Ask the Meadmaker – Meadmaking Basics pt 2

In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers more basic questions about meadmaking, including when to add fruit and spices, the best way to carbonate, whether to sanitize your must, and more!
Further Reading:
Them’s Fightin’ Words
Tiny Bubbles
How We Brew Everything We Brew
Making Mead At Home in 3 Short Weeks

Show Transcript
Hello, everyone! As many of you know, we YouTubers - which is a rare type of potato - usually do a lot of work to prep. My prep work is removing the junk from my table, but I wanted you to know the life that I live here in the Coronavirus Lockdown.

So, next to me, which I would have removed normally, is a plastic shell bra from Arial. My favorite pair of sunglasses which I lost four weeks ago, but Nora found under a couch, and when I asked "how do you think they got there?" She said "I don't know. Why? I put them there." Next is a book that Nora asks me to read her regularly, which is called Pruther Leikernir. which is an Icelandic Muppets book, which curiously, includes nudie comics. I don't read Icelandic and that's also not what I want my daughter to read, and Ranger Rick all abouit this Adorable Gorilla. So, I'm thinking I might spend the rest of this episode just reading this to you! Just kidding. It's apparently copyrighted.

Welcome to Ask the Meadmaker where I, Ricky the Meadmaker, answer your questions about meadmaking, mead drinking, mead brewing, and I don't usually just read Ranger Rick Cub Edition, which I'm not going to do because, as I mentioned in the cold open, apparently it's copyrighted.

But now, after so many questions for me to just go back to the basics, this is part two of three about the most basic questions we get that still come up in the professional world. And the one I want to start off with is: Do I need to sanitize my must?

And for the real beginners, all that means is: honey and water, as clean as they are, have wild yeast, bacteria, and some other things in them. And do you need to sulfite them initially or boil them?

Years and years and years and years and years and millennia ago (it seems like) we wrote an article called "Them's Fightin' Words" about sanitizing your must and we have wiggled around the point we made, but our initial premise was: If you're a commercial meadery, you really need to kill the wild yeast if you want a consistent product.

If you're into making sour meads, go ahead; use whatever ever wild yeast comes with it! So home meadmaker, you can do whatever you want! But forewarned is forearmed. You might get something pretty crazy if you don't kill the wild yeast.

After whatever it's been - seven or eight years - since I wrote that article, I basically hold the same position: Do whatever you want! You're a homebrewer. Sulfiting creates a much more consistent product, but that might not be what you want. And if you're using your own honey from your own hives, find out what wild yeast is in your natural environment.

Number two, and we're just going to get this one out of the way because it's just like the plastic bucket/glass carboy thing from last time: Is forced carbonation, pushing bubbles into your carbonated mead or natural carbonation where the yeast makes the bubbles better? We get this one a lot. I don't like the word better. It depends on what your goals are. But a lot of the yeast that is good for making mead creates sulfurous compounds in its fermentation, and if you want in All-Natural Mead, you might end up with something that smells like a rotten egg, but maybe not! We're going to chalk this up on the list of things that I didn't officially answer.

The boss reminded me that those aromas do usually age out, which might be the old rumor of why you have to age mead for so long.

So, apparently in the last episode, I promised to talk about fruits and spices and when you add them and now I feel like this is an entire episode, but I'm going to do my best to give a very simple rule and like all rules, it is not "made to be broken." It is there for a reason. But, you may break it once you understand the rule. Fruits are usually added in the primary spices are usually added in the secondary. The reason that fruits are added in the primary is that, in addition to the flavor, they are a sugar source, which means that if you add them in the secondary and you want the flavor to linger (which you can do, as I said, you can break these rules) you're going to have sugar in solution, which means that you might have bottle bombs if you don't sulfite. And then force carbonate. And many of my advanced home brewers might say, "well, I put it in then, and it fully ferments out so there's no sugar, but I get the flavor!" That's great. And that is fine. And that's one of the rules that if you understand it, you can break it.

For spices, there is a thing known as yeast stripping and that is a poorly understood phenomenon in which yeast in active fermentation will take flavors out, grab them and pull them up and out of solution. So, if you add your spices early on, you might lose the very flavors you're trying to add. Which is why most homebrew recipes call for them in the secondary. I'm not even going to begin to go into why you might want to add them in the primary. That'll be another episode.

The next question I get a lot is: Kegs or Bottles? Kegs! I mean having mead on tap. Are you kidding?

My fourth question again, a little more seriously: bottles versus kegs? I'm serious like mead on tap, right?

Question number five is one that's near and dear to my heart and really complicated. But we get it a lot in response to our ads and other marketing: Why is the alcohol content so low on your meads? Is there something wrong with making low ABV needs? The answer is it stings when we see people who think they know everything, saying "this stuff is crap. The alcohol content is so low!" And from our perspective, it's like living in a world where the only beer is barley wine and you come across a great IPA people are like, "Nope! Alcohol content is too low!" We don't believe that the purpose of mead is to get you drunk. We believe that mead is like every other beverage and is there to be enjoyed. So if you really enjoy high octane (as we call them meads) which we do, we just don't brew them. If you really enjoy those, make them! But if you want something that you can enjoy one, two, maybe three pints of (See my thing about having it on tap!) make those.

It's amazed me over the years how many people make mead and take it to the... not going to call out any groups but y'know, generally speaking, local nerd groups, the local homebrew clue group and they get sass for it being carbonated and enjoyable, and we deal with it commercially. It's our bread and butter. It's how we feed our family. But I really, really, really, really, really don't like that it's something that my homebrew community has to deal with. Make what you like. And if you want to take our recipes and scale them up to 14%, you're not going to upset us. Make the things that you and your community enjoy.

So, that's the last of my basics!

Next week, we're going to try to do a whole thing about spices and fruits. We're going to call that part three of the basics, because apparently it's its own thing. But thank you guys, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep sending your questions, and I will get to them as soon as possible.

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