We just tasted our first ever batch of mead. One of my colonies died out over the winter, but there were still substantial amounts of stores left. I looked up some recipes which basically came down to "honey and water in a bucket" so took the plunge made up 6 litres. We didn't add yeasts, figuring there were plenty of wild yeast spores around. 2 weeks later it has fermented somewhat but still has a sweet taste, with a very slight fizz. I understand that glucose ferments first, followed by a slower fructose reaction. I think the glucose is mostly used up by now.
Even at this stage it is interesting, refreshing and surprisingly light. Alcohol content is low (not measured, but I'm guessing 2% or so).
I was using mostly old set rapeseed honey that was still in it's comb, so I basically hand crushed the comb to that the honey could start dissolving. It took a good few hours. The wax floated to the top and was lifted out with a sieve. I get quite a lot of rock hard rapeseed honey, so I can see considerable amounts of mead making in my future. Well worth a try if you have bees.
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The few times I've made mead, I used plain old bread yeast. From what I've read it gives a high alcohol yield (10%+) yet is still sweet. I add fruit after the fermentation, some add it before. Whatever you like works...
Just make sure you keep it covered to stop any aerobic action from spoiling it.
Joe Braxton wrote:The few times I've made mead, I used plain old bread yeast.
A fun experiment, and I've done this, is to mix up five gallons of honey and water (and any sort of amendment you might favor- yeast nutrient, acid blend, etc), and then split it into several batches, each with a different yeast. That way you know the yeast is the only difference between them. The first time I tried it, I was flabbergasted at just how much of the flavor of the drink was coming from the yeast instead of the other ingredients. It's really enlightening. And then you are both able to learn about which yeast you actually like and also to go ahead and make more of what you like and less of what you don't.
Working with wild yeast (the yeast already in your unpasteurized honey) is a bit tricky at first, especially for those use to the modern ideas of fermenting. There are a couple of tricks you can use that make wild microbes work as well as or better than commercial yeast.
First is to start your ferment in an open vat for the first few days. Add water to honey. If on city water, I boil and let cool the water first. Some people used distilled water, but I find it works better with ground water as it has more nutrients for the ferment. My favourite ratio is 4 parts water to 1 part honey, but you can do any from 1:1 to 8:1. Once water meets honey, stir vigorously for about 2 minutes.
Stir the mix at least twice a day until the batch has bubbled and stopped bubbling.
I know, some of you are thinking "What, is this girl crazy? Letting Oxygen at my mead? That will ruin it!"
No it won't. Wild yeast is very different than commercial yeast.
At this stage of the fermentation, the goal is to grow some yeast. There is a little bit of yeast in the honey, but not really enough to compete with the other microbes in the honey. By adding oxygen to the mix - from stirring - we provide an environment that encourages the reproduction and activation of yeast. I know it's against everything modern brewing teaches us. For more on this check out the writings of Sandor Katz. Or you can think about it - racking wine, re-activates the yeast because it adds oxygen in a controlled way.
Once the primary ferment is finished - liquid got bubbly then stopped being bubbly, takes about a week - you can bottle it now and it will carbonate in the bottle. It's very nice at this stage, a bit sweet and a bit low on alcohol.
Or you can put the mead into a container with an airlock for a month or two. Rack every few months until you run out of other things to drink and want to bottle your mead. The racking - put from one airlock container to another airlock container via a siphon - reactivates the yeast in the mead. Wild yeast from honey is notorious for stalling.