The end of this summer will mark the end of my third year as a “Mead Maker”. It has been an interesting journey to this point, marked by happiness (recently got engaged), sadness (my dad died), and health (cholesterol of 304). Through it all, I have continued to struggle with my obsession on a daily basis, making one mistake after another and never really feeling that I am advancing. I know I have improved, a little, but I just do not feel that I am yet at the point where I can say I am a maker of Mead. Perhaps in 10 years, but not quite yet.
Thank (enter deity of choice) for this site, and for Vicky and Oskaar, without whom I would probably have given up a long time ago. From the advice provided in the forums, the tools provided on the main site (point your mouse at the GM logo at the top and click the mouse button; there is more out there!), and the posted recipes to borrow ideas from, I have changed my methods and improved my skills. I have also increased my ‘toy’ collection substantially. So, I thought it might be beneficial to all of the other NewBees out there if I posted what I have learned so far, in the hopes that what has helped me, can help others as well.
IMPORTANT: I think it would be really cool if this topic is a “lessons” string, rather than a discussion one that helps build on the NewBee Guide. So, if you wish to add your own lessons, just change the title by adding your name in place of mine and go for it.
Chan fhíach cuírm gun a còmhradh
A feast is no use without good talk.
DAP and Energizer – First, these are, in my opinion, essential to a healthy fermentation, even if you are using raisins, juices, or malt extract. They just help the yeast get going and stay strong. There are a number of different manufacturers and sources of these two ingredients out there, but my suggestion is to send out for Fermaid-K. This is magical stuff that I have really seen a difference with when compared to other energizers out there.
Starters – If you follow the rehydration methods described on the yeast packet properly, you will probably get a good fermentation going. But, using a starter really does get things going strong from the get-go. This is particularly important when making a high gravity Must that could stress the yeast out if they are not already prepped for the fermentation.
High Gravity Musts – My personal nightmare (see ABC Group Brew). Starting a Must with a high SG can stress the yeast early, and make them stop far too soon. Instead, step up the gravity in small amounts as the fermentation continues. This way, the yeast can acclimatize themselves to the new SG without being stressed too much. And be sure to follow a very strict nutrient schedule during the first 3 days, the 1/3 and 2/3 sugar breaks.
Formulating Recipes – Use your imagination, but remember two important points. First, the better the ingredients, the better the product. Find a good source of minimally processed honey, and do not boil it. Second, think of contrasts and build your ingredients around them, e.g. sweet/sour.
Batch Size – 5 gallons is a good amount, but you will be amazed at how much you lose throughout the process sampling. In the end, after a long wait, you get a few bottles and wish you had made more. Instead, start with 6.5 gallon batches so that you can lose some and still end up with around 32 to 35 bottles at the end.
BE PATIENT! – This stuff takes a long time to age. If it tastes hot/sour/yeasty etc., just let it be for a year or two. Put it in a dark, cool place, and forget about it. Take up another hobby to take your mind off of it. The best one, I think, is brewing beer. It is much quicker to drink, tastes great, helps you practice your brewing skills, tastes great, uses the same equipment, tastes awesome, and gets you buzzed. ‘nuff said.
Finally, Don’t Worry – Worrying leads to fiddling, and fiddling can lead to more problems, such as adding extra stuff that is not needed (sour blend), wasting too much through sampling (the meaning of ‘waste’ can be debated here), and letting infection in etc. Trust in your recipe and your skills, then let it be (see Be Patient). If things do go to hell and you end up with something undrinkable, then use it as a learning experience try again.
Refractometer – This is not an essential tool. In fact, a Hydrometer is absolutely essential and does the same job, so you do not need to spend an additional $50 for one tool that is only used at the beginning of the process. But, it is so easy to use, and allows you to test the gravity of a Must quickly as you are mixing without losing a glass of liquid at a time.
Lees Stirrer – Yes, a spoon will do just fine. But, this little beast will mix the honey into the Must so fast you can easily get it to overflow the sides. Great for aerating too. The advantage here is that the Must is prepared quicker, thus exposing it to airborne nasties for less time and reducing the possibility of infection.
O2 Diffusion Stone – Aerating can be done by whipping the Must up into a frenzy using a spoon, or the above mentioned stirrer. A better alternative in my mind is to use a stone, and a source of pure oxygen. Rather than spend 5 minutes beating air into the Must, you only have to expose it for 2 minutes while the O2 dissolves gently into the liquid, again reducing the chance of infection.
Wallpaper Tray – This really is one of the most economical and easiest tools to use. Spoons, stirrers, auto-siphons, wine thieves all fit nicely into this tray for sanitizing.
Chan fhíach cuírm gun a còmhradh
A feast is no use without good talk.
1) Cool temperature fermentation are better.
2) Very high gravity musts are more likely to get stuck.
3) I really like pyments.
4) There is a lot of opinion in SNA. Most work. Some better than others.
5) Patience. Well sort of, ...in a way, ...on every other Tuesday.
6) Yeast choice matters, but not as much as I had originally thought.
7) Spices are tough to get right.
Almost two years of fermenting for me.
1. Antifoam drops - A frequently recurring theme through these forums is the "mead volcano." These can be prevented. Some honeys and some musts have more protein (especially if not boiled) that lower surface tension and create more foam. The silicon drops in antifoam increase the surface tension and prevent the overflows without adding any taste, odor, or color that I can detect. With them you can fill up the fermentation vessel and maximize production out of each container.
2. pH meters - pH is very important, especially in preventing stuck fermentations. This is my second most important tool after my hydrometer.
3. Auto siphon - These devices make racking a simple job. You can get them even in a size for a 1 gallon jug. They make transfers much more efficient.
4. Glass carboys shatter - duhh... talk about stating the obvious - but when they shatter it can be disastrous. Exercise caution at all times. Wear shoes that protect your feet and pants that cover your legs. Use eye protection. If you have butterfingers (like me), use better bottles or Corny kegs. Don't bleed over your mead!
Lanne pase toujou pi bon
(Past years are always better)
1) I second the comment about pyments. A lot of experienced winemakers dismiss Alexander’s concentrates but I’ve produced some very good pyments with them.
2) Don’t get in a hurry. Allow your fermentation to finish completely.
3) Don’t be afraid to try blending your meads.
4) Beer is good but Joe’s Ancient Orange is better and nearly as quick. It’s good to have on hand for friends who drop in. Low SG melomels made with juice can be almost as quick and are also good. Most other meads need time, so make a quick mead while the other stuff is aging.
5) Keep plenty of honey on hand and try to buy locally if possible, even if it means using plain old alfalfa honey. No, it isn’t as exotic as sage, tupelo, orange blossom, or raspberry but you’re making mead with locally produced honey.
6) Along the same lines, keep a gallon or so of buckwheat honey on hand to add a touch of complexity.
7) Share your knowledge and passion and get someone else excited about mead making!
1) Relax. It will happen when it happens and there is no way to speed up the process.
2) Learn from your mistakes, and be willing to just stuff something in a corner for a few years if it didn't work out the first day.
3) listen to the "old dudes" ::nods to Vicky:: Not one of them around these parts has a huge ego. Consequently when they pipe up it tends to be pretty useful info.
4) Figure out how much space you plan on using... then double it, this is an addictive hobby.
5) Don't expect your local lbhs to have a clue.
1. be creative
2. before making a mead, try to imagine yourself actually drinking it
3. make beer while your waiting for your mead to age up good
*You guys are starting to forget to put your name in the Subject line!*
Number One: If you (or someone else) like it, you have been successful. It doesn't matter if it would "place" in a competition, or even end up being what you intended it to be by the "ones who know". If your husband (or wife, or buddy, or the whole frickin' office!) is poking at you to make more, you are a success. Don't question it, don't over-think it. Those "experts" just don't know what they're missing!
Number Two: Patience!!
Number Three: Patience!!
Number Four: Even More Patience!! Too many testings and samplings results in TMS, or Transient Mead Syndrome; This can be a devastating condition if not quickly brought under control. Two very good ways to deal with the problem have been stated: Brew beer; and brew some JAO.
Number Five: Don't over-think it.
Number Six: Enjoy! And share with friends and family: that way, you won't be lonely!
If at first you don't succeed, then skydiving is not for you!
Hmmm, here's what I think:
1. Two wrongs don't make a right . . . three do.
2. Change the lock code and DIP settings on your garage door opener frequently as cellar rats learn and adapt rapidly.
3. Spillage is a good thing.
4. Chicks are more fun with a couple of glasses of mead in them.
5. Always have lots of honey on hand so when inspiration strikes the materials are available.
6. As above with yeast.
7. Chicks in bikinis are more fun with a bottle of mead in them.
8. Kegs of blueberry mead draw women like flies at your neighbor's pool party with a live band.
9. The use of dried fruit in mead is hugely overlooked.
10. Judging at mead/wine/beer competitions is a good way to get your name out as a meadmaker in order to meet others who do the same.
11. A good judge can objectively judge what he/she/it does not like.
12. Mead is a reflection of the meadmaker and represents the journey from what was in their mind at the time they made it, to now as you drink it.
13. Impatient meadmakers ruin mead's reputation by offering bad mead to people who are experiencing mead for the first time.
14. Semi-naked girls + cases of mead + light recreational party favors + Cuban cigars + Las Vegas = Way too damned much fun
15. High gravity musts require proper yeast re-hydration and gradual introduction into the must for a strong and consistant ferment.
16. Pyments are becomming more popular, this is a good thing.
17. Vicky is quitting smoking. Let's all keep on her about it!
18. Paper or plastic?
19. Humpty Dumpty was pushed!
20. When formulating mead recipes don't think of what you want the mead to taste like, think about other things you've tasted and enjoyed and work from there.
Take a chance . . . . Custer did!
Is it tasty . . . precious?
1. Learn how to Hack garage door openers AND overcome a vicious attack dog... or you're Soylent Green at Oskaar's next BBQ.
The Curse of stumbling on this thread as I'm off to work (72 hours this week), more later.
Excellent point Oskaar !!! I have personally villified mead with about a half-dozen people who sampled my creations waaaaaaay too early. I keep telling them that I'm planning full redemption when they receive samples of my properly aged Blue-On-Blue, New Year Cyser, Pear Melomel, Oaked Pyment, Chocolate Aphrodisiac, and Sweet Oaked OB mead.Originally Posted by Oskaar
Don't be afraid to think outside of the hive.
One gallon batches are easy and convenient, especially if you have lower back problems and limited space. The draw back is you might make something out of this world fantastic, but be left with only four or five bottles and wish you'd made more.
Giving up smoking is tough, but worth it (Yay Vickie!). Your nose and palate will wake up, and you'll become aware of smells and flavors that had been muted. Lesson? Giving up smoking is not only good for your health, it promotes better mead tasting.
When making one gallon batches of JAO, make two at a time. Then, when they finish and clear, you can rack to a single one gallon carboy for bulk aging.
Better meadmaking is done in community. Talk, read, share what you learn, share your meads.
I've yet to hear about a mean drunk mead drinker.
Oskaar's escapades give substance to the legend of mead as an aphrodisiac.
The history and lore of mead is far richer than the drunken Viking/Anglo-Saxon stories. The history and lore of mead is all about world cultures.
There is greater potential in meadmaking for variety and flavor, than in winemaking. Look at the number of varietal honeys versus the number of varietal wine grapes.
Although mead is fermented in much the same way as wine, mead is not a wine made from honey. Mead is a unique alcoholic beverage to itself.
There is an unexplored potential in mead in culture and cuisine, equal to that of winemaking and brewing.
JAO is a great way to introduce mead to people. It's easy to make, has good sweetness, good flavor, and seems to be universally liked by first time meadmakers.
Mead is not wine, and this affects food pairings.
I never in my life would have thought of mead being paired with roquefort cheese, until Ken Schramm enlightened us all.
A good mead can stand up to the very best in winemaking.
Everyone on this board/s rocks!
"Meon an phobail a thogail trid an chultur"
(The people's spirit is raised through culture)
Oskaar -- #4, #7, #14... I detect a recurrent theme here!
Vicky -- WAY TO GO, GIRL!!!
Now it's off to catch up on some sleep -- been down in Albuquerque working nearly non-stop for the past 6 days... <YAWN>.
OOPS! Almost forgot to add my lesson.
ALL mead improves with age.
(i.e., the older I get, the better my meads taste! )
1. Whisks are your friends!
2. Measure how much liquid a barrel can hold, before adding mead! (The volume small barrels can hold vary, by a wide margin, by producer).
3. Removing a cup or two of must can prevent a volcano.
4. don't get too wrapped up in life to forget to check you carboys!
Some excellent advice out there, my two cents...
Do Not Neglect your fermentations... be sure to stir your lees a couple of times a week until fermentation is complete, if lees aging... stir at least twice a month, weekly is probably better up until the point you want it to settle so you can rack off the lees. I suggest moving the carboy to your work area when you decide to give it it's last stir, that way it can settle in place and you wont disturb the lees when you rack off or bottle.
Being a fair noob to this interesting world of honey, flavors, imagination and the thirst for knowledge (a.k.a.- mead) I am thankful for all the informative posts made by all of you. I have worn out the forum search engine, poured through the recipes, experimented, read more and more...etc, ad naseum, so forth, may I have another glass?
That said, I want to offer this one small tidbit.....as a noob, I have been making gallon batches.
Trying different recipes in gallon batches has given me the opportunity to experience a broad range of flavors and styles in a short time and lower initial cost. If I screw one up, the loss is smaller.
Now that I have a pretty good idea of what I want, I can spend a bit more money and step up to larger batches with confidence. Next steps: Start an orchard, grow an herb garden, keep bees, crash Oskaar's parties!
1. Mead is an ever changing living being. I have started to notice some trends. I like my mead early as a rough, rustic drinkable. At about 6 months to a year from pitch, my mead goes through a really awkward "teen-agy" phase. The flavor profile goes wacky, some flavors fade back, other start to reappear, the balance changes radically. After about a year, things start to settle in and become comfortable with themselves again. But time changes the brew. Time after time.
2. If I am going to enter a competition, bottle the mead into a wine bottle with a good cork. Mark the bottle as competiton mead that way I don't get too attached to it. Allow the mead to age under cork to increase complexity. Then about a month before mailing, carefully decant into required bottle and crown cap.
2a. Always overpack your "yeast samples for analysis" with bubble wrap. Include absorbant material such as a diaper in case a bottle does break. A dripping package is a troublesome package.
3. Don't expect consistant advice/comments from brewing competitions. Especially not small local beer-centric competitions. The pool of people who can judge mead is a small but growing number. Take the time to offer to judge/educate your lhbc. Don't take the comments/advice personally.
4. So many ideas for different types/flavors of mead, so little time. 6.5 gallon carboys are hard to lift, gallon carboys make me miserly with the meager outcome. Well, I haven't learned yet what to do about this dilema.
5. A touch of apple juice/cider early in the process will often transform a sullen fermentation into a rockin' one without affecting the taste.
6. The Internation Mead Competition is an amazing time. Don't miss another one! Volunteer to help out. Mead makers are some of the most incredible, handsome/beautiful, generous, funny, smart, etc. peope I've ever met.
7. Toys: Auto-siphons rock. A wine thief makes taking sample much easier for s.g. readings, etc. Hydrometers are cheap. Own 2 at all times so if one breaks you can still take the readings. Star-San in a spray bottle makes sanitizing things like tubes, auto-siphons, etc. way easier to do.
8. Don't be afraid to listen to your mead. I sometimes just sit and ponder over my carboys. I get ideas of what to do to make them taste better, be happier, etc. I know you think I'm crazy, but it's true. I get inspired by the mead. It's led me to doing such things as adding a gallon of too sweet traditional mead, a pint of maple syrup, a handful toasted oak chips, and a handful of chopped raisins and dried apricots to an undrinkable club brewed braggot leading to very yummy complex braggot. Instead of dumping it like 100% of the people who tried it told me to do.
9. Own enough carboys that you don't have to be in a hurry to move the mead into bottles. That gives you the leisure to do the tweaking. I prefer to tweak the flavor in the bulk aging phase. Tweaking earlier can give you some interesting flavor collisions. But, given enough time, even those seem to be sorting out.
10. Always make fresh sanitizer before you brew. Don't cheap out on using it. It is the cheapiest insurance you can have. Use lots. A skanky batch of mead is not salvageable. The bubbles that Star-san leave do not affect the taste of the mead. Don't rinse them out of your bottles. Don't risk infection.
11. Got Mead? is the best source for information. The hive mind of this web-site is improving the culture of mead making by leaps and bounds. Look back a few years and you'll see the progression of process. There is a GM process that has been developed by a the movers and shakers that have been borne out by repeated trials by new mead makers. Pay to money to become a Patron. It's the best $25 you'll spend. You'll save yourself at least that in wasted honey money by not following some of the (ahem) out-dated recipes.
12. Mead is not beer. Mead is not wine. Mead is delicious. I like a semi-sweet mead. I am a real snob about mouth-feel. Mead needs to taste like honey without being cloying. The first mead I ever drank tasted like fermented wet newspapers. I didn't drink mead for almost a decade.
13. If you get a chance, take the BJCP class. It will teach you about beer, but you will learn a lot about fermentation and your pallate will be educated. (I now know that that first mead I drank was seriously oxidized leading to the wet paper taste.) I can't wait until the MJCP test/class if finalized! You will also learn what your pallate tastes/doesn't taste relative to the other members of your class. It will make you a better judge as you learn that you almost always taste (this flavor/fault) and hardly ever pick up (this flavor/fault).
14. Quitting smoking is wonderful! Yay, Vicky! Feel free to call me if you need a cheerleader/coach/enforcer!
15. GM? is the best!
"Spanky, Sparky, Buckwheat the Fourteenth - doing the right thing starts first thing in the morning, not after you are caught." -- John Criton FarScape
Thought I'd chime in here. Some of these might be repeats.
1. Starting a meadery is not very easy. There's paperwork, waiting, paperwork, more paperwork, more waiting (you get the picture).
2. Dry meads are fantastic but take longer to show their true colors. Make a dry mead early in your meadmaking career and forget about it. Make some sweet meads so you have something to drink quickly (does that word even exist in meadmaking?). In a couple years, open up a single bottle of the dry mead. The flavors will start to return and the heat will have subsided.
3. Oak is your friend. USE IT!
4. Experiment as much as you can, but change only a single variable at a time. Too often I read about someone that made two batches of mead to see if the X imparted a different character to the aroma/mouthfeel/etc. just to read that they altered more than one variable in each batch. Make a 5 gallon base mead and split it into 5 x 1 gallon batches for flavoring, oak, or whatever to see if you prefer x over y. Don't assume that your findings will always be true. You may prefer yeast X with honey Y, but not honey Z. You might prefer French oak with Clover honey but American oak with Orange blossom.
5. Don't put any Acid in your mead unless it really needs it, and NEVER before fermentation is complete. Honey is already acidic and doesn't need any more unless its to balance the residual sweetness in a fermented mead.
6. If you think you want to open a meadery someday, think about if your passion is really in selling mead, or in making/drinking mead. Most of what goes into running a commercial meadery has NOTHING to do with making or drinking mead. It's a business and should be treated as one. Have a real business plan, and lots of cash. You'll have to spend a lot of money long before you'll ever see any revenue.
7. Unless you live in a rural area, your City/Township/Etc. will NOT let you open a meadery in your basement or garage. Talk to the city about what you want to do before you start sending in applications to the TTB or state liquor control commission. You'll save a ton of time and potentially a lot of money.
8. If you're looking to purchase commercial mead, look for stores that have a very large craft beer selection. The market for mead is more closely associated with the craft beer market than the wine market. I believe that this has to do with the number of people that are introduced to mead by a homebrewer. Many of us learned about mead from Charlie Papazian in the appendix of the Complete Joy of Homebrewing. - Thanks Charlie! If your local beer store doesn't carry mead, ask them too. I need the money. If you're having trouble finding it in the store, it's usually in with the dessert wines and ports.
9. Did I mention oak is your friend?
10. Pitch enough yeast. One of the cheapest ingredients in your mead is also one of the most important. Dry yeast is usually only a buck or two. Use at least 2 packets of dry yeast in every batch. Use more if you're making a higher gravity (over 1.110) mead. You're mead will thank you.
Well, I have another year of brewing under my belt (or lapping over it ) and I thought this is a good time to pause and think about how I've progressed this year. Much like Angus described originally, I feel like I'm learning, and yet, I feel I am years away from becoming really good at making mead. Or, to rephrase, I feel like I am years away from making really good mead.
I have studied intensely, reading every text I've been able to get my hands on, and I've learned enough yeast and bacterial cellular physiology to qualify for a Master's degree. I've practiced my tasting and sniffing to try to get my flabby palate into shape, I've improved at selecting and handling fruits, and I've tasted a lot of different honey. At the end of the day, however, none of these makes you a mazer. After all, our forebearers were able to make great mead without even knowing what yeast are.
Making mead is what it takes. All these others bits allow you to understand how to approach issues, but nothing except making mead makes you better at making mead.
So, more pearls I have gathered:
1. Make more mead. The more you make, the better it gets.
2. Temperature control is essential. It is rumored to be possible to make good traditional meads at high temperature (80+ F). I'm beginning to think trying to do so is like looking for Bigfoot. I keep finding meads made at 60-65 F taste much better than meads made at 70+ F.
3. Sulfites are good. Many folks want to avoid chemicals, and while I respect this, I also know that SO2 is naturally produced by the yeast. I've had some very tasty melomels oxidize while aging; you can definitely oxidize traditional meads as well. Now I'm using sulfites on my batches more often than not.
4. We underestimate yeast alcohol tolerance (and otherwise). Between proper rehydration and staggered nutrient, I seem to exceed the listed tolerance regularly - bummer when you wanted to keep the alcohol lower and have it sweet.
5. Alcohol can overwhelm aroma and flavor. This is well documented in wine studies. I've noticed I find the aroma and flavor better when dry traditional meads have alcohol between 11-13%. At 15%, all I get is the alcohol.
6. You can trust your palate. Even if you can't identify a single fruit or flower in the aroma and flavor, you can know what smells and tastes good.
7. GotMead? is an amazing resource and community (not exactly news is it). Vicky and Pete deserve thanks.
Last edited by Medsen Fey; 04-04-2009 at 01:36 PM.
Lanne pase toujou pi bon
(Past years are always better)
1.- I am not alone, there aren't selfish people at GM, when I asked at least one try to help me. May be not all the answers satisfied me, but they gave me good ideas.
2.- Logs are very important, you have to documentate everything, all your thoughs. Later when you read them you will find a lot of very good information.
3.- If you are going to ad anything to your mead, do it after primary, then you are going to obtain better results.
4.- Do not leave all the job to filters, stabilization with metabisulphite and sorbate is a good practice.
5.- This year gave me a goal: When I grow up, I will like to be like Oskaar, with pool parties and everything.