18 February 2014

Mead Recipes for NewBees

Hah, see what I did there? NewBee, because it's mead, . . . get it?
Ok, enough humor back to work.
Here are 3 recipes that can be made as your first mead. Hopefully you are aware of the cleaning and sanitizing involved, but here is a reminder:
Anything that touches the mead needs to be clean (no dirt, or anything else)
Anything that touches the mead needs to be sanitized
Anything that touches anything that will touch the mead needs to be sanitized
Once sanitized, don't put objects down, unless you want to resanitize them
Don't rinse after sanitizing (unless the water is sanitized, read boiled)
Dry things by hanging them upside down for a few minutes, but they really don't need to be too dry
Sanitize everything
Sanitize again
And sanitize again

Once you get that in your head, it's time to choose a recipe. There are many, but these present good starting points, each with a unique person in mind.

Joe's ancient orange mead/melomel/methaglyn
This has been around for a while, and is the recipe many meadmakers first use to get into the hobby. Developed by Joe Mattioli as a simple, tasty recipe that new meadmakers can make and enjoy without much effort or equipment.

3.5lbs honey (whatever you want, even store bought, ultra filtered junk)
1 orange (not navel)
1 stick of cinnamon
1-2 cloves
25 raisins (a handful, more or less)
1 tsp fleismanns bread yeast (not old, make sure their still alive: try baking some bread with it)
Put honey in glass 1gal jug and dissolve with some warm water
Cut orange into pieces (including rind, pith and everything else), and put in jug
Add spices and raisins
Fill with water leaving 3 inches for foam
Shake the heck out of it
When room temp, add yeast
Airlock and keep in dark, warmish (70-80F) place (cabinets work well)
Don't touch it at all! No feeding, racking, shaking, don't even look at it cross!
It's done when the fruit drops to the bottom and there is a clear layer of mead on top (9-12 weeks)

This recipe follows a sort of warranty: if you mess with it, change anything, give it too much attention, anything, and it didn't work . . . I'll quote joe "If it didn't work out then take up another hobby. Mead is not for you. It is too complicated."
With that being said, a few people (myself included) don't care for the flavor of this mead. It's sweet, phenolic, pithy, and just no my thing; however, it is a technically good mead, it has some balance, no off overt flavors, and complexity. It's similar to white Zinfandel: you may like it or not, but it is (usually) made OK, it's just not your thing.
Warranty aside, there are many variations of this mead that do work.
You can swap the fruit:
12oz frozen blackberries
2 tangelos
Lemon (zest and pulp only)
Dates instead of raisins
2lbs frozen blueberries

Or you could change the spices:
2-4 allspice berries
A pinch of nutmeg
A sliver of ginger
1 Vanilla bean
1 star anise

You could try different honeys as well, but their flavors tend to get covered.
This should give you some ideas for making JAO style meads. If JAOM is something you really like, you can spend years working out different variations of it and build quite a collection.

Bray's one month mead
This was developed by GotMead member loveofrose (Bray) over several trials to attain a simple, traditional mead recipe that was easy, and reproducible. It uses some of the techniques that a regular traditional uses (SNA, multiple aerations, sample taking), but is a more forgiving mead than the average traditional; it also ages faster. This follows the same warranty idea as JAOM: if you deviate from the recipe, don't complain about bad results. The thing that sets this mead apart from the average traditional is the yeast; after several tests to find a suitable yeast, Bray settled on wyeast 1388, a belgian ale yeast. This may seem strange as most meads are made with wine yeast, except the few brewers who use beer yeast, but belgian strains are POF+ (meaning they produce phenolics) as are most wine yeast, and they produce more esters than most other beer yeast. In fact, belgian yeast strains seem to be closer to wine yeast than normal brewers yeast (except for their ability to ferment maltotriose and easily ferment maltose which is lost in the isolation process of wine yeast), but they don't require as much age as the average wine yeast will.
This is the recipe I suggest for most people starting out as it is easy, fast drinking (and quite tasty), but will teach you some techniques that will be used throughout the hobby.

Start with a gallon of spring water
Remove 1/2 cup (to compensate for the volume of the smack pack)
Draw a line on the jug at this water level
Remove 3.2 cups (757mL) of water
Add honey back to line (~2.4lbs)
Add 1/4 tsp (1.225g) DAP and 1/2 tsp (2.3g) Fermaid K
-Add these nutrients again when the gravity is at 1.064, and 1.032.
Add 1/4 tsp (0.825g) potassium bicarbonate
Shake mixture until homogenous
Add activated Wyeast 1388 smack pack (left for >2hr to swell)
Cover loosely
Shake daily until done (1 week)
Add airlock after fermentation is complete (1 week)
Allow to clear (3-4 weeks)
Rack, then decide: drink, age, backsweeten, what ever you wish to do.
Don't worry about the weight of the additives unless you are scaling up the recipe, volume measure work fine for small batches.
There are some variations that Bray and a few other mead makers have been working on, and I'll probably do a separate post for modified BOMMs.

Standard Traditional
This is not as easy as JAOM or BOMM, but if you have experience making wine or brewing it is not that difficult. The benefit with starting with a traditional like this is that it will teach you all the right things to do so you don't have to unlearn things (like with JAOM). It is designed to be a dry mead, but you can backsweeten if you'd like. You can also split it into separate containers after some aging and spice them differently, or add fruit, or oak or what ever.

3lbs honey per gallon of must (18lbs for 6gal batch)
Dissolve all honey in some water (stick blenders work miracles)
Then add water to make SG of ~1.108
Add 1g/gal potassium carbonate (6g for 6gal batch)
Add 0.2g/gal tannin FT blanc soft
Add rehydrated yeast at 1g/gal (6g for 6gal batch)
Keep temp below 74F
Seal with airlock, and wait for bubbles
When it bubbles, uncover and see what it looks like (this will get you familiar with the appearance so you don't have to look for bubbles in the future to see when the lag phase is over)
Add 2g/gal fermaid K and 1g/gal DAP
Do not seal the lid (or you can leave the airlock dry if using a carboy)
Stir as often as you can (every 12-24 hours is ok)
When the gravity drops to 1.090 add 1g/gal fermaid K and 1g/gal DAP
When the gravity drops to 1.072 add 1g/gal fermaid K
Seal lid and affix airlock
When bubbling slows, check gravity
When you have the same gravity reading for 3 consecutive days it's done (gravity should be 0.99X)
Rack, add sulfite (50ppm) and age for 3 months
Rack again (at this point you can split it for experimentation or just leave it) age for 6 months
If left alone add sulfites and bottle

As you can see, this recipe is a little more technical than the others and may scare some new meadmakers off. Not to mention the others are drinkable in 2-3 months and this one really shouldn't be touched before the 1 year mark (though it is "drinkable" before that).
I'd recommend a lighter honey unless you've had darker honey meads before, as they can be an acquired taste. As for yeast, D21 is my go to, it is temp tolerant, gives some acid which mead is lacking, and has a nice flavor; K1V would be my suggestion if you can't get D21, it's still temp tolerant so it's a good newbee yeast. You'll note that JAOM and BOMM can be made in the high 70s to low 80sF, where this one is better below 74 (below 72 if you can manage it), this is a property of the yeast and recipe (being dry and higher alcohol).
Acid may need to be added to this (or BOMM), just taste and start with 1g/gal tartaric (or your preferred acid) and let it sit for a month before deciding if more is needed. If using tartaric acid, cold stabilization is recommended as potassium bitartrate crystals may precipitate if there is potassium present. The reason I suggest tartaric acid is because it will add acidity, but when cold crashed the pH will lower (if it is below 3.6, which it should be) resulting in a more acid taste without additional acid.
Some prefer to add tannin to balance flavors instead of acid. This is a matter of preference, and small amounts should be used to slowly work up to the desired level of tannin.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. For the beer brewer, I highly recommend BOMM; for the completely new zymurgist, I'd say JAOM or BOMM; and for the wine maker, the traditional or BOMM.

If you are familiar with white winemaking, then the traditional is pretty much a white wine recipe (similar in techniques and processes), and it will get you on the track to make very good traditional meads. There are a few things you have to leave in winemaking world (TA measuring and adjusting, and complete anaerobic fermentation), but it should be very close to your other winemaking experiences. You can also split it into several jugs if making a larger batch and spice them, add different fruits or backsweeten a portion leaving you several opportunities to make a few different meads from a single fermentation.
I cannot recommend BOMM enough, it is very easy, very fast, and very tasty. It will teach you a lot of the processes for making meads, but doesn't require as much patience. There are also many ways to treat it post ferment: spicing, sweetening, carbonating, adding fruit, etc.
JAOM is an old standby for many mead makers, and a very simple recipe for the newbee. It's charm is in it's simplicity: no samples needed, no temp issues, no messing with it; but, some people tend not to like it for its pithy, phenolic taste.


  1. I find this blog extremely helpful, I'm new to homebrewing and mead making in general, going to start the BOMM soon. I own Ken Schramms book, which is my only reference guide, I would love to see trusted recipes on this site, and perhaps a Q and A section? Asking a knowledgable person with a penchant for scientific method is more preferred than asking randoms on a mead forum. Although I'm sure helpful answers could be had from both.

  2. Consider comments Q and A opportunities; that's why I didn't disable them. I may end up doing a semi Q&A someday, but not for a while probably.
    As for recipes, I will only post recipes that have been tried by several people (or several times) or are high scoring (if I get to entering my meads).
    I highly recomend GotMead, it is a very informative and fun community. Just like any forum there are instances where people just reiterate myths, but they are few and far between, with many people offering corrections, and pointing you in the right direction.
    BOMM is a great recipe (for newbees and old timers alike), that is easy and enjoyable. Just remember to have fun with it.