Mead could possibly be one of the oldest styles of alcoholic beverages known to humanity. Pottery vessels discovered in northern China that dated back to 7000 BC had chemical signatures consistent with honey, rice, and organic compounds associated with a fermented beverage. Fast-forward to the 16th Century, and we find that most of the meads created during Elizabethan times usually contained honey, herbs, fruits, and even hops. The majority of the alcohol content in this beverage comes from the fermentation of honey, which is 100% fermentable.
Some of the recipes I have come across throughout the years for this style of mead usually contain the following herbs and spices: rosemary, cloves, elderflowers, bay leaves, and a small amount of ginger. I have found that if you make a tincture using equal parts of each of these and small piece of ginger, it makes it easier to control the final output in your meads. To make the tincture I like to take 2 cups of vodka (any brand will do since we use a small amount of it for our mead) 4 grams each of rosemary, cloves, elderflowers, and bay leaves, and 2 grams of ginger. Add the herbs to the vodka and let sit for a minimum of 4 weeks. The longer you can let it sit the more powerful the tincture will be.
The next step is making the mead base. I like to add 4 pounds of honey per gallon of water used. This amount of honey usually gets me to around 18% – 20% ABV. If you wanted to make weaker mead, cut the honey down to 3 pounds per gallon. This will get you around 13% – 15% ABV. I typically make 5-gallon batches at a time, so I measure out that amount of water and put it in my kettle and bring the water temperature up to around 175F and then add the honey. By bringing the water to this temperature, it will pasteurize the honey and kill off any wild yeast that may be present and also make it easier to dissolve the honey into solution. Once the honey is dissolved, I cool it down below 80F and pitch my yeast. I like to use champagne yeast because the yeast flavor is neutral, which allows the honey to be more dominant, and can also handle the higher alcohol content that I’m shooting for.
I like to let my mead ferment for at least 2- 3 weeks before I rack it off into a secondary fermenter. This allows plenty of time for the fermentation to complete. Once in the secondary fermenter, I store it in there anywhere from 4-6 weeks. I am waiting on it to clarify as much as possible before bottling it. After the secondary is complete, the fun part begins, which is adding the tincture we made earlier. I find this part fun because I like to do a taste test of exactly how much of the tincture I want to add to each bottle. I’ve found over the years that my tinctures usually have a different flavor each year depending on how the herbs were grown or even what region they were grown in. Once I decide on the flavor profile I like the most, I add that amount of tincture to each bottle and then store them. I’ve found the longer you can be patient and age the meads, the better they taste. Typically the ones I age for 1 year plus always taste the best and are much smoother. Cheers!