The original resource on authentic Honey Wine - THE Reinheitsgebot of MEAD!





OUR MEAD MAKING PHILOSOPHY

As Mead enthusiast we should understand that bees visit thousands of different species of flowers the world over, making untold number of combinations of flavors in honey year after year. You can’t get exactly the same flowers blooming at precisely the same time every year; this variety is to be welcomed. For a Mead maker this great multiplicity of honey types forms the cornerstone of the art and science of Mead making. This diversity and distinctiveness of honey lends to the realization that no two batches will be alike with everything else such as water, yeast, temperature, nutrient levels, etc., being equal.

Below is my philosophy on making Mead derived from many years of personal experience (the only true knowledge) with complimentary knowledge from professional white white makers. Of course my methods are not the only way, you can choose from my practices and see what works best for you! :)

To Heat, Boil, Sulphite*, or none of the above?

One should never boil, or heat-pasteurize their honey in the process of Mead making for the same reason you would not find a professional winery doing the same thing to their grape must. This cannot be overstated. Heat destroys flavor and aromatic properties of the must (some honey changes noticeably in character, for the worst, after being exposed to only 95 degrees fahrenheit). I am confident that “No-heat Meads” will become THE STANDARD way of making Mead. The “old” way of “heating Meads” is being rejected more and more by champion Mead makers. I have been making non-heated Meads since 1991 and promise you this is a better way to go!

That said, I have tasted some delicious heat-pasteurized Meads both from professional and amateur makers; however, I can’t help but wonder how much better their Meads would be if they only understood and kept faith in their honey and our little friends that made it. If you do decide to go this route, you do not want to skim the foam off the top. In that foam lies wanted aromatic, nutrient, and flavor compounds. In fact, I recommend adding some honeycomb directly into the fermenter and letting the alcohol release additional and desired aromatic compounds from the beeswax. A well crafted Mead, caries over, the essence of the hive.

I have never made a Mead that has gone bad, picked up an infection, or otherwise deteriorated because I do not practice boiling, heat pasteurization, or even initial sulphiting of my Meads. Raw honey is very resilient to any kind of spoilage. It is the only known natural food source that can claim to last indefinitely. Honey has been found in ancient Egyptian pharaohs' tombs over 3000 years old and in many cases was still in great shape. Don’t kill your Mead; keep it alive (think like the raw food diet) and a very favorable personality will continue to evolve for you over the years and decades.

I do a mild sulphiting after fermentation is complete, at each racking, and at bottling. Sulphites help prevent oxygenation damage (all yeast produce sulphites) and give an even longer shelf life; however, Mead perhaps more than any other fermented beverage already has a longer shelf life built into it, especially if you do not damage it with heat. Raw honey has many natural preservatives, such as hydrogen peroxide and other antibacterial aspects to it, some which are still being discovered to this day. Boiling and heat pasteurization drive some of these desired components away. Heat pasteurization is better than boiling, however.

If it is your first time making Mead, you may want to go the sulphite route – it is a safe bet to avoid some bacterial infections, and your Mead will have a better bouquet and flavor than the boiling or heat pasteurization methods.

Acid and Tannin

Both of these additives were popular in early wine and homebrew literature. I do not recommend adding any acid blends to Mead until after primary fermentation. Meads are tougher to ferment than beer or wine, and acids can drop your pH too low for your primary fermentation. You can add it later if needed. If you are making dry (all remaining sugars are fermented out) Mead, chances are it will need no acid and little tannin if any at all. If you are making sweeter (contains remaining sugars) Mead it will probably need some additional acid to provide balance. Sweeter Mead can sometimes take some tannin to add to its complexity as well. I recommend using tannins that you can get from adding some oak, rather then going to the grape tannin practice. Grape tannin in dry Mead can give too rough of an edge to it. Sweetness tends to mask rough edges. Because of this, a Mead with some sweetness to it can generally be appreciated in the glass sooner than a bone-dry Mead which has no room for error – I digress.

Beer maker vs. Wine maker?

Traditional Mead making should be approached in much the same manner as white wine making. Mead IS a honey wine and is not related to beer (except for a braggot, an adjunct honey wine.) It is very important not to adopt a beer maker's procedures or attitude (Mead is made and not brewed). Adding things like gypsum (which can ruin your Mead with a terrible aftertaste - not to mention the lowering of the must's pH) and Irish moss should be avoided. Ask any award-winning Gew├╝rztraminer maker why they don’t add gypsum to their grape must, and before she or he are done laughing hysterically you’ll have your answer.

Still not convinced Mead is similar to white wine making? Did you know one of the largest most respected suppliers of yeast to the professional wine industry did much of their trials and research for white wine on, yep, you guessed it, the nectar of the gods; Mead.

*Sulphite

Fear not this odd-sounding word. There are few things in this world that are more misunderstood than this element that is used in winemaking. Those who believe sulphite is bad or that they are allergic to it, please read on. It is currently in vogue to label your Mead or wine “without added sulphites.” Labeling a Mead 'without added sulphites' is simply a marketing gimmick to to mislead a consumer into buying a "purer" product. Most alcohol-controlling agencies will not allow a professional winery or Meadery to label their product "sulphite-free." Why? Because there is no such thing, there cannot be such a thing, for yeast produce sulphites on their own; as little as 6 parts per million (ppm) and sometimes as high as 80ppm (wines with 6 ppm sulphites or less can sometimes be labeled as "sulphite free."). Wineries are aware of which yeast produce these higher levels of sulphites, and will avoid them if they intend to undergo a malo-lactic fermentation; the higher sulphite content will inhibit this desired effect from occurring in that wine. Many wineries add sulphites from 20-50ppm at bottling time, which nearly all of later vanishes. If you get headaches from wine, especially red wines (White wines are typically sulphited at a higher degree than red wines), you are most likely experiencing a histamine reaction from compounds released from grapeskins. Red wines are fermented with the skins. If you were truly allergic to sulphites you’d probably end up in a hospital or die if you ate produce from the supermarket. For more on this, read Kevin Lopes article on sulphite allergies.

The correct amount of sulphite is mostly dependent on your Mead’s pH. Use this sulphite calculator.