Mead is a fermented beverage made from honey or other sugars. The longer the mead ferments, the stronger its flavor. So, how much time does it take before mead is ready to drink?
What Is Mead?
Mead is a traditional alcoholic beverage that has been around for thousands of years. It’s made by fermenting honey and water with yeast (or sometimes another type of fungus).
The fermentation process creates alcohol in the honey. When you add more sugar to your mead, the fermentation will create even more alcohol.
The length of time it takes for mead to be ready depends on many factors, including:
- How much sugar was added to the honey during fermentation
- What kind of yeast was used during fermentation
- Whether the mead was filtered or not
- How old the mead is when you serve it
- How long the mead has been stored
What Is Primary Fermentation?
During this phase, the honey is mixed with water and yeast. This mixture is left to sit until the yeast eats it. Ethanol is what gives mead its characteristic taste.
When I say “primary fermentation,” I mean the first few days of fermentation.
After primary fermentation, the mead can be bottled and put into secondary fermentation. Secondary fermentation imbues it with additional flavors and makes the mead smoother.
What Happens During Primary Fermentation?
During primary fermentation, the temperature rises quickly because there are lots of yeast cells in the honey.
If you don’t have an airtight container, you may need to use a heat source like a stovetop burner to keep the mead warm.
You’ll also notice bubbles coming out of the jar. These bubbles indicate that the yeast is working hard to eat up the sugar in the honey so that it can make alcohol.
If you’re using unfiltered honey, you might see some sediment at the bottom of the jar. This sediment contains pollen grains, which help protect honey from bacteria.
However, if you want to remove these particles, strain the mead through cheesecloth or a coffee filter after primary fermentation.
After primary fermentation, the temperature drops again. At this point, the yeast cells have finished eating up the sugar in the mead.
There should still be plenty of yeast cells left over, but they won’t be doing any work. They’ve already done their job.
Why Do Some People Use Filters?
Some people choose to use filters instead of straining the mead after primary fermentation. A filter lets the liquid pass through while stopping solid particles.
For example, if you were filtering tap water, you’d probably use a paper towel or coffee filter. But if you wanted to filter mead, you could use a tea bag or piece of gauze.
Filtering isn’t necessary, though. Many meads are strained right after primary fermentation.
Strainers come in different sizes and shapes. Some strainers look like funnels, others look like baskets.
Whatever shape or size you choose, make sure it fits inside your jar. Otherwise, you risk letting too much sediment get into your mead.
What Is Secondary Fermentation?
Secondary fermentation is where most people start their meads. Here, the mead is transferred to bottles and sealed. Then, the mead sits in a warm place until it becomes smooth and rich tasting.
After secondary fermentation, some meaderies may filter out any sediment that forms at the bottom of the bottle. The mead should be consumed within three months after bottling if no filtering is done.
When Does Mead Need To Age?
Mead doesn’t need to age very long after being bottled. If you want to bottle your mead right away, you can do so within a few weeks of completion.
However, if you want to let your mead mature for several months or even a year, that’s perfectly fine. 6 months is often sighted as the sweet spot for optimal results.
Why Do You Want Your Mead To Age For A While?
As mentioned above, letting mead age allows you to get some extra flavor out of it. The longer the mead sits, the better it tastes. Also, aging enables the mead to mellow over time.
If you don’t want to wait for your mead to mature, you can always just buy a bottle of mead that’s already aged. These bottles are usually labeled as having been aged for 6-12 months.
How Long Should Mead Be In Primary Fermentation?
It really depends on how strong you want your mead to be. Some people like their mead to have a lot of alcohol, while others prefer a lower level.
So if you’re looking for something with a little bit of alcohol, then you may only need to leave your mead in primary fermentation for about 2-3 weeks.
Honey takes much longer to ferment, which means this process will take longer than it does for beer.
However, if you want a stronger mead, then you’ll probably want to go through secondary fermentation. This will give you a stronger mead than if you were just to bottle your mead straight away.
How To Tell When Primary Fermentation Is Complete
You can tell when primary fermentation is complete by checking your mead’s specific gravity (the amount of dissolved solids).
You can use it to check the SG if you’ve got a hydrometer. If you don’t have one, you can also test the SG using a spoon.
Then, simply dip the end of the spoon into the mead and see how thick the liquid is. If the mead is thin enough, then it has finished fermenting.
The Importance Of Yeast And Primary Fermentation
During primary fermentation, keeping a close eye on the health of your yeast will be vital. It’s important to keep an eye on the temperature of the mead during this stage.
If the temperature gets too hot, the yeast could die off. If the temperature drops too low, the yeast won’t be able to work properly.
You’ll want to make sure that your mead stays around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
To keep your yeast as healthy as possible during primary fermentation, there are a few things you can do:
While it’s true that oxygen can be detrimental to the quality of your finished mead, it’s necessary for your yeast.
You should aerate your mead during primary fermentation by shaking it up every day or two.
Aerating your mead helps to provide more oxygen to the yeast, which keeps them happy and healthy.
Keeping your mead at the proper temperature is another way to ensure that your yeast stays active. Since many meads are fermented at room temperature, you’ll want to try to keep your mead between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Another thing you can do to help keep your yeast happy and healthy is to degas your mead. Degassing involves taking a sample from your mead and pouring it into a container filled with water.
This allows the carbon dioxide bubbles to escape from the mead, making it easier for your yeast to breathe.
The Most Common Problems With Home Brewed Mead
There are many factors that go into creating the perfect mead, and understanding how the primary fermentation process works is crucial.
Still, many problems can arise with homebrewed mead, including:
If you over carbonate your mead, you’ll wind up with a mead that tastes flat and uninteresting.
Over Carbonated mead tends to taste very sweet and cloyingly soapy. You’ll want to add some acidity to your mead before bottling to avoid this problem.
You can accomplish this by adding some lemon juice, grapefruit juice, or even apple cider vinegar.
Acidic pH Level
If your mead ends up being too acidic, you may find yourself having trouble with spoilage bacteria.
The reason why this happens is that the high levels of acidity prevent most other microorganisms from growing.
While this isn’t necessarily bad, it does mean you’ll need to take extra care in storing your mead.
Low Alcohol Content
If your mead doesn’t contain enough alcohol content, you run the risk of ending up with a product that tastes like watered-down wine.
Fortunately, the easiest way to increase the alcohol content of your mead is simply to let it sit longer.
Once your mead has been bottled, you can leave it alone for anywhere from 3-6 months before drinking.
Mead Making Tips And Tricks
As mentioned above, there are many ways to improve upon your mead-making skills. Here are just a few tips and tricks that might come in handy when trying to master this art form:
Don’t Forget About Your Yeast!
One of people’s biggest mistakes when making a mead is forgetting about their yeast.
Because mead is naturally cloudy, it’s easy to overlook the fact that you’ve forgotten to use your yeast.
When fermenting mead, you’ll want to use a specific strain of yeast called Lalvin EC1118. If you don’t have access to this particular strain, any ale yeast will work fine.
However, if you’re going to be using fruit in your mead, you should probably stick with a more neutral yeast.
Use A Hydrometer
Using a hydrometer is an important part of brewing beer. It’s used to measure the amount of sugar remaining in your wort after boiling.
The same concept applies to measuring the amount of alcohol present in your mead. If you don’t know what a hydrometer looks like, you can buy one online for under $5.
Ferment At Room Temperature
Because mead is naturally clear, it’s easy to forget that it needs to be fermented at room temperature. As long as the temperature stays between 70°F – and 80°F, you shouldn’t have any issues.
Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you on your journey toward becoming a mead maker.
Understanding primary fermentation and learning how long your mead should remain in this process is crucial, and we hope we’ve helped you understand!