Honey Wine Brewing

Craft Brewing

Federal Law

Craft Brewing (also called Homebrewing) is Federally legal. The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, enacting prohibition in 1919, made Craft Brewing in the USA illegal. When the 21st Amendment repealed prohibition in 1933, language legalizing home beer making was mistakenly left out (home wine making was legalized at that time).

On October 14, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337, which contained an amendment sponsored by Senator Alan Cranston creating an exemption from taxation for beer brewed at home for personal or family use. This exemption went into effect in February 1979.

State Laws

The 21st Amendment predominantly leaves regulation of alcohol to the states. Thus, even though Craft Brewing is federally legal, it is still up to individual states to legalize Craft Brewing in state codes. The vast majority of states have legalized Craft Brewing, though laws regarding Craft Brewing vary widely.
Please consult legitimate resources for your particular state’s brewing legal statues – In the state of Georgia this would be Title 3 Chapters 4,5, and 6:

http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/government-affairs/self-distribution-laws

Honey Wine/Mead Making

Simply stated, “mead” or “honey wine” is a fermented beverage that uses honey as its primary source of sugar. (This compares most favorably with wine, where the grapes supply a ready source of sugar, and most unfavorably with beer or sake, where the sugars come from starch in grain which is transformed into sugar by enzymes or mold cultures.) Because the sugar content in honey is readily available, making mead is much easier to make than beer, but slightly more difficult to make than wine. There is no need to spend the entire day mashing grain, nor is there any need to spend an hour or more in a full boil as with beer. Honey also mixes well with other juices, spices and sugar sources, and so leads to a great variety of fermentation experiments.

Mead making does take longer than beer making. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, it is a high gravity ferment, and by definition, this takes longer than a lower gravity ferment. Second, an insufficient yeast population is often used, resulting in an even longer ferment. Third, it is often true that the fermentation is done, but you simply find yourself waiting for the yeast and suspended protein to settle out of the liquid. (If you have some sort of filtration system that will remove these “floaters”, your wait will be proportionately shorter.) Finally, if you used too much yeast nutrient, it will take longer for the harsh, metallic “off-flavors” from these salts and chemicals to recede into background levels. If you used too little nutrient, then the yeast in your ferment is running a marathon with the nutrition of a candy bar. There simply isn’t a healthy enough environment for the yeast’s pleasure.

A note on adding fruits, spices, or herbs to your mead. It might be best to have a vigorous initial ferment with just honey, then rack onto the crushed and pulverized fruit. (Don’t use a food processor or blender to liquefy the fruit: Aeration of the fruit will lead to oxidation of the alcohol, leading to wet cardboard type aromas and tastes) If you’re worried about the sanitation of the fruit, heat it up to pasteurization temperatures, but no higher. The pectin in the fruit may set, leading to a permanent haze floating in your mead. Make a tea separate to add spices, herbs, and chili peppers to taste prior to putting in the “must”, because too much of a good thing can be quite overwhelming. If you add fruits or malt sugars, you can cut down on the yeast nutrients, as these sources bring much needed natural nutrition to the fermentation.

Essentials

Yeast Starter Bottle – Small, “food grade” long necked sterilized glass

Large Brewpot – stainless steel, glass or enamel coated. DO NOT USE ALUMINUM!

Primary Fermenter – Plastic “food grade” bucket (you will cover loosely with a sheet or plastic trash bag)

Secondary Fermenter – Narrow mouthed gallon jug or five or six gallon carboy (NO PLASTIC – it scratches easily and harbors unwanted organisms!)

 

 

Siphon Hose – clear plastic tube, five-sixteenths inch in diameter and three to five feet long. Sometimes combined in kits with Racking Cane.

Rubber stoppers – (one for each Secondary Fermenter with holes drilled through the center for the airlocks)

Airlock – also called a “bubbler” or fermentation valve. Water filled – allows carbon dioxide to escape but no oxygen to get in.

Sterilizing/Sanitizing solution – 2 Tbsp bleach/gallon water or ¼ cup to 5 gallons water or boil utensils and maintain heat level for 10 minutes.

Bottles and Caps/ Corks and Corker. White wine bottles and long neck beer bottles work nicely.

Scum Skimmer (fine mesh tea strainer)

Measuring Spoons

Long handled spoon (NOT WOOD – hard to sterilize)…use plastic, glass, enamel or stainless steel.

Bottle Brushes (long ones for carboys)

Funnel

Nice extras

Racking Cane

Wine Thief (turkey baster) – use a new one to draw off a small sample to test.

Hydrometer and acid testing equipment

Miscellaneous Points to Note

When Racking/Siphoning the Mead minimize splashing by directing the liquid flow gently down the sides of the container. Introduction of too much oxygen in this process can introduce microorganisms that can turn your mead into vinegar!

Unless you are using a siphon pump that works with creating pressure with a plunger mechanism, the siphoning process is started by sucking on one end of the hose and then quickly placing it into the second (or third) fermenting container (usually a carboy). Some brewers will still use the method of taking a slug of high-grade vodka just prior to racking to make sure that no potential contaminants from their mouth will come in contact with the liquid.

If you are looking for a higher concentration of alcohol – stick to the Wine Yeasts as they can survive in concentrations of up to 14%. The naturally occurring yeasts in the honey are unstable and have a very low alcohol tolerance. They all die off when the mead reaches an alcohol level higher than 3%.

Darker honey has a higher concentration of pollen, which can create cloudy mead.
Early summer wildflowers make lighter and milder honey than late blooming ones.

Sweet or “Sack” Meads will utilize at least four pounds of honey per gallon
Dry Meads will utilize 2 ½ to 3 pounds of honey per gallon. The final Specific Gravity reading on your hydrometer will be somewhere around 1.07 or higher for sweeter tastes.

The amount of sugar concentration in a solution is measured with a hydrometer. This will give you an indication of the potential alcohol content at completion.

As Alcohol is less dense than water, how deep the hydrometer sinks into a cylinder of must is an indication of higher alcohol content.

Dry Mead is about 22 % honey to water with a specific gravity reading of approximately 1.05 or less.

Sweet Mead is about 25% honey to water with a specific gravity reading of approximately 1.07 or higher.

If you want to be particular about what kind of water you use, bottled or spring is best – do not use distilled water.

While fermenting leave the brew in a dark quiet place where it won’t get knocked around. Keep the temperature constant at about 65-75 degrees.

Yeast Types

Which to use is purely a matter of individual preference but all are quite adequate!

Champagne – complements the flowery nature of mead, has a high alcohol tolerance but requires longer aging. It is a vigorous fermenter and tends to clarify pretty quickly.

Montrachet – can sometimes taste sulfuric but as good as champagne in alcohol tolerance.

Prise de Mousse – will produce a very high alcohol percentage (between 14 – 15 %) with adequate nutrients added. Like Champagne yeast it will produce a slightly sparkling wine.

Epernay 2 – Lower alcohol tolerance, but tends to produce a more floral/fruit flavor.

Tokay – needs higher fermenting temperatures (greater than 80 degrees) and produces a more acidic tasting mead.

Wine Yeast – very consistent, used as frequently (if not more) than champagne yeasts.

Nutrients

The nutrients in Yeast Energizers usually include potassium, phosphorous and nitrogen. Use approximately one teaspoon per gallon. Honey, especially when diluted, lacks sufficient nutrients to maintain healthy yeast activity. Some Non chemical sources are:
a. raisins – a handful per gallon

b. bee pollen – 1 to 5 tablespoons per gallon

c. crushed bee larvae (for you adventurous types!)

Acid Mixes

Neutral Ph is measured at .7. A measurement of less than .7 indicates a more acid brew (which can determine degree of sweetness) while a measurement of more than .7 is considered a more basic brew.

The Basic Process in a Nutshell

I. The Yeast Starter

Create the Yeast Starter at least 12 hours before you want to introduce it into the “must” to allow the yeast time to become activated. You will need the following:

one small, sterile, long necked, empty glass bottle

a funnel

one individual sized can of room temperature fruit juice

one package of the fermenting yeast of your choice

sterile cotton

Using the funnel, pour a small amount of fruit juice into the bottle (fill about 1/3rd full). Do not let any liquid touch the inside of the bottleneck if possible (can contaminate the mixture).

Still using the funnel, pour in the yeast – use a small amount of the fruit juice to wash down any yeast cells clinging to the funnel.

Swirl gently to aerate (introduce oxygen).

Stopper the bottle loosely with sterile cotton, put it somewhere warm and let it work.

When the yeast is fermenting vigorously (usually within 12 hours – it will have a substantial foam layer over the liquid) pour directly into prepared room temperature must.

II. Sterilizing the Must (two different processes – chemical or “boiling”)

Proponents of chemicals say that boiling the mixture (if not done properly) can take away some of the aroma and flavor of the mead.

With the chemical process you add sulfites to the “must”. You can use sodium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfate, or Campden tablets – to name a few.

Make sure the must stand for at least 12 hours after sulfite treatment before inoculating with wine yeast.

A good rule of thumb is to use either two crushed Campden tablets per gallon or 1/3 teaspoon sulfite per 5 gallons. However, specific recipes may modify these amounts from time to time.

With the “boiling” method – heat the must to 145 degrees (use a candy thermometer to determine temperature and maintain this degree of heat for 22 minutes (as mentioned earlier, higher temperatures are said to kill the aroma and negatively impact taste – I never take it to a rolling boil and watch the temperature closely).

Do not use all the water – just a couple of quarts to dilute the honey.

Skim the rising froth with a very fine mesh strainer. If the froth becomes yellowish – it is a sign that the temperature is too high – reduce the heat.

Cool quickly (either in the refrigerator or an ice water bath). Get the temperature of the “must” to read between 75-80 degrees BEFORE introducing the yeast.

III. Primary Fermentation

Using a fine mesh strainer and a funnel, pour the must into a primary fermentation container (a wide mouth bucket works best – make sure it is large enough to hold several gallons of “must”). Cover the top loosely with a plastic garbage bag.

Swirl the mixture vigorously to aerate and start the process “cooking” – it requires oxygen to work. Be a shameless agitator and mix well. Within a few hours the brew will begin to work and froth vigorously.

Using the fine mesh strainer (always sterilize it before use) – skim the top foam off daily. After a few days the fermentation will slow and the foam will recede.

Note here that some individuals will rack directly into a container with a fermentation cap – in this instance the must would sit in the primary stage for four to five weeks.

IV. Secondary Fermentation (can be repeated a third time should you want to remove more sediment prior to bottling). This stage of the fermentation is anaerobic (carried out in the absence of oxygen)

Using a siphon hose, rack the must into a five-gallon carboy (or smaller – I’ve gone to using three gallon ones to save my back!) – leaving behind as much sediment as possible with each transfer into new containers and fit the mouth of the carboy with a rubber stopper and an airlock.

To make the transfer easiest, put the old carboy higher up than the new container/carboy so that the siphon can utilize gravity as much as possible when transferring the brew. Minimize the amount of air space in each container as you rack the brew into it.

Ideally, this stage of active fermentation should be completed within three to six weeks – but in some cases the mead will, in fact, continue to ferment for several months. Fermentation continues as long as the bubbles rise to the surface (you will also observe escaping gas from the air lock). The frequency of the “glubs” in the water of the air lock indicates the vigor of the fermentation.

Rack the brew off the sediment once a month during both active fermentation and subsequent clarification.

When all visible fermentation has ceased for at least a week, you can assume that the fermentation is complete – that is, all the available sugar has been converted into alcohol (a hydrometer can indicate this – low alcohol content, and taste – overly sweet, can indicate “stuck fermentation” – the yeast stopped working too early…there are ways to kick start it again but we won’t go into those here.

If the brew still seems a bit cloudy you can add either 1 ½ tsp of bentonite (clay) or cooked Irish Moss directly into the liquid.

V. Rack and Bottle                                

When the mead is clear (you can read a newspaper through the mix if you hold one up behind the carboy), rack/siphon into bottles, cork and age. Here is a definite personal preference point – some purists say mead should sit in the bottle at least a year, however, I bottled a Ginger Mead batch up after approximately a two month process and it tasted absolutely wonderful only two months after bottling. I must admit it got better with age.

Sterilize the bottles just prior to use. Do not wipe them off until after capped or corked to keep from potentially contaminating the brew.

Sample the mixture with the Turkey baster/wine thief. If it is not sweet enough to suit you – add approximately two more pounds of honey to four gallons of mead. Warm the honey to 145 degrees for 20 minutes approximately in a little water and add in directly – no cooling needed. (you don’t have to worry about scalding any live yeast at this point.)  But do be sure you’ve done your best to kill the natural yeasts in the honey as a secondary fermentation can set in and turn your nice bottles into sticky cork hurling projectile weapons (again, voice of experience here).

Boil caps and washers in water approximately five minutes. Soak corks in water prior to use <note, buy good quality bottle corks as they can go a bit “funky” if you try to save money by working with used or cheaply manufactured ones and ruin your bottle of mead>. Always sterilize more than you need – you will mess up capping the bottles more than once (trust me on this one). Clean bottles with bleach (2 Tablespoons bleach to a gallon of water or ¼ cup to five gallons) and hot water – rinse out well and place on rack to drain.

Label your bottles after capping or corking with the type of mead and the date. Capped shelf life is approximately two years (improving over first year and then stabilizing over second year).

Tannins

Help the brew work more efficiently. Binds the protein in the honey and rides it out of solution. (Protein Binding is the most desirable method of clarifying mead). Gives the mead an astringency/punch.

Naturally occurring sources are:

a. black tea

b. stems and leaves of edible plants

c. some fruit skins

Prepackaged powdered tannin is usually derived from grape skins. Use approximately ¼ teaspoon per gallon. Recipes that use very light delicate honeys; hops, herbs or fruits normally do not call for tannin (but that is not a hard and fast rule).

Building the Recipes

Melomels (fruit additives) – easiest to make and take the least amount of time to finish out. Mash fruit coarsely, pour juice directly into and suspend pulp in muslin bags. Aging – improves with age (1 – 7 years). Using stronger honeys make brew much better with more age. Note that some people leave their mead on the sediment (without racking to second and third containers) for the entire fermentation process. There is no one “right” way to do this!

Metheglins (herbs or spice additives) – the mixed/ground up herbs and spices are called the “gruit”. They are placed in muslin bags and steeped directly in the must for no more than 24 hours. Remove the bag and discard the soaked herbs and spices to prevent astringent after tastes from forming.

Rhodamels (flower additives) – use ONLY the petals of fully bloomed, non pesticide sprayed flowers. Rinse in cool water. Pour boiling water over the petals and let stand for one to four days. Strain and discard petals. Repeat this process with fresh batches of petals for a stronger flavor. Note – some flowers are stronger than others – (i.e.) use only 3 to 5 elderflower heads per gallon – gives a very nice creamy finish to the final mead flavor.

Rhizamels (vegetable additives). Prepared like the Metheglins. Usually include the use of carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes or parsnips. Sounds like an alcoholic V8 drink!

Some nice flavor combinations to consider (feel free to contact us for specific recipes!)
Blueberry/Ginger
Pomegranate/Elderflower
Chocolate/Orange
Chocolate/Raspberry
Chocolate/Mint (like an alcoholic York Peppermint Patty)
Chocolate/Cinnamon/Chili Pepper (Mayan inspired!)
Apple/Lavender/Chamomile

Some Measurements to consider

  • 1 pint = 2 cups or 16 ounces or 500 ml
  • 1 quart = 2 pints
  • 1 gallon of honey = 12 liquid pounds – (the ratio of pounds of honey to gallons of mead is useful if you are wanting to determine whether your mead will be dry or sweet once fermentation is completed.)
  • Grolsch snap on bottles hold a full pint
  • Long neck bottles hold slightly less – aver. About 12 ounces
  • A typical wine bottle will hold about one and a half pints/750 ml

Reference Material
The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing – Charlie Papzian ISBN 0-380-76366-4 (while not technically “new” anymore, it is still a very decent compilation of home brewing techniques, tips, etc.)

Mad about Mead – Nectar of the Gods – Pamela Spence ISBN 1-56718-683-1

 

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