Forget any of the commercially made meads. The recipes are some of the worst I have ever tried. Honestly, there are more pleasent ways to make yourself vomit.
The following are some variants I use, based on a variety of sources (some dating back to 1750). They seem to be popular with those who have tried them, including well-seasoned drinkers.
Ingredients (for 1 gallon // 4.5 liters)
- 1 gallon of water // 4.5 liters
- 4 lbs. honey* // 1.8 kilograms
- 1/2 pint very strong black tea // 0.3 liters
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 4 tbsp sugar // 59 milliliters
- High-grade mead yeast or champaign yeast
(Note: Imperial units are to the British standard, although if you're consistant it probably doesn't make any difference. Metric units are approximate, though probably close enough to not be noticably different.)
Heat the water until boiling. Pour about 1/2 pint into a jug. Mix the honey into the remaining water until completely dissolved. Mix in the tea and lemon juice. Allow to cool to 98'F (37'C) and pour into brewing jar or demijon.
Add the sugar to the water in the jug, and allow to cool until 98'F (37'C). Add the yeast. Once the yeast has activated, pour the sugar/yeast mix into the the brewing jar.
Stop the top of the brewing jar with an airlock. Place in a warm place - 95-98'F (35-37'C) seems to work best. Leave until fermentation has completely finished. Bottle.
Every 6 months, rebottle the mead to remove sediment. If you want to speed the process up, you can use wine finings**.
Mead matures with age, as with any alchoholic drink. 2 years is the usual age given for the "perfect" drink, but honestly I've never let a batch last that long.
*The type of honey you use does matter. If you want a smooth, silky texture, you'll want to use a very pale honey. The darker the honey, the more bitter the mead. Honey contains natural antibiotics, so if you want to brew this for "medical research", you might want to pick a honey that has a high antibiotic content.
**Before synthetic wine finings existed, the traditional method of clearing (or clarifying) a wine or mead was to use raw egg whites. Simply add the whites to the mead, shake, and let settle. The physical particles should get collected up by the egg whites, leaving the mead clear. If you try this and end up with some seriously drunk salmonella, don't blame me! :)
Melomel - Mead with added fruit punch
Much the same as above, but add 1/2 lb. - 0.23 Kg - of soft fruit (or 1 lb. - 0.45 Kg - of hard fruit), when you boil. I usually leave the pulp in the liquid during fermentation, to get every last bit of flavor out. It seems to be a workable approach, but I've known the fermentation to get so rapid that it blows the airlock off the top of the brewing jar. If you're going to do this, put the container in a large bowl or on a towel.
If you want to get all technical, then mead with apples is Cyser.
These were all heavily laced with herbs and spices, at the time of fermentation. Each mead-maker used their own combination, so there's no real "standard" here. Mint, Orris Root, Cinnamon and Balsam were all popular additives in the 1700s.
The meads produced by the above recipies are DRY meads. ALL the sugar (or at least a gereat deal of it) is turned to alchohol. Sweet meads need about 5-6 lbs. (2.27-2.72 Kg) of honey, and you're strongly advised to monitor the specific gravity. Sack (mead so sweet it's nausiating) requires about 8 lbs. (3.63 Kg) of honey per gallon of water. If you get "mead" at a medieval banquet, it'll often be a very sweet mead or sack. Avoid these if you value your stomach.
Highly Experimental Variant!!!
I've not tried this much, and I've not got a recipe I'd consider to be really "working", but I'll throw it out anyway. The tea is mainly for the tannic acid, but tea isn't the best source of this. Acorns yield much more tannic acid. They ARE perfectly safe and edible (just make sure they ARE acorns!!) but the reason they never took off as a delicacy, even in stone-age times, is that the tannin is just too strong.
Too strong to eat, yes, but perfect for brewing. Shell just a few acorns, pulp them, and mix them into the water when you first boil it. The water will rapidly turn a yellowy-brown. the idea is to get this marginally stronger than the tea method, but not so strong that the solution is too acidic for the yeast. If you have a pH meter, you may want to do some experiments to see what the ideal concentration is. Remember, you're still adding the lemon juice, so your starting pH will be higher than the pH of the tannic acid solution.
Once you've got the balance right, use either recipe. If you're doing plain mead, you may want to add another lb. of honey. For the melomel, I'd suggest another 1/2 lb. of fruit. This is to offset the additional bitterness from having the extra tannic acid.
Actual Historic Recipe (Dated 1750)
This is a recipe I copied down from a combination cookbook/herbal remedy book. I have never tried this recipe, and it is NOT posted here as "known and safe". It's included more as a historical curiosity. And WHERE did they get those 60 gallon containers???
Take fair water 60 Gallons, Bay-leaves, Bawm, Hops, Ginger, Orrioe Roots bruised, Savory, Thyme, of each half a pound; let them scald in the liquor in a simmering heat, (but not to boil) for 2 hours: clear the liquor from the Ingredients, and to every three Gallons put one Gallon of Honey, boil them (but not too fast) scumming it very clean, so long as any will arise, especially the latteral Black Scum; cool the liquor, and put it into a Tub, where let it stand for some 2 days; put to it a Quart of good New Ale yest, stir them together, and let them rest a day or two to Work: Fleet off the yest, and stir it again, letting it rest another day: Scum off the yest again, and cover up the cask slightly; as it works over, fill it up with the same again; and when it has done working, stop it up slose, but have a Vent hole by the Bung, to give it Vent sometimes. Some clarify the Water and Honey when boil'd, with Whites of Eggs, Shells and all beaten together, the strain out and cool; and afterwards work it up, (to every two Gallons) with Whites of two Eggs, two spoonfulls of yest, beat all together, stirring it every hour; and the next day they add the Whites of four Eggs, and two spoonfulls of
Wheat-Meal, beaten together, and so Tun it up, hanging it in a Bag, a little Cinnamon, Cloves, and Ginger bruised, which when it has done working, they stop close up.
(As I seriously doubt anyone'll be making the historic recipe soon, I'll leave out the metric conversions for it.)