I’ve been wanting to branch out from beer and try my hand at brewing mead for quite a while. Other than the suggestion that a fermented alcoholic beverage made from honey and fruit sounds delicious, I really don’t know what I’m getting into. Given that I’m in completely unknown territory here, I really don’t want to commit to a full 5 gallon batch of something I might end up not liking. Fortunately, it turns out that a lot of mead recipes are formulated in smaller 3 gallon batch sizes.
With my usual lack of experience and equipment, I set off on my typical path of recipe research and online shopping. First, I need to pick out a recipe. I quickly settle on a fruit mead combining honey, citrus, raspberries, and Earl Grey tea. Individually, these are all ingredients I like. What fault could I find with them all combined into a single beverage? My next stop is morebeer.com for 3 gallon carboys, bulk honey and mead yeast. The remaining ingredients I can easily source from my local corner grocery.
Among firsts, this was also my first experience using morebeer.com as a vendor. I’ve had mixed experiences dealing with other local and online homebrew supply shops and have been looking for other options. MoreBeer looked like it offered everything I was looking for – Bay area local, wide inventory selection, online ordering, cheap shipping, and convenient home delivery. So, I made a bulk order including a variety of grains and hops for my next several batches of beer along with the equipment and ingredients I needed for this mead recipe.
Unfortunately, it turned out that parts of my order were out of stock. This included the 3 gallon carboys which took three weeks from my initial order placement before finally shipping. However, due to my proximity to the fulfillment center, packages arrived promptly on the next day after shipping. There was also a minor issue with a leaking container of Star San in part of the shipment. Luckily, the MoreBeer support staff were helpful and happy to quickly replace the damaged merchandise. Despite the fulfillment and packing issues, I’ll definitely keep this vendor in my pocket for future orders.
- 4 lemons
- 4 limes
- 1/2 cup Earl Grey tea
- 24 ounces raspberries
- 7.5# honey
- 3 gallons water
- WLP720 Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast
I’ve chosen a blend of three different types of honey as my basis for this mead. I’m using 3 pounds each of bulk raw unpasteurized California and Orange Blossom honeys for the first 6 pounds. The last pound and a half are grade A orange blossom honey from a neighborhood market. Also from the local market come 4 lemons, 4 limes, and four 6 ounce containers of raspberries.
I start things off by boiling up some water in my tea kettle. I’ll steep one Twinings Earl Grey tea bag in a half cup of boiled water while I move on to the other steps. The raspberries get a good rinse under cold water in a strainer in the sink and then are soaked in a bowl with 4 cups of the rest of the hot water from the tea kettle. Next, I juice all of the lemons and limes. Giving each fruit a good roll around on the counter under the palm of the hand before slicing them in half helps to release the juices in the fruit.
The lemons are easily juiced by hand, however the smaller size of the limes proves to be slightly more difficult to attempt to juice by hand. I decide to use the juicer attachment on the food processor for the limes. It would definitely be worthwhile to invest in a hand citrus juicer if I decide to do this again in the future. Finally, I strain the juice to remove any pulp and seeds to end up with just over a half cup of lemon-lime juice.
The last step of preparation is to heat up two gallons of water in my 5 gallon brew kettle. My plan is to mix the honey into the hot water and then transfer it into the carboy. I’ll top the carboy off with whatever additional cold water I need to complete the 3 gallon volume. I don’t heat the water all the way to a boil. It only reaches around 160 degrees. While the water is heating up, I take the time to transfer the raspberries, soaking water, tea, and citrus juice into the sanitized carboy. There is no quick and easy way to get the raspberries into the carboy. The only way to do it is to transfer them a few at a time by hand. Once I’ve mixed all of the honey into the hot water, I use my racking cane to transfer the solution into the carboy.
Over the next few hours after transferring the honey and water solution into the carboy, the must is still well over 95°F. With a glass vessel full of warm liquid, I don’t want to attempt any sort of temperature equalizing solution such as a ice bath. I finally decide to give the must until the following morning to equalize with the ambient room temperature before pitching the yeast.
Once the carboy is filled and the yeast is pitched, there isn’t much room left in the carboy. From my research, I’ve determined that mead fermentations don’t produce high krausen and hope that my volume won’t result in any sticky messes on the counter. Over the next couple of days, I find that the CO2 produced by the fermentation pushes berries and liquid up into the neck of the carboy and airlock, necessitating the removal of some amount of liquid. For this I use a bulb turkey baster style thief to remove hydrometer sized samples from the carboy.
After 3-4 samples I eventually remove enough volume to prevent expanding into the neck of the carboy. Once the fermentation eventually begins to settle down a bit, I add the first of the staggered nutrient additions. Normally, beer contains enough nutrients for yeast to complete fermentation. However, mead lacks some of the complex sugars necessary for completing fermentation. The additional nutrient addition provides a blend of chemicals which is necessary to keep the yeast healthy enough to continue feeding and complete its job without overly stressing itself.
The early samples taste something resembling the liquid version of a sweet tart. The gravity reading from the initial sample compared to a sample taken a day later is wildly different, increasing from 1.081 to 1.093. I’m really not sure why the reading changed so drastically. My guess has to do with the juices extracted from the raspberries over this time contributing to the additional gravity points.
The plan is to transfer the liquid into a secondary carboy in about a month or so to continue aging and then to bottle the mead a few months after that. I will then leave it to bottle condition for a few more months before tasting the final product. This should equate to 4-6 months from start to finish. Even this amount of time is fairly young for mead. The longer it continues to age, hopefully the better it will be – if it comes out any good at all.