If you’ve ever been to a Renaissance fair or a craft brewery, you’ve probably sampled some mead – fermented drink made with honey, water, and maybe some fruit. Think wine but with honey instead of grapes. The brewing of mead goes back to ancient times, and is thought to have been brewed before man stumbled on beer and wine.
Making mead at home is very similar to making wine – you mix the ingredients, then walk away for a few months. Come back to bottle it, then let those bottles age for another six months or so. I don’t know about you, but that is just too long for me to wait when I’m wanting to drink some.
So the solution is to brew a short (or quick) mead, which can be imbibed in as little as three weeks. Fruit and spices are added to cover any flaws in mead, making it drinkable sooner. Over time (aging) these flaws would mellow in a regular mead.
You’ll only need two pieces of “hardware” to brew your mead – a jug and a fermentation lock.
I like to use 1-gallon glass jugs that used to hold apple cider, but you could use a 1- or 1/2-gallon plastic milk or water jug just as easily.
The fermentation lock is to allow the carbon dioxide (created as a by-product of fermentation) to escape without letting anything in that could contaminate your brew. You could simply stretch a balloon over the neck of the bottle and “burp” it when it expands too far, but you can buy an actual fermentation lock for as little as $5, so it’s worth it.
The recipe below is actually for a “double helping” (making 1 gallon), so I like to let it go for a full six weeks. If you want to be able to drink you mead in as little as three weeks, then just cut everything in half and only brew 1/2 gallon at a time.
Orange Spiced Quick Mead Recipe
- 3 lb honey – try orange blossom or clover if you can find it
- 1 c. orange juice
- 2 dozen raisins (to give the yeast some extra nutrients)
- 1/4 t cinnamon
- 1/4 t nutmeg
- 1/4 t allspice
- 1 package brewing yeast
- Water (as needed)
If you absolutely have to, you could use 1-2 t of standard bread yeast, but if you can find a brewing yeast you’ll wind up with a better flavor.
Once you’ve obtained your equipment and ingredients, the first step will be to sanitize everything that the mead will touch. You want to kill off any natural yeast or bacteria that is already on your equipment. You can do this by soaking everything for a few minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water. After everything has soaked, rinse thoroughly and allow everything to air dry – you just killed off any germs, why risk putting them back with a slightly dirty towel?
Alternatively, you can use Starsan to sterilize – this is a no-rinse sanitizer, you use one ounce per five gallons of water. Again, make sure to air dry.
First, prepare your yeast. Heat the orange juice to about 95°F – 100°F, add the yeast, cover the container and shake well.
Leave it loosely capped for about 20-30 minutes and you should see signs of life from the yeast – it should start foaming and bubbling.
While your yeast is waking up, go ahead and pour the honey into your fermentation jug.
You’ll probably have a bit left in the original honey jar, just add some warm water to the jar, shake it up, and pour that into the fermentation jug. Add a little more warm water to the fermentation jug until you have about the same amount of water and honey.
Cap the jug and shake well to mix it. You’ll probably have quite a bit of foam after it’s mixed; that’s ok, it will subside in a little bit.
When the temperature in your fermentation jug has dropped down to no more than 105°F (any hotter and you could kill the yeast), add your spices, raisins, and yeast/oj mixture. Top off the jug with cool water until it is 1″ – 2″ below the top.
Insert the stopper and then the plastic fermentation lock.
Yours may not look exactly like what I’ve pictured, but it should work the same – you insert it into the stopper and add water to a line marked somewhere on the plastic.
If you’re using a balloon, just stretch it over the next of the jug.
Set your jug in a cool, room-temperature area out of direct sunlight. With 2-24 hours, you should see fermentation begin – either some bubbles through your fermentation lock, or the balloon will start to expand.
Over the next few weeks the fermentation will slow down, and most of the solids should settle down into a sediment layer on the bottom.
After about six weeks (three if you’re making the half recipe), your mead is ready to siphon and bottle. You want to try and leave as much of the sediment behind, so you can either pour it very carefully into another container, or use a piece of tubing (like aquarium hose) to siphon it.
A racking cane designed for brewing works the best, but you can get by without it.
Your mead doesn’t need to be crystal clear – if you have a bit of sediment left over, just shake it up before drinking.
You can either store your mead in individual bottles like these swing-top bottles, or just keep it in the fermentation jug. It’s up to you whether you serve it warm or chilled (personally I like mine chilled).
For a little bit more spice, you could add 1-2 cloves at the beginning of the brewing process. Be carefully – one whole clove goes a long way!
Brewing this way will result in a mead that is about 8%-10% alcohol by volume, If you decide to let your mead age even longer, you’ll increase the ABV, and it will become a bit clearer as time goes by.