Taken from the index page


Making their own Mead is one of the most satisfying things that homebrewers can do. Whether it be for private use or for social purposes, home-brewed Mead is something special. With it, we warm our souls, toast our friends and neighbors, and greet our fellows. This handbook will teach you to make Mead, step by step, stage by stage, and problem by problem. It is not difficult to make a good Mead, even an excellent Mead, the very first time you brew. Like everything, there are a few rules: three to be exact. Rules one and two are best remembered as the two P's: Purity and Patience.

Purity is essential for making fine Mead. All the ingredients of your Mead must be the finest you can obtain. Use the best honey, one locally produced if possible. Avoid honey blends (many of which are made with Argentine honey), and above all avoid honey that is over- processed. Many commercial honeys are strained, filtered, boiled, blended, and Pasteurized so much that they are little more than aromatic sources of sugar. There is nothing wrong with buying honey in a supermarket, but a good general rule is to avoid all national or super-regional brands, since they are usually guilty of most of the adulterations mentioned above. Buy a honey that is collected locally, by a small operation. These honeys usually come in mason jars, with two-color labels, and bear the name of a family rather than that of a corporation. Buy these honeys; they are the next best thing to dealing directly with a beekeeper.

For several years now I have bought almost all of my honey directly from local bee-keepers. Beekeepers are neat folks, and they are generally quite interested in just what it is I intend to do with all the honey that I buy. I tell them about Mead, pass on some recipes, and usually make a friend in the process. They then sell me their best honeys, which they have collected with love and pride. My favorite beekeeper has a large stock of varietal honeys, and I am able to treat myself to pale clover honey, amber wildflower honey, and dark blackshade bean honey. What I buy is strained (but not filtered), not Pasteurized, and comes complete with flower pollen and an occasional bee leg. It contains all the aromatics, all the volatile flavoring constituents, and pleases me to no end. I feel lucky. It shouldn't be too difficult to find a beekeeper in your area. Check out the honey labels in your local grocery store, and try to find the address of an apiarist that way. More fun still is to check out local farmer's markets or county fairs and find a local beekeeper selling his wares from the tail-gate of a battered red pick-up truck. Real people sell real honey; it's that simple.

As you are careful about the purity of your honey, so too should you be careful about other ingredients. Use fine quality springwater, bottled if need be. Avoid city tap water, and generally avoid distilled water as well (since it lacks sufficient minerals). Generally speaking, if a water tastes good, it will probably make a good Mead. Likewise use care in selecting a yeast. Don't use baking yeast, first of all, even if it says brewer's yeast on the packet. Buy your yeast from a wine-making supply shop, being sure to purchase the best you can get. I generally buy American packaged yeasts, simply because I suspect that they are much fresher than imported yeasts. More later on what kind of yeast to buy.

Whether you use lemons and tea to balance the brew, or add measured amounts of malic acid and grape tannin, once again you should keep purity uppermost in mind. When using lemon peel, soak the whole lemon in hot water beforehand to take off any residual insecticides. If you prefer the chemical recipes, keep all chemical additives tightly closed to shut out any contaminants. This is surely commonsense stuff, but well worth mentioning nonetheless.

Purity includes equipment as well as ingredients. Keep everything sparkling clean. Use brewer's bleach or a household bleach, followed by a thorough rinsing. Don't use jugs or hoses with stains, cracks, scratches, etc. Forget all about that gallon jug out there in the garage next to the lawn mower: get a new one. If you can avoid it, don't "make do" with anything less than first rate. You and your Mead deserve the very best.

Rule number two is patience, and is perhaps the hardest rule of all. Yeast may be only a single-celled creature, but it has been around a long time: it knows what it is doing. Mead brews at its own rate; trying to hurry the process will usually result in an inferior Mead, a lesser product than you could have brewed otherwise. Once the Mead starts to ferment, aside from watching it, and occasional rackings, leave it alone! Mead takes a long time to brew if a fine beverage is to be obtained, and Mead benefits from much aging. I've drunk my share of raw Meads, and even Meads that were still fermenting. It was fun at the time, but I cheated myself. Let the Mead work itself to perfection: unless you have made an error in the brewing process, Mead needs almost none of your help at all.

How long should you be patient? After pitching, most Meads will not be ready for bottling for at least three months. Wait until all signs of fermentation, such as bubbles working their way through the air lock, have ceased. There will be a couple of times when the Mead clarifies to a striking degree, but it usually clouds up once more after the yeast has regrouped, and then continues with secondary fermentation. Don't bottle your Mead until it is so clear that you can read a newspaper through a gallon jug of it, and until it has been that clear for at least two weeks. If you bottle sooner you will probably wind up re-bottling the Mead, which has renewed fermentation and begun to throw sediment. If the Mead is dark (like my Leather Nun), you obviously can't read a newspaper through it, but you can shine a bright flashlight into the jar and ascertain that the hooch has a gem-like clarity. Then, and only then, is it time to bottle.

After bottling, let the Mead age for a few months, at a minimum. If you're impatient, drink maybe one bottle for a cheap thrill, but age the rest. This, more than anything else, will make for an excellent Mead, and can even improve a poor Mead. Some people go so far as to insist that Mead does not hit its peak until it has aged for at least fifty years. I won't go quite that far, but remember: Patience!

Rule number three is one that I crib from the Dean of American Homebrewers, Charlie Papazian: "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew." Mead is alive, like the earth itself. If you worry, your Mead senses it, and it worries too. All will out in the end. If you did your job, worrying won't be necessary. If you blew it, worrying won't help. Relax. Mead knows what to do all by itself--it doesn?t need you to do anything but keep it warm. I repeat: Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew.