Pick Your Recipe
There are many mead varieties and recipes available out there for your first batch. Obviously choose a recipe you think you’d like to drink. You can find recipes on this blog, but I also love the recipes over on meadest and r/mead.
For your first mead, I recommend choosing a fruit mead. This variety of mead is called melomel (pronounced Mel-Oh-Mel).
Melomels are usually easier to get right than a traditional mead because the fruit adds nutrients and flavor. Nutrients are important to keep your yeast happy – happy yeast means good mead. The fruit flavor can cover up mistakes, not that you’re going to make any, and means less is riding on you finding a high quality honey. Finally, although the recipe may call for a year of aging, melomels are generally ready in half that time. Waiting to taste the first glass of your mead is agonizing, trust me you don’t want to wait a full year.
A recipe using either Lavlin EC1118 or Lavlin 71B is also preferable. These two strains of yeast are very resistant to stress making them a bit more foolproof than many alternatives.
I will add a link to a great first mead recipe once I have one up on the blog.
Gather Everything You Need
I am going to build a post on where / what to get for standard ingredients.
Double check that you have everything on this list:
- Fermenter Bucket or Carboy
- Airlock and Bung
- Instant read thermometer
- Wooden Spoon for 1 Gal
- Degassing Wand for 5 Gal
- Star San
- Fermaid O (or equivalent yeast nutrients)
- Any additional ingredients on recipe (fruit, tea, spices, etc)
Rehydrate the Yeast
Do this ahead of time because you have to wait 20 minutes before its ready. Don’t skip the Go-Ferm or be tempted to pitch your yeast directly into your must. This step takes very little effort and gets your yeast off to a good start.
Here are the basic instructions for rehydrating. You can always just follow the instructions on your Go-Ferm, I’ve just included them here for the sake of completeness.
- Sanitize a container
- Warm 100 mL of water (1/2 cup) to 43°C (110°F)
- Dissolve 5 grams (1 tsp) of Go-Ferm in the water
- Let water cool to 40°C (104°F)
- Stir in your packet of dry yeast
- Let stand 20 minutes
Anything that is going to touch your mead needs to be sanitized. Spray Star San in your fermenter, the lid, the airlock, the mixer, and everything else. Then let it all air dry – don’t rinse out the sanitizer, just let it dry out for several minutes on its own.
Let’s take a second to understand how Star San works as there are many misconceptions about it. Star San is a food safe acid that sanitizes by killing off any bacteria and fungus. In its concentrated form, it is highly acidic and must be diluted to be used safely.
When used, especially through a spray bottle, it foams up allowing it to get into every nook and cranny where microbes can hide. Star San is acidic enough to kill off these microbes, even after being diluted with water; however, as it dries, water evaporates off making it even more acidic and extra effective.
This small amount of remaining sanitizer is completely safe once you dilute it with one or more gallons of mead so there is no need to rinse it out. Rinsing it out may actually introduce new contaminants or allow microbes from the air to get onto your equipment and into your mead.
Mix it All Up
Now for the fun part, putting it all together. Start by filling your fermenter about 1/5 of the way with water – 3 cups for a 1 gallon recipe or 1 gallon for a 5 gallon recipe. Using only a small portion of your water at first helps ensure you don’t over fill it. Mix in your honey plus any additions like spices or fruit. Add more water as you mix if needed to ensure everything dissolves. Finally, add the remainder of your water up to your target volume.
Some guides call for heating up the water or honey to make it easier to dissolve. I do not recommend doing this as heating up honey can cause you to lose flavor.
Add Yeast and Nutrients
Now that your unfermented mead, which is called must, is all ready, add your yeast to the fermenter. Unlike the grains that go into beer or the grapes in wine. honey lacks the basic nutrients yeast require to be healthy. To overcome this issue we add nutrients.
I recommend using Fermaid-O for nutrients for your first mead, but in a later article I’ll explain all the options in detail. Add 1/4 of the required nutrients to your must. This is about 2 grams for a 5 gallon batch or 1/3 gram for a 1 gallon batch. We will add the rest over the coming days as part of the Staggered Nutrient Additions explained in the next article.
Now you’re all done for the day! Congrats. Close up your fermenter, insert your airlock, and set it all in a cool dark place.