Through the Looking Glass
On Brewing My First Mead
I brewed my first batch of mead this year (I guess I started it at the end of December, but whatever). I was looking for something easy to brew, and I’m getting a hive this spring so mead seemed to be just the ticket. Fortunately, a few years ago I bought some brewing intro kits - one brown ale, one pinot noir. The beer wasn’t bad, the wine… not so much. The plus side is that I had a ton of brewing kit that I hadn’t touched in years. It was time to put it to use! I’ll probably start a section of this site for mead notes, but I thought I might do a rough writeup of my first experience.
I figured I’d start my first batch with some cheaper honey - still raw and unfiltered, but off the shelves of Target. 6lbs of Nature Nate’s 100% Organic & Unfiltered Raw Honey, I started two one-gallon batches. The first batch was a traditional mead with no extra flavours; the second was a Dragon’s Breath, the recipe for which I got from the City Stead Brewing videos.
For starter, I used Twinings Earl Grey brewed for 15 minutes and mixed it with yeast nutrient. Both meads used Lalvin 71B yeasts; I just went with the whole packet. The Dragon’s Breath used two jalapeños, cut into quarters lengthwise and just dropped right in. Spoiler alert: I didn’t use enough cherries and I didn’t mash them enough.
I was surprised at how easy mead is compared to beer: just add in the honey, water, yeast nutrient
I took plenty of notes and captured some of the fermentation:
The two meads started with specific gravities of 1.125 for the traditional and 1.082 for the Dragon’s Breath. I made a habit of checking the gravities every weekend as well as tasting a small amount to watch for off-flavours. I should note that 10 days in, I had to intervene with the Dragon’s Breath; the hydrometer was reading 1.000, so I added roughly 10oz of honey and 10oz of water (so it ended up with right around 58oz of honey in total). The Dragon’s Breath finished fermenting at around 17 days with an ending gravity of 0.994; by my calculations, that ends up at right around 11.6% ABV. Not too bad; the 71B is capable of finishing around 14%, so it’s probably a case of running out of sugar early.
I racked both meads twice, at 14 days and at 33 days.
The traditional fermented for about 38 days; it finished at a gravity of about 1.008, or 15.4% ABV. It’s above what the 71B is rated for, but I guess this particular packet must have had particularly enthusiastic yeast…
I bottled 52 days in. I tried to use 500mL grolsch swing-tops as much as possible, but I saved a wine bottle for a special occasion.
I opened a bottle of both right after bottling day to get a baseline (right?); the traditional mead was delicious (even getting high marks from my girlfriend), but the Dragon’s Breath tasted like fermented jalapeños. It was still cloudy, but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m making mead to drink, not to enter into a show.
I ended up doing a mead tasting with a few friends later, having some of my mead alongside Hidden Legend and Chaucer meads, too. I thought it would be fun to try to get my friends to drink the Dragon’s Breath, but I wasn’t going to have any; it turns out, though, that the aging process really mellowed it out and it’s possible that in a few months it might be a lot better. Even after only three weeks, there was a marked improvement in both meads. I’ve got one bottle set aside for 6 months and one for a year, and I think this month I’m kicking off another three batches, so there’ll be plenty more experimentation in the future.