When can I bottle?
Once your wine is completely clear, fallen bright, clarified, etc.; the fermentation has stopped and you have sweetened it to your liking if you are going to, it is ready to bottle. At minimum, this is six months from pitching. If you have a hydrometer, it is easy to tell when the fermentation is completed because the specific gravity will be 1.000 or below. If you do not have a hydrometer, I will frown at you. Get a hydrometer! But, if you are just making a first batch and don’t have one, make sure there are no bubbles, and there have not been any since your last racking (you are racking every three months, right?). You can also taste the mead. If it does not have much kick and tastes very sweet, your fermentation may be stuck. If you taste the alcohol and little to no residual sweetness, it is probably finished. It is really hard to know, though, without a hydrometer. Seriously, get a hydrometer. The rule of thumb for clarification is that your mead is done when you can read through it (this doesn’t work so well for very dark meads, but you can still sort of tell). Thus, the picture on my homepage of my meads in front of print pages. However, you will still not know if it is completely dry and I would recommend stabilizing with potassium metabisulfite and potassium sorbate. To stabilize one gallon, I use 1/4 t of “meta” and 3/4 t sorbate. I might be able to use less, but I often backsweeten and don’t want to take any chances of refermentation once bottled.
Type of bottle for storage:
There are many options for the home meadmaker when it comes to bottling and storage of mead. I have screw tops for my gallon carboys and could technically just screw those on and store the mead that way. However, I don’t trust those tops and choose to bottle my mead. Each gallon produces 4 bottles of 750 ml and at least one bottle of 375 ml. Plus, having it bottled, corked, shrinkwrapped, with homemade labels on it makes it look cool. You can buy new bottles from brewing supply stores. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but that will be a discussion in another post. I usually use recycled bottles. I gather bottles from friends, soak them in a bit of bleach water. Scrape the labels off, then clean the area with some odorless mineral spirits, wash it and store it for future use (although I have heard of a way to soak them off with vegetable oil, I haven’t tried that yet). Once it is time to bottle, I rewash and sanitize (especially if it has been stored for some time. Then it is ready to bottle. The upside of this is it recycles material and it’s free (other than the energy it takes to clean them). Plus, I have received some really cool bottles I never would have bought myself. The downside is all the bottles are different shapes, sizes and colors. I try to find bottles that match, or closely match for each batch of mead for uniformity.
How do I get the mead in the bottle?
You can use your siphon for filling bottles from your carboy. You can find a clip that goes on the hose to stop the flow of mead to make this process easier. However, the couple of times I have tried this, I got mead everywhere and had really sticky bottles. Therefore, I rack my mead into a bucket with a spigot. This also makes it easy for me to fill the hydrometer tube, test for pH, add stabilizers, etc. I then slooowwwlly fill the wine bottles from the spigot. You don’t want to splash it too much or fill too fast as you can easily create a sticky mess or introduce too much oxygen into the mead. Remember, oxygen is the enemy at this point.
Sealing the bottle:
Corks. Oi, that is a whole other post. Whatever kind of cork you choose, you will need a corker. I use a Portuguese Double Lever Corker. I have heard of people successfully using a rubber mallet to hammer the things in, but that can be a disaster. And I can’t afford a floor corker, nor do I bottle so many at a time to make the cost worth it. I have used a variety of corks and like the synthetic ones best (Nomacork I think works well, I am not paid to say that). Each cork type has its own pros and cons, but like I said, that is another topic. I soak my corks in sanitizer then set them in the bottle slightly damp. That helps them slide in, in my opinion. If using bleach, be sure to rinse them well. I now use StarSan, and I can take them right from the sanitizer and put them in the bottle still wet, although I usually rinse them off anyway. I then use the PVC shrink cap to give the bottle a nice finish and protect the cork from dust. The different colors also give me a hint as to what mead it is because I write down the color in my journal. This helps if you have racks of bottled meads and are looking for one in particular. If you are using real cork and storing your mead in a basement or other damp place, I would recommend sealing with wax or a PVC shrink wrap to help keep the bugs out that like to eat through cork.