View Full Version : Moving past "backyard hooch" mead making

05-06-2015, 12:03 AM
Please forgive my ignorance on mead making. I realize that I was taught kind of a "backyard hooch" style of mead making. I have not made a big batch in a couple years and I've forgotten some parts as well. So I was hoping that I could present the recipe that I know and the methodology that you might provide some insight into making my process better.

15-20 lb of raw unfiltered honey
enough water to fill up to 6 gal
wine\mead liquid yeast

Put a turkey fryer on a propane ground burner and heat the water and honey
Stir and boil it for an hour
Take it off the fire and let cool to ~75 degrees
Rack to a carboy
Pitch yeast
Shake for 5 min to airate
Install airlock
Stash carboy away
After 1 month or until the bubbles stopped rack into new carboy
Each month for 8 more months rack into clean carboy

So there's the recipe and methodology. Yeah it's abit rough around the edges but it makes good mead. or maybe I just had good luck.

Obviously, this is not a refined as many of your processes are and I would love to learn more about how to make better mead.

A few things jumped out at me when I read the NewBees guide here (http://www.gotmead.com/forum/showthread.php/9694-How-do-you-get-started-making-mead?p=87134#post87134).
~Oxygenating 1-2 times a day for three days.. OK
~Using a bucket for the first week then racking to carboy.. OK
~Boiling.. Seems not needed for commercial sources but what about non-commercial sources?
~Nutrients.. How do you know if you need to use nutrients? It is just good standard practice to always use nutrients? What's the draw backs to use nutrients?
~Racking.. After racking to the 5 gal the article seemed void of directions on racking later on. Is that not needed?
~Adding distilled water to must to fill to volume.. This sound great if I don't have to boil the whole 6 gal up front but rather just the must. Are there any draw backs to this?

Are there other guides\articles or what not that you could direct me to learn more?

05-06-2015, 01:25 AM
About boiling.. That's personal preference for some, to just be safe, but as you mentioned it's just not necessary for many commercial sources. Boiling forever changes that character of honey and destroys some of the more subtle flavors and aromas. I used to boil all honey, but now I only gently heat to aid dissolution into the water. We're probably talking only about 80 to 90 degrees max.

Racking... for mead, I'm not 100% sure as I always tend to add stuff to mine... spices, fruits, etc. There might be some tried-and-true rules, but I generally rack after primary fermentation seems to have slowed down considerably (basically, no more bubbling in the airlock and the specific gravity hasn't changed much. (I tend not to even measure that and just go on instinct. I'm sure others will offer more details about following a set schedule; and it might vary depending on what's being made.) I usually only rack two or three times. After that, I'm not seeing much in the way of residue (no yeast, no more spices and/or fruit pieces) and I get lazy and just leave the mead alone. The less I mess with them, the better they seem to turn out.

Those are just my opinions on those parts of the process, and there are plenty of folks who put a lot more effort into their products than I do.

05-06-2015, 09:49 AM
Nutrients make the yeast happy, which in turn makes for a better tasting mead. Most people seem to like Fermaid K and DAP, and add after the lag phase (once you hear/see the yeast is active after pitch) and at the 2/3 and 1/3 sugar breaks. I can't think of a drawback of using nutrients, but there are plenty for not using them, so I'd definitely consider it.
Like EbonHawk said, you should rack from the primary (buckets are good) to the secondary (carboy) once fermentation is done or damn near. The idea is to get the mead off the gross lees. After that, I typically wait 5-6 months before racking again, off the fine lees, because they don't affect the flavor as much and you're going to loose mead after each racking. It's going to depend on how clear your mead gets and how much sediment there is though.
I don't boil at all.
From what I understand, spring water is better than distilled because there are trace nutrients the yeast like/use.

05-06-2015, 10:38 AM
From what I understand, spring water is better than distilled because there are trace nutrients the yeast like/use.I'll agree with that as well. I don't use distilled water for anything if I can help it. It would be nice to know what's in the spring water I use, but there's very little information on it. I have heard that you can contact the companies directly and get a water analysis of them, but I haven't tried that. I wonder if it would be worthwhile to create a repository for that kind of data, or would the water companies' product change noticeably over time?

05-06-2015, 12:23 PM
-- Adding Water for volume --
OK, yeah the spring water makes sense. Do you boil it or just "pour it right in"? If you don't boil are you concerned with "baddies" getting in?

-- Racking --
BrentG's comments really struck me about getting off the bulk lees then letting the fine lees settle out over much longer time. That matches what I've observed about lees generation. OK, so the gold question is then, "When to rack". It seems to me that the yeast population explodes during those first three days then tapers off as food(sugar) becomes scarce. There appears be be a optimal point at which the yeast as do it's job and is "mostly" over but before the mead sits on the lees too long. Is SG the way to track the yeast progression? Could temp be used?

-- Boiling --
So I was taught to "boil the hell out of it".. that appears to be a very destructive method. I've read that honey naturally has anti-bacterials which boiling breaks down. So that seems to me like we'd want to boil less to keep those natural properties of the honey while still getting ride of the "baddies". What's the downsides to NOT boiling?

-- Nutrients --
These seem like a generally good idea all around. Is adding at the pitch, 2/3 and 1/3 sugar breaks what people call "Feedings". Correct me if I am wrong but that's when the mead has reached 2/3 of the initial sugar by SG?

05-06-2015, 12:48 PM
I rack when SG hits 1.000 or lower. Time is not critical, unless you wait weeks of months after that point. Years ago I boiled (that was the recommended method then), but when I restarted the hobby a few years ago, I use the no boil method and have gotten significantly better results since. "Feedings" are nutrient additions and there are many "preferred" methods, depending on who you ask. Most do not feed after the halfway point, but there are good cases made for feeding at the 2/3 point as well. You have to decide for your self. 1/3 and 2/3 sugar breaks are based on the drop in gravity (e.g., starting at 1.100, 1/3 would be 1.066, 1/2 1.050 and 2/3 1.033, assuming it is projected to go to 1.000 at finish). Some ferments will go as low as 0.990, but the difference means little in feedings.

05-06-2015, 02:37 PM
I don't worry about "baddies" because the active fermentation will kill whatever is in there.

05-06-2015, 11:38 PM
I've boiled and not boiled, and I can say that I don't plan on ever boiling honey ever again. Too much of the good taste and aroma is lost. Left in, my final results are exponentially better and more complex and flavorful. I enjoyed every batch I made with boiled ingredients; but, comparing both processes, I won't boil anymore. Whatever you decide, it will be good. But not boiling makes it great.

About deciding when to rack: It's several factors really. For me, I'm more interested in getting old yeast and settled-out precipitates (the lees) away from the good stuff. Like I said, I tend to let things happen on their own and try to mess with my drinkable stuff the least amount as possible. So, I'll ferment away for a week or three, and when activity slows down to almost nothing visual and the liquid has started to clear of suspended particles a bit, then I'll rack it into a glass carboy for longer storage. I tend to have weeks go by while I'm "deciding" what to do, and the good thing is, the stuff usually only improves if you wait a little while longer to do something. The danger of doing something too early usually outweighs the benefits of waiting just a little longer. After brewing a few dozen batches of the same things, you get a pretty good idea when "the time is right".

05-10-2015, 01:19 AM
Boiling is OK if you're planning to make honey shine. If you're making mead, then boiling is a no-no. It's going to take the life away from the mead. Of course, do what you want, but if you really want to see what we mean, make two one gallon batches and boil one and not the other. I think the result will be self explanatory.