Got Mead?

Last year, I got hooked on homebrewing mead.  Before I moved out to Wyoming from Virginia, I’d picked up a do-it-yourself mead kit from the Maryland RenFaire.  It seemed simple enough.  Toss honey, water, and the yeast packet and spices that came with the kit into a 1 gallon jug and let it ride.  The one downside?  If you’re not careful about keeping things sanitized, and I wasn’t, you’ll wind up getting mold and other goodies in there.

That batch went into the trash.  I still wanted to brew my own mead, so I figured I’d go about doing things the correct way.  I got a book, hit the interwebs, and bought some supplies.  Fast forward a year and I’ve got several batches going, three that I’ve bottled, and I now have a slightly better idea about what I’m doing.  I’ve also screwed up a few times.  I created bottle bombs and brewed a batch with buckwheat honey that’s been nicknamed the shitty buckwheat mead.  That one, I’m hoping will be good after it’s aged.  For a very, very long time.  I took some advice from an experienced meadmaker and put those bottles in a closet.  I’ll check on them again after a year if I remember.  Or maybe when I move and find some bonus mead in the closet that I’d managed to forget about.

Needless to say, I’m by no means an expert.  Every time I start something up, I wind up on a forum like GotMead or the Mead facebook group with questions. The best advice I can give about mead is go listen to someone who knows what the fuck they’re doing.  Experiment on your own, too.

Because homebrewing is great.  You can make some very good stuff while saving a shitload of money at the same time.  Startup costs can run over $150, depending on what you buy, but most of it is a one time purchase.  Also why it’s important to get a carboy tote, so you don’t drop your 6 gallon carboy on the floor.  That lesson I learned from someone else’s mistake.

Here’s what I started with:

  • 6 gallon carboy
  • Food-grade plastic bucket for primary fermentation
  • Airlocks
  • Star-San sanitizer
  • Thermometer
  • Hydrometer
  • Stock pot (found this one at a thrift shop)
  • Wine bottles (cheap to buy at a brewshop, you can also save your own)
  • Corks (buy decent ones, esp. if you’ll be leaving it in bottles for a long time)
  • Wine corker
  • Yeast energizer and nutrient
  • Siphon

That got me started.  Some vendors sell wine-making kits that are sometimes cheaper than buying things individually.  I reuse wine bottles too.  Once they’re empty, wash and sanitize, and they’re ready to go.

My five gallon batch yielded 21 bottles.  I’ve heard some people get more than that, but not all of the mead made it into a bottle.  You have to sample it, after all.  Around here, decent mead sells for 12-18 dollars a bottle.  And no, I’m not talking about Chaucer’s.  I’m sure I’ll do more ragging on Chaucer’s in the future, but suffice to say that mead should not taste like jacked up cough syrup and if you’re paying six bucks a bottle… well, sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Anyway.  Average it out to fifteen bucks a bottle, and I made over $300 worth of mead for a startup cost of around $150.  After you get all of your initial gear, the most expensive part will be buying honey.   Honey will also be in a future post, since it’s kind of important.

Hibiscus mead, two different plain honey meads.
Hibiscus mead, three different plain honey meads.

Since then, I’ve added 3 gallon and 1 gallon glass carboys, and spices.  The most recent purchase was a 5 gallon plastic one for an experiment to see if there’s any taste difference between glass and plastic.  For science!

Some good places to get started:

GotMead’s guide to making mead

Storm the Castle’s mead tutorial and videos

Homebrewer’s 5 tips for making better mead

GotMead Forums

HomebrewTalk Mead Forum

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