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Tips and Wisdom from a Head Mead Maker

Here’s some great news about mead. Mead is really easy to make!


The mead making process is straightforward. You just add honey to water or juice, and then ferment… and voila, technically, mead. 


But this is deceptively simple.


To make mead well… requires a little more finesse and care. 


We’re guessing if you’re interested in making mead, you want to make it well. If you really just feel like drinking some mead, let us recommend a few varietals here! But otherwise, let us help you out with some advice for aspiring mead makers, straight from Head Mead Maker Derek Batz of Dragonfire Meadery.


Where to Start When You Want to Make Mead

Starting with a mead making kit is a way to go, especially if you’re new to brewing fermented beverages. You may need to do a little research, though, because even some popular kits can be missing important pieces. Not to trash anyone specific, but one of the most popular mead making kits that comes up in a Google search doesn’t even come with a hydrometer– the tool you use to check the alcohol content of your brew!


You can also search for mead making classes near you. This is a great option if you have it-- you’ll be able to ask specific questions and get personalized help, which can make a big difference as you learn. Getting the hands-on experience of making your mead will serve as a launchpad for all the experimentation you’ll get to do in the future, minus a lot of the initial guesswork!


Derek learned how to make mead in a class he took on a whim, and now he runs a whole meadery. There’s no wrong way to try out a skill that could be a hobby, or could turn out to be your life’s passion.




Fermentation and Yeast for Your Mead

Let’s get into the tips and tricks from Derek! We’ll start with fermentation. 


So, when we talk about wine, grapes already have all the nutrients that fermentation needs. That’s why wine can be made from one ingredient: grape juice. 


Mead, though, is made with honey. Honey does not have the necessary nutrients that are required for fermentation. 


Yes, it’s possible(even likely!) that out in nature, at some point in history, some honey must have been lying out in a dish or even a beehive in the rain, and natural fermentation agents in the environment came together to make a mead out of seemingly nowhere… but I’m not going to tell you to wait for some low-key miracles of nature. 


So, the addition of other ingredients is necessary. That includes yeast for your fermentation needs.


A pro tip on yeast: use a yeast made for the specific purpose you are intending. Bread yeast does technically work, but is not your best option. 





Don’t forget that there are plenty of yeasts made just for mead! Others for wine and champagne will work well, too. Each type of yeast you choose will bring out different aspects of your final mead, from flavor notes to mouthfeel.


And guess what… experimentation is one of the joys of mead making. You’re gonna get to try different yeasts, different herb and fruit flavors, and different lengths of brewing. Every batch will be totally unique! 


Making Mead Like The Vikings?


By the way, here’s some misinformation on fermentation you may have heard: a handful of raisins will feed the yeast with all the nutrients they need. Actually, that’s just an urban legend.


On that same topic, I’ve heard lots of people say, “Hey, I want to make my mead like a Viking and in a natural way. So I’m going to add in raisins for fermentation, do x,y,z…” 


That’s great, and I love their interest in using natural ingredients and also learning about the Vikings’ history with mead!


The issue here is that we are using different ingredients now than were available back in that time. This includes GMOs and foods devoid of nutrients and vitamins. The Vikings were great at scavenging and would have taken what was available at the time to add to mead, looking for whatever could preserve the food over the long winter. The way we brew isn’t just being modern for the sake of being modern– it’s because food is different now!


Remember… you can stick raisins in there if you really want to, but raisins are not nutrients for yeast!!!!!


Want to flavor your mead like the Vikings did, though? 


Well, there’s some evidence that an iron age Celtic tribe from about 2,500 years ago flavored their mead with mint and an herb called meadowsweet! Beyond that, we don’t have specific mead recipes from the Vikings. We do know that the Norse people farmed and gathered fruits and berries– so you can forage and flavor as you like, with no one to tell you what to do. 


Which is really the most Viking way to go about it anyhow. 

Patience Is An Ingredient for Making Great Mead

Mead needs time for the flavors to meld and combine properly. This is another bone I have to pick with kits that promise mead in just 30 days. Look, they’re telling the truth that you’ll have brewed some mead in that time. 


BUT…


If you are going from start to bottling in a month, don’t expect that mead to blow your socks off. 


Some meads need to rest and age for upwards of 3 years, but most need at least 6 months to a year.


Temperature is another important factor. You’ll need to consider what time of year you’re making mead, and what climate you’re in.


If you live in the south and want to make mead during the summer, be sure you don’t let it ferment in your garage, which is not climate controlled… and then ask why it tastes like rocket fuel! 


Okay, I’ll tell you why. 


It’s because of something called fusels, which are a type of alcohol that forms during fermentation. Fusels are produced more often at higher temperatures, and they’re recognizable as that horrible ‘cheap alcohol’ taste. They can age out of your batch with time, but not always. 


It’s much better to carefully control the temperature of your mead making environment whenever possible.


Don’t forget that your mead while fermenting is a living thing, and should be treated as such!


Well, that’s our overview of some mead making wisdom, courtesy of Derek Batz. But it’s not the end of the conversation! Derek absolutely loves to talk about mead and mead making, and encourage people who’d like to try it out.


Tell us what your plans are for making mead, and we’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts and experiences!  


Better yet, if you’re around Coventry, CT, come on over to our Meadery and tell us all about it. We can’t wait to chat with you about mead.



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