I was all set to start the 101 batch tonight. Assembled all the ingredients, put the plastic bucket in to sanitize, had the honey ready to go… and I discovered that my hydrometer broke during the move, and I now need to wait for Amazon to mail me a new one.
April Fool’s to me!
Since it’s Saturday, and delivery won’t be until Tuesday, no mead is happening tonight. Let’s talk honey instead, because honey is the backbone of a mead. If you’re making a traditional mead (honey, yeast, water), then it’s the main ingredient. You don’t want to short change yourself when it comes to picking a decent honey for mead.
If you’ve been following honey news, you’re probably aware of the stories about weird chemicals and Chinese imported honey, corn syrup and fake honey, and filtration. I’ll leave it at that. I’m not a nutritionist and I’m certainly not an expert on honey production. Here’s what the National Honey Board has to say for a good starting point in researching honey.
Can you use a cheaper honey? Sure. I’ve done it. If I’m making a fruit mead, I’ve used Costco honey, which is the Kirkland brand. They list the sources for it, it’s economical, and since the fruit or spice will be present, the honey won’t be as noticeable. Also, this is good for making mead on a budget.
For my plain meads, I am far more choosy. I like taking honey from different places and seeing what I get. I’ve found honey on roadside stands, from friends who know beekeepers, farmer’s markets, on road trips, and from local stores. The honey for the 101 batch came from a co-op and is raspberry honey. Not raspberry flavored honey- there’s a distinction here, and I don’t use flavored honeys. This honey came from bees who were chowing down on raspberry pollen. You can find clover honey, buckwheat honey, berries, sage, orange blossom, etc. What the bees eat affects how the honey tastes.
My current source is our local co-op ish sort of market. They have a rotating selection of honeys. They’re sold in bulk, which gives me the advantage of being able to try it before I buy it.
My advice on honey is this: If it’s your first mead, get a decent honey and have at it. Don’t worry if all you can get is Kirkland. It’s not the worst honey out there by far, and your mead isn’t going to be awful. I’d recommend spending the few extra bucks to get a better quality honey, if you’re making a plain mead, though.
As for how much to buy, you’ll want to use 3 lbs of honey per gallon. You increase the amount of honey for a sweeter mead, and decrease it for a dryer mead. I always buy a little extra, especially if I’ve found some random honey on a road trip, because if you do need to backsweeten, you’ll want a reserve on hand.
One final note. To boil or not to boil? My answer is no, just like I don’t use raisins as a food source for yeast. Boiling your honey will remove the subtle flavors and change the taste of it, which is not what I want out of my mead.
And if you have friends, bribe- I mean ask- them to keep an eye out during their travels for some honey. Then experiment! You’ll screw up batches and have some that are amazing. I still have my shitty buckwheat batch that’s been sitting in bottles for close to 3 years now in the hopes that it’ll age out into something drinkable. Just remember to write down which honey you used for which batch, and where you bought it from, in case the finished mead turns out completely fucking amazing and you want to do a repeat brew.