This page is not intended to teach you everything you should know about mead and meadmaking. There are people much more qualified for that. Besides, if that was what I intended, I would have used a background not so hard on the eyes. Rather, this page is intended for people like me who are not experts in much of anything. I do nothing fancy or technical with mead, and neither use or understand any of the technical bells and whistles, charts and measurements you may hear about from others. I have a simple, straightforward recipe that has worked well for me (including winning one mead-making contest, and placing in another, and being generally welcome whenever I go somewhere bringing mead). I do not mean to put down a more scientific approach; it is probably better. But this will get you there with the minimum of expense and knowledge, and you can always go to other sources to learn more later.
Mead is very much associated in people's minds with the Vikings, who in fact did have a taste for it, though it was popular with other Medieval and ancient people as well. Part of its popularity, no doubt, was the fact that grapes do not grow well in the cold, damp climate of the north. Actually most fruit doesn't really thrive well there; that's why they ate so much fish. Fish have all kind of nutritional virtues, but are not worth a damn for making wine from. Mead is relatively expensive to make--honey costs more to produce than grapes, and for that and other reasons mead was out of fashion for all the twentieth century. Also, in America mead was classed with beer, so that winemakes had to purchase an additional license to make it. Thus beer makers who mostly didn't want to could, and wine makers who would have had more interest couldn't. I don't know that that has changed, but mead is more widely available commercially than it used to be. And of course followers of the Northern religion tend to be very fond of it, both for personal consumption and for offerings to the gods. If well made, it does taste really good. You could, of course, give beer as an offering to the gods, but if Odin or Freya or Thor has done something really big for you, a bottle of beer seems pretty chintzy. But let's get down to business.
First, you will need a large metal canner or something of the sort that can be heated on a stovetop. Six gallon capacitiy would be nice, but you will probably have to settle for five. Luckily, you may have this already. This is for heating water and adding the honey.
Second, you need a container to ferment the mead in. Two containers would be much better, since you will need to siphon the mead off the settlings. The cheapest way to go is with plastic fermenters with lids. These are readily available at wine making stores, some health food stores, and elsewhere. In the past, stoneware crocks were used, but if you go this route you will have more problem with a lid and with your water trap. The best thing is glass carboys--five or six gallon glass jugs. They are heavy, awkward to carry, and can be broken, but on the other hand they let you see what your mead is doing, which is both interesting and helpful.
Third, you need plastic hose--four or five feet of it. This is for siphoning.
Fourth, you need a water trap and a rubber cork with a hole in it. A water trap is a little clear plastic gismo that lets gas bubble out of the carboy without letting any air back in. The trap is simple, cheap, and easy to come by.
Fifth, you need bottles. Most people like corked bottles. If you cork your bottles you will need to buy corks, and soak them overnight before using. You will also need a corker. You can get a little plastic one that works really cheaply if you don't mind putting a lot of muscle into getting the cork into the bottle. There are also those bottles that have a wire/stopper arrangement that allows them to be resealed. You can also use caps and a capper, as is commonly done with beer. Screw on caps never seem to me to seal as effectively, but that may just be superstition. Wine bottles are good; you want something fairly heavy so that the pressure won't explode the bottle. You can buy bottles or just save any wine bottles you get your hands on. I think that's it for equipment.
Two gallon jugs of honey. You don't have to have quite all this, but it's cheaper to buy the biggest container. You really need to go directly to a beekeeper who sells honey. Honey is expensive, and you want to get it wholesale, and in some bulk. One pack of dry yeast. There is also liquid yeast, which costs more, but has not been shown to be better. You can also raise your own yeast, but just making this stuff is enough without making the ingredients too. I use champagne yeast, which a lot of other people use too, though there are those who speak scornfully of it. I have used some other yeasts and have gotten a vaguely unpleasant chemical taste. The man at the wine and beer making store I go to last time gave me a packet of D 47 cerevisiae, and insisted it was better. Since he not only runs the store, but is brewmaster for a microbrewery, I'm going to try it. You need grape tannin, which is available at any winemaker's supply store, or over the internet, and a powdered acid blend of malic and tartaric acid. Some sterilizing powder for your equipment is also good, though you can use bleach--just rinse well. Finally you need water. It is best not to use city water because of the chemical content. If you have access to a spring, great. I have always meant to try rain water, but haven't so far.
Making the Mead
Put the canner or stock pot on the stove with about two gallons and three quarts of water in it (more if you have a container that holds more than five gallons). Heat it until the water is warm. Pour in one and three quarters gallons of honey. You can make the honey pour a little faster out of the jug by running hot water over it in advance. Stir the honey to get it off the bottom. Heat to close to boiling, but don't boil. The necessity for this step is in dispute. One of the chief reasons was to remove dead bees, rotten wood, stingers, and such from wild honey, but these are not a problem with commercial honey. Another reason is purely aesthetic. Wait until the scum collects on the top of the liquid--it will take a while; then scrape that off. It tastes good, and I'm sure it could be put to good use, but I'm not sure for what. If you skim your mead it should be clear and nearly free of settlings. Not skimming tends to make a cloudier liquid. Those opposed to skimming claim that some nuances of taste are lost in the process. If so, it is apparently not much.
Once the mead is skimmed, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot, and let it cool for a while. You don't want to crack your carboy or melt your hose with the heat. Once the liquid has cooled a little, siphon it off into the carboy, and top it off with enough water to bring it up to five gallons or a little more. This isn't an exact business. Put in the rubber cork with the water trap, and let it sit until it is no more than luke warm. If it is not in the dark, wrap a bath towl around the carboy to keep the light out. Direct sunlight is bad for wines and mead. I'm not sure how much effect other light has, but keep it down. Now, add the yeast. First dump the yeast into a large glass of warm water and stir a little, then let it sit a while to get well dissolved. Pour the yeast water into the carboy. Place the carboy someplace dark and preferably a little cool. It may start to work slowly, or it may take off with a rush, so keep a close eye on it for a few days. If it works violently enough, it can push the water trap out. You need to keep air away from your mead to avoid wild yeasts that may give it a bad taste. If your trap is pushed out, however, it probably matters little if you catch it relatively soon. If gas is coming out of the carboy, it is not easy for air to get in.
Once the mead has cleared a little and settlings have collected in the bottom of the carboy, siphon the mead off the settlings. This is the point at which it is nice to have two carboys, though one carboy and one plastic bucket with a lid will do. A quart or so of settlings will be left in the bottom. Pour these out into a plastic milk or fruit juice jug (well cleaned), put the cap on loosely, and set it in a dark out of the way place. Add enough water to your mead to make up for what you have lost by siphoning. I have called for a lot of honey to begin with, so you can afford the small amount of dilution. If the mead does not start working, or seems to be working very little you may need some yeast energizer. I have found it mostly unnecessary, but have needed it at least once. You can tell if the mead is working by whether the water trap is bubbling. If there is a minute between bubbles, not much is happening. That's fine at the end when your mead is nearly worked out, but if earlier the mead needs a boost. Another way to get the yeast going is to shake the carboy vigorously. Some people are afraid splashing around will give it too much contact with the air, but any air inside the carboy has already been extensively in contact with the liquid, and there should be very little anyway. If shaking is the only way you can get any action out of the mead, do it as often as possible. Siphon a couple more times, once when the mead is nearly completely worked out and you are looking forward to bottling. Add the settlings from these to the milk jug as well. Once it has settled out in the jug, sipon that into another container as well. The settlings that remain can simply be thrown out. As for the mead in the jug, it may turn out pretty good, or maybe not--it varies, but will probably be drinkable.
So, how long does this process take. The bad news is, probably about three months. Possibly a little sooner, more possibly an indefinite time longer. The cooler the mead is kept, the longer it takes. But don't keep it really warm--a good flavor takes time. When there is almost no bubbling, or as far as you can tell, none, this part of the process is nearly done. Add three or four teaspoons of grape tannin to the mead, and several tablespoons of the acid blend. These ingredients are not essential to having alchohol--they're to keep the mead from tasting too much like something you'd put on your pancakes. If it is still too sweet, you can add another tablespoon, or two or three. If you really want the mead to be dry, though, you are out of luck. Made this way it is going to be sweet. Using less honey will make it dryer. I have had really good dry mead, but not often, and none of my efforts worked out well. Still, you have a quarter of a gallon of honey left from your two gallons; experiment with that.
Now, the last step. Soak twenty-four or so corks overnight. Gather a couple dozen wine bottles and wash them out, using a bristle brush, then sterilize with boiling water. Siphon the mead out a large pitcher at a time, and using a funnel fill the bottles. Then cork. The requirements here will vary according to how many of your bottles are standard sized wine bottles, and how many are larger or smaller. As soon as the pitcher is cork the bottles you have filled; you don't want them sitting around with open mouths. When you are done, store the bottles in a dark, cool place. Over a period of years the corks may dry out and shrink unless the bottles are laid on their side. On the other hand, if the mead is not well enough worked out the bottles, or some of them, may blow corks. If that happens, you want the bottle to be standing up so the mead won't all spill out. Once on the way to Trothmoot we heard a pop in the back of the car and thought we'd had a blowout. It was just a bottle, but it was upright, and we didn't lose a drop, or make a mess. We simply had to get busy and drink that bottle right away once we were in our cabin. At home, you can recork. How long should you age mead?--as long as you can stand. Longer if you have some other mead on hand to drink, not so long if you don't. After six weeks it's pretty good, but usually continues to improve a little over the next months. If you want a little sparkle in your mead, you can add between an eighth and a quarter of a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle at the time of bottling.
The process is now complete. You should have a couple dozen wine bottles of bright, transparent liquid which may be a very pale yellow or an amber-orange according to the honey used. I have gotten different shades from honey from the same source, so the season the honey as made may make a difference. There may be some who read this who will want to argue one point or another, but unless the assertion is patently absurd, I am not going to dispute it. I have not said this is the only, or even the best way to make mead. This is how I do it, and it has worked out well for me.