View Full Version : $2 mead experiment!

07-06-2006, 11:51 PM
Mead has been around for a long time. Long before M. Pasteur unleashed bacteria on the world. Long before sanitizing solutions, carboys, fermentation locks and all such things. Mead has been around probably since pretty soon after someone found more honey than he could eat, and put it in a bucket and got water into it and let it sit around for a month, and then he drank and he thought, "so that's how I make mead!"

I've never brewed anything in my life but I decided, well, why not try to brew some mead. So I went to my local home brew supply store, and their basic starter kit was for $60! Ok, not very much money, but still, you know that the first mead to be brewed didn't need any $60 kit.

So I thought about it: The only ingredients I really need are honey, yeast, yeast nutrients, and of course water.

So I went to Trader Joes and got their 3lbs honey container, something like $9. I got an empty 750ml vodka bottle. I got a $1 pack of champagne yeast and a $1 bag of yeast nutrients, and I took it all home, and set up shop. First, I took a regular medium-sized cooking pot and heated up some water, not to boiling, but hot. The reason for this was to make it easier to dissolve the honey, and to kill off any wild yeast in the honey. Then I dissolved the honey (about 2/3 of a pound), added three dashes of yeast nutrient, and let it cool. When it was cool enough I dissolved a sprinkle of yeast into a small tea cup with warm water and a little bit of sugar. I let that get ready for fifteen minutes, then I poured it into the vodka bottle, and put a cap on.

Now it is bubbling a little bit. Instead of using a fermentation lock, I'm just going to leave the screw-on cap loose enough to let some CO2 out. My reason for this: the screw-on cap is not going to let any air pass over the solution. It won't keep it as sterile as a fermentation lock would, but it should do pretty well. I've been to 3rd world countries and seen them brewing alcoholic drinks in barns, etc. So I'm optimistic. My kitchen, while not the most pristine of places, is a few steps above a 3rd world barn.

I'm going to let this go for a few weeks and then rack it into another bottle. Of course this is an experiment; the whole thing might not work or it might taste aweful or whatever. I just wanted to see what I could do with basically no equipment (beyond what I have laying around my kitchen), and $5 worth of ingredients.

Hopefully it will be something good!

07-07-2006, 02:10 AM
Let us know how it turns out, did you sanitize the bottle first, at least rinse it out with hot water? Should work in any case, the yeast should be able to overcome/out compete spoilage yeasts and other organisms that might be found in an empty vodka bottle, not guaranteed but it will probably work out fine.


Dan McFeeley
07-07-2006, 02:39 PM
Yes, let us know how it turns out!

You're right, meadmakers have been making mead for milenia upon milenia, without recourse to modern understandings of nutrition, sanitation, etc.

There are two good recipes on this forum, both supplied by Joe Mattioli, the "Ancient One," one is "Ancient Orange," the other "C.W. Mead." Both of them are natural meads, intended for the beginner, with no added frills, etc. They're basically meads that could have been made by anyone, at any time, or any period.

Modern understandings add extra controls for when things go wrong. My very first mead was made in a crock pot, following an 1800's recipe. It tasted horrible. Joe's Ancient Orange, something not all that different from meads made hundreds of years ago, has come out well. You tell me what made the difference!

Welcome to the forums -- keep us posted on your latest meads!

07-07-2006, 11:35 PM
Ok, a few more notes:

I didn't sanitize the vodka bottle at all. It had a couple of thimble fulls of vodka still in it, which I swirled around before using it. Hopefully that's good enough.

I didn't buy ANY equipment at all, not even a funnel or a thermometer. I just poured carefully and judged temperatures by hand. This is something anyone can do, the only cost being the ingredients (honey, yeast and nutrients).

One thing I will do differently next time is to heat the must less. I didn't bring it to a full boil, but it was bubbling for a few a minutes. I now know that that was a mistake. First, I read that article that said that wild yeasts will be killed off at 140 degrees or so; any higher than that is unnecesary. Second as it got to that temperature, a delicious smell of mesquite honey came up. If I smelled it, that means it departed from the must. That's bad. So next time I will be a lot more gentle in my heating.

I started this yesterday, and it is fermenting vigorously today, with lots of bubble activity. I couldn't help myself; I just now poured off a couple of thimble fulls. It was delicious! It was of course very sweet, but full of wonderful little bubbles, like champagne. It was much like a sweet champagne, except the base flavor was honey, not grape. Good! Honey is my favorite flavor. If you had a piece of European-style bread, some butter, and a choice between a flavorful honey and a grape jelly, which one would you choose? Yup, same here.

So here's my plan for this, my Linux Mead Batch #1: I love the champagne-like quality it has. Obvously it needs to get a bit drier, so it will have a medium sweetness and more alcohol.

I am thinking that what I'll do is let this go another week or so, or until the sweetness is right.

Then I need to rack it in some way that will let me save it with the natural carbonation. I am thinking of racking it into sterilized beer bottles, and adding a small champagne-style dosage, ie, a small dose of concentrated honey and a little bit more yeast, and then capping, and letting it complete its secondary fermentation in these beer bottles, perhaps under refrigeration.

Will this give me the effect I'm looking for? Or is the dosage even necessary? If I rack it into beer bottles while it still is a bit sweet, cap them and put them in the fridge, will I end up with a fizzy champagne-style mead? Or will refridgeration halt the whole thing entirely?

Remember this is the first time I've ever fermented anything so I might be a total idiot.

Thanks for the great and informative site.

07-08-2006, 12:55 AM
Uncontrolled in bottle carbonation is quite tricky with a mead that hasn't gone to dry, because you generally don't know just how much more sugar will be converted, which means probable Under/Over carbonation and potential bottle bombs. Usually it is best to let the mead ferment dry so that the gravity is stable and then bottle using a known quantity of fermentable sugar like Coopers Carbonation Drops (http://morebeer.com/product.html?product_id=15473). For sweet meads carbonation and bottling through use of an in keg carbonation system (http://morebeer.com/product.html?product_id=18254) and a counter pressure filler (http://morebeer.com/product.html?product_id=18279) is much safer... when the yeast have already reached their tolerance and there is no danger of continued fermentation from residual sugars.


07-08-2006, 12:31 PM
Ah, but Wrathwilde, you see that would involve buying EQUIPMENT, namely this CO2 bubbler and a tank of CO2. And when you're making $2 mead you can't buy equipment!

So I have a few options.

One is to just use my judgement as to when the CO2 production is slow enough that it's safe to bottle it without too big a risk of bottle bombs. If I rack it without adding any sugar, and put it in the fridge, the fermentation rate won't go up. It could keep going for a while, but I'll drink it within a few days (remember, I only made 750ml in this batch).

Idea #2 is even better because not only does it solve the problem, it will give me a super-fizzy mead (which I want) and it saves me from spending $12 on a bottle cap crimper (no equipment!). Idea #2 is to use empty small-size (300ml) plastic soda water bottles.

The beauty of this idea is that soda bottles can handle enormous pressure. I have seen reports of 2l bottles going up to 100 atmospheres. Also, they let you know if they are getting over-pressure. You can feel it and look at it to get an idea if it's getting over-pressured. Glass bottles don't do that; they look normal until they explode.

Option #3 is to just chill the carboy (vodka bottle) and serve directly from that.

07-08-2006, 09:22 PM
Hey LD,

Wrath is on the money with his comments. We realize that you're going to make it your way, but that doesn't restrict us from letting you know the risk you are taking. Eyballing CO2 production is a funny concept to me. You'll see though when you make this batch as you've described. I think you'll have a fun time of it! So please keep us informed of how things go.

Remember, Take a chance...Custer did!


07-09-2006, 12:52 AM
Well right now I'm leaning towards just skipping the racking entirely. When the sugar countent gets lower over the next week or so, maybe it's time to just chill and serve, straight out of the carboy. I can get the CO2 high by just screwing the cap on for a couple of hours, plop it in the fridge, and pour a few glasses.

I realize that if I were brewing, say, 5gal this whole question would be different, but this is just a 750ml bottle, so it's about 3 or 4 servings, and we can drink that easily in one sitting.

If this goes well (and it smells like it's going well) I'll start running a few bottles at a time.

I'm not sure why people say mead is so slow. This one is going fast. I did put in a few dashes of yeast nutrients, so maybe that's helping.

07-09-2006, 06:36 AM
I'm not sure why people say mead is so slow. This one is going fast. I did put in a few dashes of yeast nutrients, so maybe that's helping.

It's because aging the mead makes an incredible amount of difference in the taste, when you've tasted the difference between a barely acceptable mead at a few months and an incredible mead at a year plus (same batch by the way) then you will know why mead is so slow. Mead definitely gets better with age, and in most cases... a lot better.


07-09-2006, 12:48 PM
Ah, I see. I guess that's the opposite of beer. Beer rarely gets better with aging beyond a couple of months or so. Maybe I'll do a couple more 750ml batches and age them for varying amounts of time.