Bee-to-Bottle: Meadmaking Techniques

How do you make mead? Well, dilute some honey with water, add yeast, and let it ferment. That’s all, folks! Thanks for reading our blog!

Ok, maybe it’s not quite that simple. In our fourth installation of the Bee to Bottle blog series, we’re taking a closer look at the process of meadmaking and how it combines the biochemistry of yeast converting natural sugars in honey into alcohol with the art of balancing flavors, textures, and aromas. (If you’re just joining us, we’ve discussed importance of quality bee foragebeekeeping, and honey in previous posts).

1. Mix Honey, Water, and Yeast

Meadmaking begins with sanitization. It’s not a glamorous start, but we’ve found that being scrupulous in our cleaning prevents contamination and off-flavors that can ruin our mead. Sometimes, the littlest things can make a huge impact -- and this is one of those things.

Once everything is ready, we prepare a solution called the must by diluting  honey with water  to reach a desired sugar concentration. This determines how sweet or dry the finished mead will be as well as how much alcohol is produced. More honey means more flavorful aromatics but can also potentially mean more alcohol. A good mead keeps these in careful balance.

Andrew mixing honey and water together to create the must.

Andrew mixing honey and water together to create the must.

Next,  we add yeast. Mead can be fermented with native wild yeasts, although the results are often inconsistent. Here at Meadiocrity, we use cultivated yeasts and carefully match the yeast traits with the honey variety and mead style. Using different yeasts with the same starting must can produce drastically different meads.

Flavor additions such as fruit being co-fermented with the must may be added at this stage as well.

2. Ferment

Yeast digest the sugars from the honey in the must to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. Not all sugars are the same and certain yeasts work better with one type of sugar. In mead, glucose and fructose are the most prevalent sugars. These are the same sugars that occur in wine produced from grapes.

We often get asked if mead is very sweet because it uses honey. The answer is yes or no depending on style. Just because grape juice is sweet does not mean a wine must be sweet. The same goes for mead. As the sugars are digested, the mead becomes dryer and the aromatics of the honey become liberated.

After primary fermentation is done, additional flavors such as spices, herbs, or fruit juices might be added depending on the style.

3. Fine, Filter, Finish

At the end of fermentation, meadmakers determine any final steps to take on the mead before bottling it. The meadmaker can choose to bind undesired compounds with fining agents or filter the mead to remove the yeast still left in suspension. The meadmaker can also add final flavor or acid additions to round out the flavor profile. This stage is highly dependent on the meadmaker’s style and what characteristics of the mead they are looking to emphasize.

4. Bottle

Mead can be still (no bubbles), petillant or frizzante (some bubbles), highly carbonated, or made using a traditional sparkling wine method. The carbonation happens just prior to bottling and can highlight different characteristics of the mead. Mead can be stored in a number of drinking vessels. Bottles and kegs are most common, however, aluminum cans and growler fills are increasing in popularity -- and of course, there’s always the traditional drinking horn!

Hooking up to the tank to start bottling

Hooking up to the tank to start bottling

The Meadiocrity Way

We extensively tested a variety of honeys, yeast, and processes before we settled on our general approach to meadmaking. We continue to improve our processes, but any mead that we produce must meet our high standards:

Always use local, raw, unfiltered honey

Whether it is from our estate hives or our local partner beekeepers, unprocessed honey stronger floral characteristics and has not been denatured by the pasteurization process. We only use the best.

Let the honey speak for itself

The bees worked hard to capture sunshine and hundreds of thousands of flowers in honey. There is no need to mask its flavors with over-the-top flavors, and you should always know that honey was used to make our mead.

Be easy drinking and flavor intense

Drinking mead should be more than just a novelty. Each sip should make you want more and the flavors should be bold.

Be balanced

Balancing residual sugar, alcohol, acid, and aromatics is critical to making a high quality mead and the balance of our meads have become a recognized characteristic of our style.

Meadmaking is fun, challenging, and wide open for experimentation, and we love pushing the limits of technique, flavor, and ingredients to bring you the absolute best mead possible. Demand Meadiocrity.

Young Foundation straight from the tank.

Young Foundation straight from the tank.

Honey-conomics

Honey-conomics

What’s the big deal with raw honey anyway? Is it really that different from store bought honey, other than the seemingly exorbitant price? Wouldn’t less processing make it cheaper? We get a lot of questions about the honey that we use and if it actually makes our mead taste different. In our last blog post, we discussed some of the unique aspects of our raw honey and how varietal or regional honeys influence mead. Suffice to say, we think raw honey makes for really good mead.

Bee to Bottle: Exquisite Honey

Bee to Bottle: Exquisite Honey

Honey seems like a straightforward thing -- it’s that lovely, viscous, caramel-colored stuff made by bees that you buy in little bear-shaped squeeze bottles at the grocery store. Maybe you’ve seen clover or wildflower honey, or really expensive bottles at the farmer’s market, but there’s not much difference, right? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Bee to Bottle: Beekeeping Practices

Bee to Bottle: Beekeeping Practices

For our second installment of the Bee to Bottle blog series, we’re talking about bees. Unlike wine and beer, which begin with humans or machines harvesting grapes and grain, mead begins with millions of these busy insects collecting nectar from flowers to make honey. We discussed the importance of quality forage in our last blog post, but this week, we’ll be taking a much closer look at our relationship with our most critical employees: the millions of honeybees who create our raw material.