The Joy of Home Brewing Mead
My first home brewing attempt was a disaster. Long story short, I created beer bombs that exploded all over the house, due to my ignorance of priming sugar amounts, correct bottling vessels, and proper sanitation. I’m surprised that the experience didn’t curtail my emerging passion once and for all, but my curiosity was kindled.
Mead, or “honey wine,” is what I enjoy homebrewing most these days. It predates agriculture before we had vineyards or fields of grain. Typically associated with Vikings and Saxons, the earliest account of mead dates back to 7000 BC in China. Once cultivation became the norm, picking grapes or plucking wheat from the field was preferable to scavenging the forests for beehives, not to mention the bee welts one would get in the process. Interestingly, being the oldest beverage in the world, mead is still rather nebulous among consumers. Even people who don’t drink alcohol at least know what wine and beer are.
Many people have said that mead is difficult to brew, given its tendency to stall fermentation. I have not had a batch stall on me yet because I use a yeast nutrient to help keep things going. Honey, as delicious as it is, lacks the nutrients that liquified grain has, so the yeast eventually crashes if you don’t pitch extra nutrients. You’ll need a lot of honey, so make friends with your local honey producer. You’ll need two to three pounds of honey per gallon desired, so making five gallons of mead will require a whopping fifteen pounds of honey!
After you mix the honey and water, bring to a boil for five to 10 minutes to kill any organic material. While brewing beer, the liquified grains, or wort, is boiled for an hour. But, with mead, the wort is already processed, thanks to the busy bees. You can store mead in large bottles with swing tops or Grolsch-style bottles, that can be reopened several times, which frees you from the cumbersome cases of 12-ounce beer bottles that you need for beer. It is common to use champagne or wine yeast, especially if you want a dry mead. I’ve used them for years; however, recently, I used lager yeast, slowly brewing it in the basement at 57 degrees. Deliciously sweet and crisp!
I find that I have more freedom with making mead than beer. I can just put some random ingredients together and create something delicious. When home brewing beer, I’m usually limited to a target style. For example, I would be disappointed if my attempted American IPA tasted more like a British bitter. With mead, I have a general vision of what it will taste like, but I’m never discouraged if it isn’t exactly what I planned.
One advantage to home brewing is that you are in charge. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You can have a miniature brewery or a meadery in your garage with all the bells and whistles. Or, you can have a five-gallon bucket and reuse a few water jugs.
As a former professional brewer whose duty was to meticulously monitor all the details, I like to keep it simple with brewing mead. Sometimes less is more. And, the less technical I make it, the mystery feeds the curiosity that keeps it exciting. I make sure everything is sanitized and then let the yeast take it from there. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I won’t even know the alcohol percentage. Less science, more magic.
Every homebrewer has a unique story of how he or she got started; however, we all possess a common curiosity that we cannot ignore. The more we explore that curiosity, the more connected I feel to the craft and even to my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. And, that has been addictive, regardless of the ABV.
J.G. Breerwood teaches English and Creative Writing at Lewiston High School and published his first novel, Sinking Dixie, in 2020. He welcomed his daughter Elsie to the family in June.