Our current big DIY experiment has begun! We’ve decided to brew us some honey wine, or mead, the preferred drink of old gods and vikings.
Why mead? Because it’s actually pretty easy to make, and – from everything we read – hard to get wrong. The ingredients are simple, and you just need a bit of equipment to get going. We started with the simplest recipe and instruction set we could find on the internet and combined it with the advice of the shopkeeper at the winemaking store.
Here’s what we needed:
- Water airlocks
- Sanitizing agent
- Honey, lots of honey (unpasteurized local farmer’s market honey is best)
- Spring water (or distilled if you prefer)
- Large mixing pot
- Large plastic or metal stirring spoon (not wood)
- A funnel
- Some oranges and some raisins (to help feed the yeast)
- Optional spices such as whole cloves and cinnamon
We got most of our equipment from Winning Wines Plus, including two 1-gallon carboys and a bottle of Star San, which came highly recommended. We also bought a packet of Wyeast Sweet Mead yeast at the recommendation of the shopkeeper.
The first step is activate the yeast, if required, according to the package’s recommendations. If this requires opening the package, you should sanitize the exterior first using the sanitizing agent, according to its directions.
While it is activating, you will need to sanitize all the things – wash with dish soap and water everything that will come into contact with the ingredients, including for good measure your drying rack. Rinse, and sanitize inside and out according to the instructions on the bottle. We filled a spray bottle with the sanitizer mixture to make this easy. Though you can apparently air dry the items at this point, we were told it’s better to rinse them one more time before air drying.
Warm up the honey to soften it, by setting the still-sealed container in a bowl or pot of warm water. Once it appears thin enough to easily pour, pour it into your mixing pot, then mix in the spring or distilled water. Stir with the mixing spoon until honey is completely dissolved, then pour into a carboy via a funnel.
We used 1.5 kg of honey and filled the pot with water to the 1 gallon mark, and poured into a 1-gallon carboy. We then repeated the process once more for a second 1-gallon carboy.
We sliced one orange for each carboy, into slices thin enough to fit through the opening, and dropped them into the mixture along with about 25 raisins in each carboy. If you’re using spices, this would be the time to add them. We spiced one mixture with a single whole clove (they are pretty potent, apparently), and one stick of cinnamon.
Cover the opening tightly (you can use the cap and cover the hole with some plastic wrap). Shake it like a madperson to oxygenate the mixture, for about 45 seconds to a minute.
Remove the cap, and add the yeast. The package we bought was good for up to 5 gallons, so we just split it evenly between carboys. Finally, top up the carboy with spring water to about an inch from the top. Assemble the airlock into the cap, and seal the carboys. Fill the airlock about half full with water and close.
Finally, find a dark place to store the carboys while they ferment. Fermentation works best at about room temperature; we just put them on the floor of a closet with the door closed.
Within a day, the fermentation should be quite visible, forming bubbles in the liquid which you should be able to see passing through the airlock as well.
Now we let biology do its thing for a couple of months. Check the airlock every few days to make sure it has water, and top up if needed.
I won’t actually know how this turns out until then, but will post more once it’s done, including everything needed to bottle the finished mead. There are certainly more complex methods of brewing (such as those that require racking), but from everything we read you can still brew a great mead by keeping it dead simple.
If all goes well, we will celebrate with a mead party, complete with viking hats!