gallon fermenter.

Twelve pounds of Texas honey atop a 6.5 gallon fermenter.

I obtained 12 pounds of honey via a friend who knows an apiarist outside Dallas. The beekeeper has no idea what we’re doing, so she should be surprised when she receives her bottles. Whatever you use, make sure it’s real raw honey that’s minimally processed. Expect to pay at least $10/pound for quality bee secretions. My last batch used honey from Mendocino, so we’ll see if I can discern a difference.

The fermenter above is my primary; when the time comes to rack this batch, I’ll probably transfer it to individual bottles so I can start infusing with herbs and fruit.

Let’s get started:

First, add about 10 liters of filtered water to a very well-cleaned fermenter.

stirring honey into hot water for mead

Next, add about 4 liters of filtered water to each stock pot, bring the water to to a boil, then turn off the heat and divide the honey equally between both pots.

water and honey after boiling

After boiling the honey-water mixture for 5 minutes, turn off the heat, then skim and discard the foam. You don’t have to boil your honey, but the wild yeast will compete with the fancy French yeast you just paid for. Natural yeast can also leave a skunky note, so boiling is recommended.

Put your pot in an ice bath to bring the temp down into the 80 – 90F range. Then, pour the concentrated wort into the fermenter with the filtered water and mix. Keep stirring and add all of the sugar to the fermenter.

When the sugar is dissolved, add six grams of Premier Cuvée and stir with a large slotted spoon to break up any clumps. Cover the container for 30 minutes and take a break. When you return, it should look something like this:

adding yeast to the mead wort in a fermenter

It should start foaming within several minutes.

Don’t freak out if it’s not a little frothy; it’ll get there. Add more filtered water, then add the rest of your honey wort to the container and stir some more. I like to add citric acid during this phase, so I added the juice of three limes.

Since I’m making short methergrin, I added 450g of sugar. This jump-starts fermentation, but invest in a hydrometer before you start this project. Before this goes into your wine cellar (or in a corner of the kitchen), you’ll need a hydrometer to tell you how much sugar is in solution; it tells you how potent the end result should be. Add filtered water until the surface is an inch below the rim, then seal it up and put in your airlock.

This batch has a specific gravity of 1.084 and a Brix of 19.8, so the end result will be around 11.3% ABV. I may boost it to 12% by adding more sugar at the end.

Day one of the largest batch of mead I've taken on so far. Within hours, the yeast got to work, and the airlock started burbling.

I have high confidence that this batch will turn out favorably. My only concern is the noise; the airlock is bubbling loud enough for me to hear it in my bedroom at night. (It sounds like someone’s crouched in my hall closet, maniacally popping bubble wrap.)

I’ll keep testing hydrometer samples over the next several weeks. When the airlock gets quiet, that’s when I’ll add fruits, herbs and other seasonings. Watch this space for updates.



Filed under Wine

3 responses to “Brewing Mead in Quantity: My New 6-gallon Fermenter

  1. I love this. I’ve never tried Mead and love that there are so many different names for it. I can get you some unprocessed honey here in New Mexico some time if you want to try regional varieties. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Peggy! New Mexico state law says I can send you up to two cases of wine in 2014. I may not be able to swing 24 bottles, but I’m glad to make a swap!

    Do you know of any regional fruits/herbs that might complement the mead?

  3. Pingback: Blood-orange Melomel: serendipity in a glass | More Gaudy Patter

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