Brady is an IT worker by day and a father, student, writer, and gamer by night. He often writes about home brewing and DIY projects.
You can make your own mead!
Making mead from home can be a fun and rewarding experience that doesn't need to cost a lot of money in order to get started. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made through the fermentation of honey and water. It's also called honey wine and can range from dry, mildly sweet, to very sweet. You can make a regular honey water mead, champagne-type mead with extra fizzies to tickle your nose (which should only be bottled in champagne bottles with champagne corks and wire ties—designed to hold the extra pressure), or a mulled mead with spices such as cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and more. There are also fruit meads made with, you got it, your favorite fruit added to the honey water mixture. Add yeast and time and you too can become a Mead Master!
Modifying the milk jug.
Well, the cap, to be more specific. In this example I am using a 1 gallon filtered water jug, but it's pretty much the same thing. The important part is to cut a hole in the lid that's just a bit smaller than your tubing. You can see how snugly the tube should fit and how far it should be pushed through the inside of the cap in the pictures to the right.
It sounds a bit more complicated than it actually is. The first time I did this I used a Dremel to carefully sand the hole in the plastic. I couldn't find my old jug setup this time around so I had to start from scratch. Thinking there had to be an easier way, I cut the hole in the lid with a kitchen knife. This tactic seem to work just fine without the need for powertools.
[Be careful and don't cut yourself, you've been warned!]
Be sure to inspect the tubing and the lid for any gaps. You don't want to bypass your one-way valve by giving the gasses another path of least resistance in their bid for escape. This is important. If you mess up and make your hole too large, find another lid. Having a bad seal could cost you your batch. The fermentation process requires a controlled environment to protect against foreign bugs getting into your batch. Relax, homebrewing is a rewarding past-time. Take your time, do things right, and enjoy the wonderful rewards of a homebrew!
Not quite ready...
So, you've got your cap and tubing ready, time to start brewing, right? Not just yet. An important factor in the fermentation process is having a clean, sterile environment. You don't want to accidentally add some unsavory germs into your brew while mixing the ingredients. This step doesn't actually take too much time, and should always be observed. You may get lucky one batch only to find yourself with a case of the stink-cup the next time around. Sterilize the cap, the tubing, your funnel, and basically anything else that may come into contact with your raw ingredients. Many dishwashers have a sanitizing cycle, which will work for most items. But you may find that soaking your utensils in cold water with a dash of bleach and then a hot rinse until the bleach smell is gone will do. Go easy on the bleach and never mix any other cleaning item with a bleach mixture.
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Time to brew!
The unfermented mixture in the wine-making process is called the "must" and consists of your raw ingredients before adding the yeast. In beer terms, this would be called the wort. You might want to go simple for your first brew and just stick to honey and water, or you could be a bit more adventurous and shoot for a more flavorful concoction. Either way, the process is super easy and the ingredients can be found at your local grocery store. I should note that since honey is sticky, you may want to warm the container up a bit in a bowl or sink of warm to moderately hot water to make pouring easier. And to avoid using a measuring cup, 1 cup of honey equates to roughly 3/4th a pound. You'd be perfectly safe using 2.5 pounds of honey for the recipes below.
- 3-5 cups of honey (3 for a dryer mead, 5 for a sweeter finish)
- 1 gallon of water (filtered, distilled, or spring work great, but tap water will also work)
- 1 packet of Fleischmann's yeast (I'm talking about the small packets that have just over 2 teaspoons here, don't go overboard with one of those bricks they sell!)
You can swap out the generic yeast with a brewer's variety if you'd like. For your first batch you might decide to go the cheap and easy route, but even if there aren't any brew supply stores in your area you can always buy brewer's yeast off sites like Amazon.com.
If you'd like to go the Mulled Mead route, you can try something along the lines of:
- 3-5 cups of honey
- 1 gallon water
- 1 packet of yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1-2 cloves (these can be overpowering, so no more than 2)
- 1/2-1 stick of cinnamon
- a handful of raisins (I carefully cleansed and smushed grapes this batch to see how it turns out)
- Fruit such as an orange, sliced peaches, berries -- all totally optional.
You'll find raisins in quite a few brewing recipes and they aren't really there for flavor. It turns out that the yeast sees sugars much like we do, rapid-fire energy that isn't good enough to sustain prolonged life. The raisins are there for an additional food supply. Crazy, huh?
Both of these recipes can be enjoyed after about 4 weeks, but will continue to develop finer flavors with age. Many people recommend waiting 6 months for a fine mead.
The great thing about this method is that you don't really need to pour everything into a pot, boil it up, and then siphon it back into your jug. Sure, you could do that.. and I wouldn't begrudge you the fun of it one bit. But by simply pouring some of your water into a sterilized container, putting the honey and any other flavoring agents in, and shaking and swooshing the mix together for about 5 minutes you'll be able to add your yeast and some water to your room temperature must and be on your way to fermentation.
If you do heat your must, remember that yeast is fragile. You can't just go throwing it into the hot tub like some seasoned gentleman who smells like cookies. Let the mix cool down to room temperature and then mix and add your yeast. What I mean by mix your yeast is that you'll need to reconstitute it in about 1/2 cup of warm water and let it sit for about 5 minutes. I'll admit to rushing this and dumping it straight into the must on occasion, but I think this methodology is recommended because it gives the yeast time to come out of hibernation and become more active before being introduced.
Now that you have everything mixed, place your cap on the jug and feed your tubing into a container filled with water like I have there on the right. The end of the hose should be lower than where it enters the jug and the end inside the jug should not be submerged in the fermenting must.
Again, check your seal and make sure there are no gaps and everything is snug.
I got my plastic tubing from the hardware store and it's relatively cheap. You can reuse it too, just don't lose it between batches like I did. If you don't want to go that route, just get a balloon, stretch it over the opening, and poke a hole in the end. If the gas starts building up more than the hole can handle, poke a second hole. If the balloon starts looking like it's in bad shape you can just replace it with another.
Be sure to put your mead in a spot where the temperature will stay fairly consistent and out of direct sunlight. You'll want to find a nice stable spot somewhere in the 65-80 degree range. A basement or a cupboard should be fine, just make sure it's out of the way and check in on it from time to time to make sure everything is going well.
- The fermentation process will take usually 2 1/2—3 weeks, sometimes up to four depending on how much honey you used and how well the yeast hold up. You can tell that you've got an active ferment going by the little bubbles rising to the top of your jug, which build up into a bigger bubble that plops its way out the tubing and through the water. These bubbles will pick up pretty strong about 2 days in and for a couple more days. After that they simmer down and you may get a bubble every 30 seconds or minute or so.
- If you're really excited about this you could do a few batches at the same time. Try one in 4 weeks, another in 3 months, and a third at 6. Or try a plain mead and a mulled mead and experience the difference in flavors the two express. Any way you choose to do it, making mead is fun, easy, and tasty!
- I've included instructions for bottling soda in my link below for homebrewing Ginger Ale from a kit. If you don't know how to do this and would like to learn, take a few minutes and give it a look over. I don't have a corker yet, so I haven't corked my mead. I'd like to get to that point but beer bottles work just fine for short term cold storage in the fridge, and the mead sure didn't last very long.
If you're looking to share this hobby with some of your friends, you might want to consider starting a mead club!
Questions & Answers
Question: Does the honey need to be completely dissolved to make milk jug mead? And how long do I keep the tubing in place?
Answer: Yes. You must fully dissolve the honey and allow the mixture to cool before adding your yeast. Keep the tubing in place for the full duration of the fermentation process. Once the mead no longer produces air bubbles, you may safely transition your honey wine to bottles.
Remember, the one-way valve allows building gasses generated by the yeast to escape without allowing fresh air back into the fermentation cycle. Without the one-way valve created by terminating the tubing into water, fresh air would allow the fermentation cycle to complete, turning your alcohol mixture into vinegar instead.
Question: The recipe for Mild Jug Mead calls for cloves. Is that garlic cloves?
Answer: No, definitely not garlic.
You can pick up cloves in the spice aisle of the grocery store. They look like little brown sticks, and have a very pleasant aroma.
Question: Can you use an airlock made for wine to make milk jug mead?
Answer: Absolutely! This system was put together on the fly with simple materials, but wine airlocks are pretty inexpensive these days.
If you have a wine airlock or prefer to buy one, please feel free to modify the design accordingly.