Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Clearly honey is an obsession of mine. I have used it in many, many ways. From substituting sugar in recipes, cooking with it, add in tea and coffee, even as a face wash. One that you can also do with it is ferment it into an alcoholic beverage. This one I haven't tried yet but have wanted to try for years. Well 2021 might be the time to just do it.
Mead is simply just fermented honey wine. That's the most common way I see it described. You take honey (preferably raw), add water, and ferment. It's a bit more than that but in simplest terms that's it! This process is slow and does take some time so there are things that you do to make this ferment in it's ideal conditions. The first thing I needed was a water air lock system for fermentation. I know it sounds crazy and technical but let me show you want it is. If you look at the picture of my airlock, you'll see it's a little bit of water in two sections of this long tube that twists around. The lower end goes down into the fermentation vessel, the gas produced can then go up the tube and into the area with the water. As the gas builds, the water level goes down on one side and up on the other until the gas pushes all the way down and bubbles up the other side. The water then rushes in and closes the gap making sure that no air from the outside can get in.
I'm sure you can do this without this water lock. Mead is one of the oldest forms of alcohol in the world along with beer and wine. BUT this helps and ensures a safe beverage to drink. Unlike other ferments, the mixture ferments for weeks. I've seen some say 4 weeks, some 6 and some 8. Either way, that time could allow other things to grow if the mixture was exposed to air and oxygen. Think about the apple cider vinegar I made. It sat for weeks and got a small scoby like disk growing on top. It isn't exactly bad, and I'll talk about scoby's and kombucha some time with you, but it's not what I want for this particular ferment. The water lock prevents any of that from happening and since yeast can ferment in an anaerobic environment (one without oxygen) it can do its thing without worry of other micro life messing around. Pretty much it's a safety net to get a good, clean, and delicious mead.
With a water air lock in hand, some honey and yeast as well, I was ready to start this ferment. I did a lot of research on this one. I looked at the methods in the Art of Fermentation and a few websites with various information and methodology. The most common way to make mead I found was to mix water and honey in a pot, boil it, cool it, add wine yeast, and ferment it. Personally though I didn't want to cook my honey. Honey has a lot of natural benefits and part of using local and raw honey for me is to keep it in its raw form to get some of those benefits. The raw form also has natural yeast life that I believe would flavor the mead in a more traditional way compared to 100% wine yeast. Instead of boiling my honey I just boiled the water on its own. This is a safety again. I could use filtered water and skip boiling but I did not want to waste plastic bottles or a home filter on that. Tap water in a pot, boil for 20 minutes, and then cover and leave it outside in the cold winter air to cool fast. That's also why the pictures for this post are clearly inside lights and outside the window is black. Water took some time to cool before I could mix it all up!
For the amounts of honey to water there was really no exact measurement. Everyone I looked at went with the same ratio of 2-3 pounds honey per gallon of water. Less honey is dryer, more honey is sweeter. That sweetness also depends on length of fermentation but I'll get into that in a minute. Personally I don't really drink alcohol. I cut it out shortly after turning 21 but I question if homemade would be better for me. Since I'm not used to dry alcohol, more honey and a sweeter mead it was. I honestly didn't measure though. I took a 3 pound jar of honey, dumped what felt right, and called it a day. It was one of those ~listen to your instinct and let the ancient mead spirits tell me what is right~ moments.
After the honey was added and mixed until fully dissolved I also added a pinch of wine yeast. I wanted to make sure the yeast cultures took control in this mixture and not another micro organism. Again, there wasn't an exact recipe. The general rule is one packet can ferment five gallons. So I eyeballed a little since I want the natural yeast to get going as well and called it a day. Mix, mix, mix to dissolve the yeast and it was ready to ferment. There was one last ingredient that I added before closing it all up, raisins. I have not found the exact science behind this, but raisins contain nutrients for the yeasts to help them ferment better. Everyone else said to do it so I did it too. It makes sense to me that grapes have these nutrients, think about wine. So I blopped about 6 in there and was ready to go.
I put the lid on, labeled the side to remember when I started this, and placed it away from light in my room to hang out for a month and a half. It's winter time so it's a bit cooler in the house, I'm going to let it go closer to 7-8 weeks before trying it and seeing where it is. At this point I'm just waiting. After I started it though I did a bit more research and realized I won't know the alcohol content. I kind of messed that up by 1) not measuring honey and water, and 2) not checking sugar content. I found a video of an older woman making mead and she used a hydrometer which is a tool you place in a sugar mixture to test density of it, thus measure sugar content. Internally I was like man should I buy that for the next batch? Then I remembered I already have a refractometer which measures.... sugar content.... I use it for sorbet bases to make sure they freeze well and I could have used it for this...
Knowing the sugar content is going to help figure out the alcohol content. Unless you are in a lab and have the devices to do that once it ferments... But at home knowing sugar content is a close guest. The amount of sugar in the mixture will be similar to the amount of alcohol. Say it's a sugar content of 15%, if all sugar is fermented into alcohol then the drink will be 15% alcohol. This also depends on the length of fermentation. Shorter ferment, less sugar converted to alcohol, lower alcohol content. More fermentation, more sugar converted to alcohol. At the end of the day I'm not selling this and not planning to try to get ~wasted~, I just wanted to make mead for me. Once I do finish and try it I'll let you know how easily I feel it at that point.
Now I wait. Since starting it and typing this all out it has been some time. Still have at least a month before I check it out but in this first chunk of time it like to watch it and see the bubbles rise. Some days are more active and there are noticeable bubbles coming up through the airlock which I love, but I'm also a complete yeast sniffer and am super fascinated by these micro fungi. I'll check in once it's all done, until then I'll get baking and fermenting some other things at home!