Friday, April 29, 2011

Making Mead - Part Five

So here we are, the final post in my little series on meadmaking. I'm not a pro, I haven't won meadmaker of the year, and I won't claim to make the best meads I've ever had. But, despite that, I've learned a lot of information over the past 1.5 years that has vastly improved our meads - and one is going to compete this June in the AHA National Homebrew Competition. I've compiled a bunch of resources here to help get you on your way, including where you can find good examples of commercial meads.

55 pounds of sweet goodness
You can buy honey at any of our local farmers’ markets, but you’re going to find that wildflower & clover are the two types of honey available locally. For varietals such as tupelo, basswood, mesquite, or orange blossom, you’re going to need to find a non-local source. (That said, when Trader Joe’s finally opens up here, you’ll be able to get Mesquite honey there.) Some of the honey providers I’ve used, and that others recommend, are:

I’ve mentioned a few key tools in these posts, but here are the links to them again. Obviously, the standard fermenter, blowoff assembly, hydrometer/refractometer, and other standard brewing tools apply here too.
  • Lees Stirrer: In addition to your fermenter, you will definitely want to pick up a lees stirrer to mix & degas your must.
  • Postal Scale: Measuring out your honey is made easy with a postal scale; I bought ours on Amazon and am completely happy with it. I also use this when shipping off beers to homebrew competitions. Sign up for a free account on UPS or FedEx’s website, and you can print out shipping labels after entering destination & weight information online. All you have to do is drop off the package with your label in an affixed pouch; no waiting in line.
  • Gram scale: I also recommend getting one of these to measure out your nutrients and yeast. It’s also really handy for measuring hops.  
  • pH Strips or Meter: pH is so important to meadmaking, you really need to measure it so that it can be adjusted as necessary. The most economical approach is with pH strips, but I recommend investing in a pH meter. You’ll need to calibrate the meter on each mead day (assuming you’re making it less frequently than every few days), so pick up some solution at the same time. Don’t forget the storage solution as well, which will keep the little probe from drying out.
  • Mead Calculator: This is such a handy tool for helping you figure out how much honey, water, and other fermentable ingredients you'll need for your batch.
Mead Resources
As I mentioned a few days ago, everyone finds their own approach. What I’ve laid out here is the method we’ve figured out by gathering information from the interwebs, attending NHC, talking to other meadmakers, reading books, and experience. I recommend checking out some other mead resources to see what others are doing and get a different perspective – as well as inspiration. Here are just a few -

Advanced Information on Mead
I'm not even going to try to describe the plethora of information on the BJCP mead page, but please check it out. There is so much good information there, it's a necessary resource for any meadmaker. From information on varietal honey to punching down fruit caps in melomels, to styles, to troubleshooting, you'd be hard-pressed not to find what you're looking for here. This is an incredible source of information on making mead.

Commercial Meads
Winner of a well-deserved gold medal
We can get a handful of meads here in Kansas & Missouri, and I've found the widest selection, all on the Missouri side, at Gomer's Midtown, Royal on 103rd, and Lukas in Martin City. They're typically located with the port & sake, but you might have to ask if you don’t see it. Some brands you're bound to see:

  • Redstone (CO) - makers of some of the best commercial mead I've had. They make a hopped mead.
  • Chaucer's (CA)
  • Pirtle (MO) - I highly recommend their blueberry & effervescent meads. The effervescent just won a gold medal for traditional sweet mead at Mazer Cup! Typically stocked in the Missouri Wine section.
  • Honeywood (OR)
  • Lurgashall (England)
  • Bunratty (Ireland)
  • Makana (S Africa) - they make a great bird's eye chili mead

There are some fantastic meaderies cropping up all over the country, though. Some of the greats include

  • B Nektar (incredible meads out of IN)
  • Rabbits Foot (CA; they make several braggots)
  • Heidrun (CA; fantastic sparkling meads using méthode champenoise)
  • New Day (IL)
  • White Winter (WI; one of my favorites)
  • Mountain Meadows (CA)

I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but that should get you started.

I haven’t really talked about it, but Polish mead is a somewhat different beast and one I have yet to see here in the KC metro. I know you can find some in St Louis at the Wine & Cheese Place; the traditional bottles are pretty easy to spot. Polish mead typically comes in four strengths: 2:1, 1:1, 1:2, and a 1:3 honey:water ratio. Most are aged on wood for 1-4 years (some are aged up to 25 years), and contain fruit or herbs. The resulting product is a sweet but smooth and rich beverage that is notably high in alcohol. It’s definitely worth trying once (or more).

You can order from many of the meaderies directly, which is probably going to be your best bet since online wine retailers really only tend to carry Chaucer's. Since KS state law doesn't allow direct shipment of alcohol to households, you’ll need to have it sent to a location in Missouri (my house, for example).

I hope you found this information helpful and inspiring. If you’re interested in meeting and talking to other meadmakers, there are a few homebrewing clubs in the KC metro area with members who make mead: KC Bier Meisters, Lawrence Brewers Guild, ZZ Hops, and Jayhops.

Thanks for reading!

Reference - 
part one
part two
part three
part four

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