The Zero-Waste Chef

My First Attempt at Homemade Hooch: Mead

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Day 5 of fermentation

“It looks terrifying.” That’s what my friend Amy said when I opened my jar of homemade mead and poured her a cup to try.

Mead is honey wine. Aristotle speaks of it. Beowulf drank it. Shakespeare mentions it. The simple recipe likely explains mead’s persistence throughout the ages. In a nutshell, you make mead as follows:

1. Dilute raw honey with water.

2. Wait.

If you want something more elaborate, you can flavor mead with fruit. Cantaloupe, watermelon and other fruits that rot quickly work well. The naturally occurring yeasts in the fruit, like those in the raw honey, fuel the fermentation, transforming glucose (and eventually fructose if you age your mead) into alcohol. I wanted to keep my first attempt simple and foolproof, so I decided against fruit. But I’m definitely making it again—this homemade hooch tastes really good (just ask Amy)—so I’ll add fruit to a future brew. However, you do have to strain the fruit out before the fermentation has stopped. This recipe provides the directions for a simple mead only.

Mead involves a bit more than stirring water and raw honey together, but not much!

Always use raw honey, however you may not want it quite this raw

Ingredients

Directions

1. Combine honey and water together in a large glass jar. This 1:4 proportion is just a suggestion. You may want your mead less sweet. If so, use less honey. Whatever amount you add, always use good-quality, raw honey. Pasteurization kills the naturally occurring yeasts present in raw honey. If you use pasteurized honey, your fermentation will not work unless you add some commercial yeast. (I’m not sure how much yeast you need as I haven’t tried this and prefer my honey raw.)

Some tap water contains high amounts of chlorine, which will kill off the wonderful microbes you need to ferment your mead. I try to remember to expose my jug of water to the air for a few hours (or longer) to dissipate chlorine before I ferment anything. I haven’t experienced a problem with chlorine, but do this as an insurance policy nonetheless.

2. Stir vigorously or place a lid on the jar and shake it until the honey–water is combined well. You do not need to expose this mixture to the air in order to attract microbes that will ferment it. Raw honey already contains yeasts that convert the sugars to boozy goodness.

Day 4 of fermentation

3. Until your honey–water begins to bubble, stir it vigorously every time you think of it. I stirred mine every time I waited for the kettle to boil for tea—four or five times a day. In the fermentation bible, The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz suggests stirring the mead to create a vortex in one direction, then in the other. This aerates the mead-in-progress, which helps spur yeast growth. Opening the jar daily—burping it—also releases built-up carbon-dioxide. BURP YOUR JAR DAILY TO AVOID EXPLOSIONS!

Massive amount of bubbles on day 4 after stirring

4. My mead began to show signs of life on day 4 and I was so relieved! I thought it would never bubble. Take a whiff and you’ll notice a definite smell of alcohol. (Microbes are amazing!) Stir it and a foamy head will form. At this point, you can stir your mead just once a day.

5. The mead will foam up like this for a few more days when you stir it. Once the bubbles die down, most of the glucose will have been converted to alcohol. Most of my bubbling action subsided by day 14. Katz recommends beginners enjoy their young, partially fermented mead at this point—as people have in cultures around the world for millennia.

You can bottle, rack and age your mead, which will increase the alcohol content, but I don’t have the (rather minimal) equipment necessary for this. If you do bottle your mead, and the fermentation has not finished converting the remaining fructose to alcohol, YOUR BOTTLE MAY EXPLODE! I would rather not have to worry about that. Also I’m a lightweight who can’t handle alcohol much stronger than this. I don’t have the proper equipment to measure alcohol content, but I would guess this is around 5 to 7% alcohol.

6. Optional step: To make more mead using the continuous starter method, reserve 1/2 cup from the initial batch if it still bubbles vigorously. Those bubble indicate active fermentation. Begin with step one of these directions, adding the 1/2 cup of reserved mead to the honey–water. This will kickstart the new ferment and your mead will be ready to drink sooner.

Cheers!

Mead

Yields 5 cups

Ingredients

Directions

1. Combine honey and water together in a large glass jar.

2. Stir vigorously or place a lid on the jar and shake it until the honey–water is combined well.

3. Until your honey–water begins to bubble, stir it vigorously every time you think of it, several times a day. Opening the jar daily—burping it—also releases built-up carbon-dioxide. BURP YOUR JAR DAILY TO AVOID AN EXPLOSION!

4. Once bubbles begin to form on the surface, you can reduce your stirring to just once a day.

5. When the bubbles begin to die down, sometime between days 10 through 14, the young mead is ready to enjoy. Remember to continue burping your jar daily until empty.

6. Optional step: To make more mead using the continuous starter method, reserve 1/2 cup from the initial batch if it still bubbles vigorously. Those bubble indicate active fermentation. Begin with step one of these directions, adding the 1/2 cup of reserved mead to the honey–water.