– 8 lbs raw local honey (I used raw Maple flower honey from a local beekeeper)
– 4 gallons freshly pressed apple cider (best when pressed from a variety of apples)
– 1 package yeast (there are a variety of liquid and dry yeasts available, make sure to use one that can withstand the high alcohol content of mead)
– 1 lb organic brown sugar
– ½ lb organic dates, chopped
– 2 tsp yeast energizer
– 1 tsp yeast nutrient
– Water to 5 gallons (if needed)
– Organic spices (optional): 1 Cinnamon stick, 1 tsp whole Allspice, 1 tsp whole Cardamom pods, 3 whole Cloves, 5 whole Black Peppercorns, 1 whole Nutmeg. This will make a heavily spiced mead which will taste similar to mulled cider. You can change the blend or omit the spices altogether.
– Equipment: Thermometer, plastic food-grade bucket, 5 or 6 gallon glass carboy, fermentation lock and rubber stopper, siphon house and racking cane, and sanitizer.
1. First, sanitize everything that will come in contact with your mead. You can use Star San, One Step Cleanser, or another sanitizer available from a homebrew shop.
2. Mix the cider, honey, brown sugar, and dates in a food-grade bucket, making sure to blend them thoroughly. Add water if needed to reach a total volume of 5 gallons. Some recipes call for boiling the honey, but this causes the honey to lose its natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties as well as some of the delicious flavor and aromatics. I prefer to leave the honey raw, but if you are concerned about sanitation, then heat the cider and honey mixture to a temperature of 150 degrees and hold it there for 10 minutes.
3. Add yeast energizer, yeast nutrient, and yeast to the honey and cider blend according to the directions on the packages. Mix vigorously to add oxygen and aerate the must. Yeast needs plenty of oxygen in order to reproduce and create a healthy fermentation.
5. For the primary fermentation, you can use the food-grade plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid or a glass carboy. With either vessel, you will need to attach an airlock and rubber stopper. Check your yeast strain to see what temperatures are preferred, but most mead is best fermented in an area that is 60 to 75 degrees. Now the magic will begin! Within 24-48 hours you should see activity coming from your airlock.
6. The bubbles will be vigorous in the beginning, decreasing in activity over the next couple of weeks. Once they have subsided to one bubble every 60 seconds or longer and you notice that the yeast has settled into a layer at the bottom of the bucket, it is time to transfer your mead. It is useful to taste the beverage and take a hydrometer reading at this point to ensure that the fermentation is complete. The mead should no longer taste sweet and the final gravity should be between 0.990 – 1.015.
7. Gravity is needed for this next step, so place the fermenting bucket/carboy on a chair or stool and allow the yeast to settle to the bottom again (I usually let it sit overnight). Using a siphon and racking cane, rack the liquid off of the yeast into a glass carboy with an airlock and rubber stopper. Store the filled carboy in a cool area such as a basement, which is the ideal place if you have one.
8. You can add spices anytime during the fermentation process, but I like to wait until the mead has mellowed a bit so that I can taste the spices in the mead. First, place the spices in a muslin bag and boil in a little water to sanitize. Next, allow the spice filled bag and remaining liquid to cool completely. Add the spiced liquid and suspend the bag of herbs in the mead. Spices can easily overwhelm other flavors in the mead, so taste your mead frequently after adding them. You can also add oak chips during the fermentation to infuse notes of vanilla, oak, and to help soften the mead’s overall flavor. Treat oak chips first by boiling in water and then allow them to sit for a few hours before adding.
9. Once the signs of fermentation have subsided and the mead has cleared and is no longer cloudy, it is ready to bottle! You may have to transfer the mead a couple of times before this happens to eliminate sediment at the bottom. Use clean and sanitized wine or beer bottles and new corks or caps (bottles may be reused, but do not reuse closures). 5 gallons of mead will fill approximately twenty-five 750ml wine bottles or fifty-three 12oz beer bottles.