Modern Mead-Making

Learn how mead-makers have adapted winemakers’ expertise, and try your hand at a cherry mead recipe calculated for success.

Shutterstock/Aleksandra Berzhets

Mead is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from honey that can range from intense, even cloying, sweetness to bone-dryness. Some meads are as strong as the strongest wines, around 16 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) or higher. Others contain roughly as much alcohol as a “regular-strength” beer, or around 5 percent ABV. Generally, the stronger a mead is, the sweeter it’ll taste. Mead can be carbonated or flat (which mead-makers call “still”). You can make mead from honey alone, or from honey augmented with fruits, spices, or other flavorings. The best meads will exhibit the flavor and aroma of the honey variety from which they’re made, integrated with any added flavors.

Mead is unusual among alcoholic beverages, not just in being made from an animal product, but also in being made from an insect product. A few other types of alcoholic beverages are made from animal products, with kefir — fermented milk — being the most well-known. But no other fermented drink is made from a source of fermentables produced by insects. In short, meads cover a lot of ground.

Sweet and Sour

As in wine, the primary balance in mead is between sweetness and acidity. The pH of honey varies, but the average is around 3.9 — between the pH of most wines (3.0 to 3.6) and most beers (4.0 to 4.7). During mead fermentation, the pH drops, sometimes below 3.0. So mead is at least as acidic as white wine, which is most often in the 3.0 to 3.4 range, and sometimes more acidic.

The sweetness in mead can come from residual sugars not consumed by the yeast during fermentation, or from the brewer “back sweetening” — that is, adding sugars after the primary fermentation. There’s no mathematical formula for the degree of acidity required for a given level of sweetness. But if a mead lacks acidity, it can taste “flabby,” especially if it’s intensely sweet. Sometimes, carbonating a low-acid, high-sweetness mead will help balance it. Conversely, a very dry mead with a very low pH can taste coarsely acidic. There’s a vast middle ground, though, and most mead-makers let their palates decide whether a finished mead needs any post-fermentation adjustments. Often, it doesn’t.

Shutterstock/A. Aleksandravicius



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