I asked a friend the other day if he had ever tried mead. He had to think about it for a while.
“Isn’t that what they drink in Game of Thrones?” he finally asked me.
Yes. Yes it is.
So what is mead? I mean, really…
To put it simply, it’s wine made from honey. Honey wine. But that doesn’t sound very manly. So I like to refer to it as the nectar from the gods.
Either way you look at it, mead is delicious, it’s fun to make and once you start making it you’ll never stop.
Before we get to the recipe, it would be good to cover some of the basics of mead. Once you get these down, you’ll be well on your way to experimenting with your very own honey nectar goodness.
Generally speaking, mead is made with a few simple ingredients. Honey. Distilled water. Yeast. Tanins and acid.
Honey – You can use store bought honey but I prefer to use locally sourced raw honey. The kind of honey will influence the finished flavor of your mead. So a clover honey will produce a different result than a wildflower honey. Experiment to your heart’s desire.
Distilled water – Tap water likely has some level of chlorine in it, which will kill the good bacteria in any ferment. So I always use distilled water for the best results.
Yeast – Any yeast will work. However, I prefer to use Champaign or wine yeast, which will result in a drier finished product. Think cabernet. If you’re brave, you can also do an open ferment with fruit, which has plenty of wild yeast.
Tannins – Tannins are present in beer, wine and mead and help balance out the acids for flavor and add clarity. You can use black tea, grape or raspberry leaves, oak, organic raisins and a variety of other fruit as a natural source for tannins. All will add a unique character to your mead.
Acid – Lime juice, lemon juice or lemon and orange wedges are all good sources for acid in a mead.
Yeast nutrient – In order for the fermentation process to kick off completely, there needs to be a nitrogen source available. Since honey is low in nitrogen, sometimes a yeast nutrient is added. All this is is a form of organic/inorganic nitrogen. Yeast nutrient isn’t needed in every batch of mead and I don’t normally use it if I’m fermenting fruit.
You don’t really need special equipment. Purchase a few one gallon (or larger) carboys fitted with airlocks and you’re good to go. A siphon for racking (transferring mead from one container to another) is also handy. You can find a lot of resources at midwestsupplies.com
Spiced Pear Mead Recipe
There are different kinds of meads, all deriving their name from how they are made. Technically, this recipe is a melomel, which is a mead made with honey and fruit. But to keep things simple, I’m going to just call it a mead.
This is a delicious mead that will finish with a clear, dry result with hints of pear and black chai. The pear doesn’t dominate in the finished product, which you may or may not appreciate. But I didn’t want an overwhelmingly sweet mead.
This recipe will produce about a gallon of mead.
Gather these things:
- 5-6 medium sized pears
- 3lbs honey
- 1/2 cup black chai (dried)
- 1 gallon distilled water
- 10-15 organic raisins
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 orange
- 1 packet champaign yeast
- Fermenter for primary (I used an open crock)
- 1 gallon glass carboy with air lock
- Rinse and slice pears in half. Then add to a medium sized stock pot and just cover with some of the distilled water. Add the black chai and bring to a slow boil. Boil long enough to soften the fruit.
- When the pears are softened, remove the stock pot from heat and let it cool. Add your honey and the rest of the distilled water and stir it all together. This is your must.
- After the must has cooled to around room temperature, pour all contents into your primary fermenter. I use a 1.7L crock. Add the raisins. Quarter the orange and add, peel and all. Add a little more black chai, add the cinnamon sticks and then pitch your yeast. Stir vigorously and cover with the crock lid or cheese cloth.
- Every day you’ll want to stir your must vigorously at least once. You’ll let your primary ferment do its thing for 9-10 days. After the first 24 hours, your must should be bubbling nicely. After 48 hours it’ll start to smell like alcohol.
- After you’ve let your must go through it’s primary ferment, it’ll be time to rack the liquid into a clean carboy for a secondary ferment. To do this you’ll need a siphon. I like to press the pears with a spoon to make sure I get all of the juices out of them. By now they should be pretty much falling apart.
- Remove all liquid from the primary fermenter to the carboy. You’ll discard all the solids to the chickens or compost pile. Top the carboy off with a little bit of honey water so that you’ve only got a couple inches of room at the neck, then fix an airlock with a bung in the opening.
- Light can affect the fermentation process in a mead, so you’ll want to keep it in a dark cabinet. Let it sit for a month, checking on it daily to make sure the airlock still has water in it and is bubbling.
- After a month, I like to rack the mead one more time to reduce the amount of sediment. You’ll also notice a thick layer of brownish stuff forming at the bottom of the carboy. This is called the lees and is the spent yeast that is used up during fermentation.
- Racking again at this time also allows you to taste the mead while it’s still bubbly and green. I love it at this stage! It’s a good time to make sure that the taste is to your liking. If you want it a little sweeter, add more honey dissolved into a little water. Add the airlock and let it sit in a dark place for another 4-5 months.
- The longer your mead sits, the clearer it will become. Bottle after 6 months and enjoy!