Show Mead

On most sites and in most books containing mead recipes you will find a plain, basic, or “show” mead.   Original mead was probably an accident – water somehow got mixed in with the honey pot, or vice versa; wild yeast set up camp, and viola: mead happened.  The beginning meads (like other beginning wines) were low in alcohol, unstable, and often tasted pretty funky if I had to guess.  To keep your beginning meads from tasting funky, you might want to follow a recipe, then veer off from there to create your own concoctions.

Also, within “Show Meads” categories, the mead is often divided into Short, Medium, and Sack meads.  Short mead has less honey, less alcohol, and will, therefore, finish its fermentation faster.  This is good if you want your mead ready in a few months.  The ABV of these meads is typically close to 10% and is very dry.  (This can then be used for a secondary fermentation in a champagne bottle to produce a sparkling mead – more on that later).  The medium meads use more honey and have an ABV anywhere between 12-14% (a table wine is typically under 14% ABV – so these would be your table wines – perfect for filling your drinking horn and having with roasted boar).  Further, they might have some residual sweetness depending on the amount of honey and type of yeast you used.  Sack meads, on the other hand, use more honey and can produce ABVs of up to 18% and have a large amount of residual sweetness.  These take longer to ferment and might need some babying along the way to not overwhelm your yeast.  These produce dessert wines.  Whichever type of show mead you make, however, uses the same recipe.

Another note about show meads is that honey is not the best source of nutrition for yeast.  It is advisable to add yeast nutrients, either in packaged form from the brew store or in the form of fruit.  A handful of raisins added to the must will not leave any appreciable taste in your mead, but will serve as a food source to your yeasty beasties.  Also, because of this, primary fermentation may take longer than a pyment, cyser, or melomel.  Be patient before your first racking, and make sure the primary fermentation is complete before adding any sulfites.  This can kill your fermentation.  Trust me on this.

Another debate I have found in the meadmaking literature is whether or not to boil the honey.  Older recipes suggest boiling the honey and skimming off what rises to the top.  I think this is a mistake, because skimming off any of the honey might remove wanted flavors and aromas.  Some sites suggest heating the honey to 1500 F for about 5 minutes or 1400 F for about 22 minutes to kill any wild yeasts that might be in the honey.  This does not involve skimming anything off the top.  I will leave this decision up to you, but would recommend the lower temperature method to reduce the risk of ruining flavors and aromas in your honey.  I have not heated my honey, ever, in making my mead.  I am strict about my sanitation procedures and use commercial wine yeasts that more competitive than wild yeasts.

The final note for show meads is this:  your honey determines the quality, flavor, aroma, taste, and color more so than the other types of mead.  Your show mead comes down solely on the honey, so choose one with excellent aroma and flavor.  If there are any off flavors, any bitter aftertastes, any weird smells – they are likely to show up in your finished mead.

Recipe for Short Show Mead (1 gallon):

  • 2 lbs. raw honey (I used blackberry honey for my first show mead because it is so plentiful where I live.  Raspberry, Orange-blossom, or other “fruit” varieties often have a good nose and will produce a fine show mead)
  • One packet wine yeast (for a short mead, any wine yeast will ferment to completion – so choose one based on flavor, temperatures, or other factors.  Good yeasts for dry mead are Lalvin D-47 or EC-1118, or Red Star Cote des Blancs or Premier Cuvee).
  • Handful of raisins or ½ t each of yeast nutrient and yeast energizer
  • Add water to make your one gallon.  If you are pitching in a bucket, increase the honey and water slightly.  The OG you are shooting for is 1.080 and the pH is 3.6-3.8.

Sanitize your equipment and rinse well.  Rehydrate your yeast, and while that is rehydrating, pitch the honey and water and oxygenate well.  Either put it in your jug or carboy, cap, and shake like mad, or stir vigorously in your bucket.  You want a lot of bubbles throughout the must so the yeast can breathe.  Take your gravity and pH readings, then add the yeast and yeast nutrients.  Cover loosely, label carefully (include name and date pitched) and put in your meadery.  Within 24 hours there should be bubbles, foaming, and noise coming from the container.  I leave it loosely covered for a few days to let the yeast have oxygen then attach the airlock.

When fermented to completion, rack into a secondary.  If you made extra in a bucket, it should fill the carboy.  Try to fill it to the top, leaving just enough room for the bung.  Oxygen is now the enemy. If you didn’t make extra, you can take up that headspace with sanitized marbles.  Take your gravity and pH readings.  The FG should be 0.999.  If you are going to bottle the mead now, make sure the pH is low enough.  Short mead is not one you want to top off with water or honey.  Add a crushed campden tablet or 1/8 t potassium bisulfate.  Let sit in the carboy for three months and watch it clarify.  If it is crystal clear and you can read your paper through it, it might be ready for bottling.  If it is not crystal clear, let it age a few more months after racking.  If you like a dry wine, but want more aroma and mouthfeel, consider oaking it (add 1 T of oak chips for about a week before bottling – depending on your taste you can add more oak or leave it in longer.  Oak chips are also available online or from a brewing store).

Honeys I have found to be good for short meads are very light honeys. The thicker, “manly” honeys get too overpowering for a light mead. I would use Butterbean, mesquite, fireweed, or similar very light honeys for this.

Recipe for  Medium Show Mead (1 gallon):

  • 2.5-3 lbs. raw honey
  • One packet wine yeast (for a medium mead, the yeast you choose will start to determine the ABV.  (See Appendices: Gravity Table with Potential ABV & Residual Sugar).  If you want all the sugar fermented, you could have a wine with the ABV around 15-16%, depending on how much honey you use.  For that, I would recommend Lalvin EC-1118 or K1V-1116 or Red Star Premier Cuvee.   If you want the ABV in table wine range with residual sweetness I would recommend Lalvin D-47 or 71B-1122 (especially if using a fruit based honey, such as raspberry) or Red Star Cote des blancs or Montrachet.
  • Handful of raisins or ½ t each of yeast nutrient and yeast energizer
  • Add water to make your one gallon.  If you are pitching in a bucket, increase the honey and water slightly.  The OG you are shooting for is 1.095-1.110 and the pH is 3.6-3.8.

Sanitize your equipment and rinse well.  Rehydrate your yeast, and while that is rehydrating, pitch the honey and water and oxygenate well.  Either put it in your jug or carboy, cap, and shake like mad, or stir vigorously in your bucket.  You want a lot of bubbles throughout the must so the yeast can breathe.  Take your gravity and pH readings, then add the yeast and yeast nutrients.  Cover loosely, label carefully (include name and date pitched) and put in your meadery.  Within 24 hours there should be bubbles, foaming, and noise coming from the container.  I leave it loosely covered for a few days to let the yeast have oxygen then attach the airlock.

When fermented to completion, rack into a secondary.  If you made extra in a bucket, it should fill the carboy.  Try to fill it to the top, leaving just enough room for the bung.  Oxygen is now the enemy.  If you didn’t make extra, you can take up that headspace with sanitized marbles or water.  Take your gravity readings – depending on this, you can top off with water if you want to slightly lower the ABV.  Add a crushed campden tablet or 1/8 t potassium bisulfate.  Let sit in the carboy for three months and watch it clarify.  If it is crystal clear and you can read your paper through it, it might be ready for bottling.  If it is not crystal clear, let it age a few more months after racking.  If you made this a dry wine, but do not like that with such a high ABV, backsweetening might be an option (see Ending Fermentation and Aging for more information).  Oaking is also always an option.

*This is what I usually make.  My first show mead was blackberry honey.  I used raw honey from a local apiary.  I noticed  grapefruit taste in the honey at the beginning, but it was barely there.  That taste became more pronounced as it went, but by the time it had aged over a year, that was gone and a delicate floral taste took its place. So, when in doubt, age it longer!  The show mead is what it’s all about!  The flavor of the honey carries the wine, and because I made it, I got to sweeten to MY taste. Honeys I have found to be good for this level of sweetness are the heavier honeys (dark, even somewhat bitter honeys), and very floral or aromatic honeys. I have had great success with orange-blossom, rainforest (killer bee honey), raspberry-flower, blackberry, and have a few fermenting I haven’t tried yet (blueberry honey, Scottish heather, almond).

Also, the raw honey has a lot of bee bits, wax, etc.  Do not worry about these, they will come out with time and multiple rackings.  I have not used pectic enzyme in my must so far, but I hear it helps clarify honey.  I plan to use some in the future and will let you know how it goes.  If your mead does not clarify, there is an app for that…uh, I mean, there are some ways to take care of that.

Recipe for Sack Show Mead (1 gallon):

  • 3-3.6 lbs. raw honey
  • One packet wine yeast.  For sack mead, you are going to need a type of yeast that can handle the load.  For that, I would recommend Lalvin EC-1118 or K1V-1116 or Red Star Premier Cuvee.  Even with these highly tolerant yeasts, you might want to pitch half the honey, and then add the other half once the fermentation is strongly underway.
  • Handful of raisins or ½ t each of yeast nutrient and yeast energizer
  • Add water to make your one gallon.  If you are pitching in a bucket, increase the honey and water slightly.  The OG you are shooting for is 1.120-1.135 and the pH is 3.6-3.8.

Sanitize your equipment and rinse well.  Rehydrate your yeast, and while that is rehydrating, pitch the honey and water and oxygenate well.  Either put it in your jug or carboy, cap, and shake like mad, or stir vigorously in your bucket.  You want a lot of bubbles throughout the must so the yeast can breathe.  Take your gravity and pH readings, then add the yeast and yeast nutrients.  Cover loosely, label carefully (include name and date pitched) and put in your meadery.  Within 24 hours there should be bubbles, foaming, and noise coming from the container.  I leave it loosely covered for a few days to let the yeast have oxygen then attach the airlock.

When fermented to completion, rack into a secondary.  If you made extra in a bucket, it should fill the carboy.  Try to fill it to the top, leaving just enough room for the bung.  Oxygen is now the enemy.  If you didn’t make extra, you can take up that headspace with sanitized marbles or water (don’t splash the water.  Also, boiled, then cooled water apparently has less oxygen in it and can be used for topping off).  Take your gravity reading and record.  Add a crushed campden tablet or 1/8 t potassium bisulfate.  Let sit in the carboy for three months and watch it clarify.  If it is crystal clear and you can read your paper through it, it might be ready for bottling.  This should produce a highly alcoholic wine with residual sweetness.  Oaking is also always an option.

*I have made metheglins that are high in alcohol and residual sugar, but not a show mead.  Yet.

ACTUAL RECIPES I HAVE MADE:

Raspberry Honey Show Mead:

  • 2 1/2 lbs Raw Raspberry-flower honey
  • Juice of two oranges
  • handful of raisins (for yeast food)
  • Lalvin D-47, rehydrated per packet instructions
  • 1/2 t each of yeast nutrient and energizer

The OG was 1.100, and the pH was 3.2. This honey produced a golden-greenish colored product.

  • I stabilized with 3/4 t Potassium sorbate
  • 1/4 t Potassium metabisulfite
  • 1/8 t tannin
  • 1/2 t citric acid
  • and sweetened with 1/2 C raspberry honey

At 6 mos, it was not clarifying all the way, so I added bentonite per packet instructions. I then racked off the bentonite once it was clear and added

  • 1/8 t meta
  • 1/2 t citric acid
  • 1/8 t tannin

I bottled at at 7 mos, and added another 1/2 t acid blend to get the pH back to 3.2 and because it needed a little more tang to the taste.

I drank it one year after bottling (so 19 mos from pitch date). It was wonderful. It was not too tart and had a great honey aroma and aftertaste. It was good both cold and warm. The alcohol (ABV 13.5%) was well balanced with the sweetness (FG 1.020), but I think I would make it both less alcoholic and less sweet if I do it again – but that is becoming more my preference. It was a great sit-around-and-drink mead, which I did with my extended family.

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7 responses to “Show Mead

  1. I want to thank you for all the imformation in your receipts for the different meads I going to try and make the sack mead as I like a sweet tasting honey flavoured.
    Thanks again and wish me luck
    Vic

  2. Yes I have started it and it’s just the waiting game now. I did give it a taste when bottleing it and I liked it, so now I’m just doing the aging thing andcan’t wait till summer.
    Thanks again.
    Vic

  3. Excellent! Do you know your sweetness and alcohol level? (FG and ABV?). Which honey did you use?

  4. I didn’t check my reading as at the time I didn’t have a hydrometer and I use buckwheat honey

  5. try davila

    Hi IM curious for the sack show mead when should I pitch the rest of the honey

    • I’m sorry I was offline for so long and did not answer this question. I’ll answer now in case others have the same question:
      You have a couple of options. If you have a yeast that can manage a really high original gravity, you can start with the amount of honey you want. It is usually recommended though that you start with part of your honey, then add more at each racking until you reach the ABV% and final gravity you want. That basically extends the primary fermentation longer, but it also keeps the yeast from being overwhelmed.

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