How to Make Mead (Honey) Wine
Mead or honey wine has been around forever. The earliest evidence of its manufacture are dated to 7000 BC and is sometimes referred to as the ancestor of all fermented drinks. Given mead’s rich history, it is amazing that I have never heard of it. I have never seen it in a store and I have never heard anybody talk about it in conversation. It really seems to be a lost beverage. Apparently, outside of renaissance fairs or swanky wine bars, it is virtually unavailable without some serious looking around. A friend of mine turned me onto a tutorial about how to make it and after reading the extensive literature on the subject, I decided to give it a go. Now you may be asking yourself why an article about making wine is in a preparedness website. Well, for two reasons. People who are prepared love to “do-it-yourself” and what better way to demonstrate that than by making a decent bottle of wine out of stuff you have around the house. Second, spirited beverages are a serious moral booster. Imagine yourself snowed in the house for a week or trapped on the top floor of your house because of a flood. You might have food, water and blankets but a little sneaky-peak would really bring a little levity to the situation. I, of course, do not encourage a binge drinking session in the face of a disaster. Getting a good buzz on will kill your judgement and cause you to dehydrate faster. However, I think a glass of good old honey wine just might be what the doctor ordered on a cold rainy night or served with your latest hunt and some home grown veggies. So lets get on with it.
First, let’s get a shopping and supplies list down. From the grocery store you are going to need the following: two to three pounds of raw honey, one orange, a small box of raisins, active yeast, a gallon of distilled water and a balloon. Next, you are going to need some bleach. This is to sanitize your cutting board and knife. Sanitation is a very important part of the whole process so clean your hands, knife and cutting board with a simple solution of bleach (one table spoon to one gallon of water). Rinse all your stuff thoroughly so your wine doesn’t taste like bleach. Believe it or not, the reason for this is that all you want going on in your wine is the yeast fermenting it. The bacteria on your hands and cutlery will actually be sanitized by the alcohol produced by the fermentation process. However, the dead bacteria will make the wine taste funky. While it will be safe to drink, it might taste off.
Anyhow, let’s make some wine. Take your one gallon jug of water and pour out about 1/4 of it to make room for the honey.
Next, pour two to three pounds of honey into the jug. Two pounds makes a dry wine and three pounds makes a sweet wine. Drop in 25 raisins. Peel and cut up the orange and add to the jug.
You should have about 2 to 3 inches of air between the top of the jug and the water line once everything is added. Pop the lid back on and shake that bottle like there is no tomorrow. Shake it for about five minutes. This oxygenates the solution and will allow the yeast to grow.
Next, pour in one packet of active yeast. Give the solution a gentle shake for a minute. Be aware that once the yeast is added, gases are going to start escaping so make sure you have a good grip on that lid when you shake it for that minute. Pop the lid, take the balloon and stretch it over the top. Poke a couple of holes into the top of the balloon to allow the gases to escape. The balloon and the holes allow the fermenting gases to escape but will not allow the oxygen to come back in. Oxygen will oxidize the solution and the wine will taste more like a cognac.
After about an hour or so the balloon will fill up with gases and you should hear the gases escaping through the two or three holes you put in the balloon. If the balloon looks like it is going to pop, add a few more holes. You can secure the balloon to the top of the jug with rubber bands or tape if you want but I have never had a problem with balloon popping off. Now here is the hard part, you need to store the bottle in cool and dark place. Sunlight is the enemy of wine making and you need to keep your brew in the dark. You also need to leave it in the dark for two or three weeks. I say that it is hard because I like to watch my wine ferment and I hate waiting so long. The corner of the closet is a good place or maybe somewhere in your pantry. You need to look in on it everyday to make sure the balloon has not popped off. Also, when you get near the two week mark, make sure the balloon has not gone limp. Once that happens, it is time for phase two. Remember, leave this solution for at least two weeks. Three weeks is about as far as this process will go. Just keep an eye on the balloon.
After the balloon has gone limp between weeks two and three, you are ready to get ride of all the fruit that is inside. Basically, you strain all of the fruit out as you pour your wine into another container. This process is called “racking”. Try to strain your wine into the other container slowly so that it does not become oxygenated. I have read about people who actually prefer to do this process with a siphon. You basically place the empty container below your full container, prime a sterile hose with distilled water and let it go. I just poured mine slowly into the other container straining the fruit off with a butter knife. Once that is done you need another balloon as the fermentation process is still going on. If you place a cap on the bottle, the pressure is going to build up with the fermentation gases and its going to blow off. Remember that the other container should be sterilized with bleach and rinsed. Once this is done and your balloon is in place, put that container right back in the closet. Here is the real hard part. You need to let it sit for at least two full months. Six months would be ideal. During this time the wine will become super clear with a nice amber tint to it. The wine will also mellow a lot. You could drink it after the three week fermenting process but the wine would taste more like hooch instead of a table wine.
If you wait the two months and keep checking on it everyday, you should see the wine clear up noticeably. When you have waited long enough you can start to think about bottling it. One gallon of mead will make more than four bottles of wine. Get yourself some wine bottles and clean them up, get some fresh corks and your ready to go. When you pour the wine into individual bottles, be sure to pay attention to the last bottle of the pour. You’ll notice that the big fermenting jug has a lot of sediment on the bottom of it and you don’t want that in your individual bottles of wine. With that, do not shake the fermenting jug as the sediment will mix right back up with the wine and you’ll have to wait for it all to settle again. You want a clear bottle of wine here and handling the fermenting jug roughly or pouring the bottles to fast will taint the final product.
You’ll notice in the pictures that I have glass jugs going with corks and funny little contraptions on top of the bottles. These are just fancier ways of doing the same thing. The funky thing on top of the jug is called an “airlock”. This device does the same thing a balloon with holes does. It allows the fermenting gases to escape and does not allow air to get into the jug. I just bought a cork from the hardware store, drilled a hole in it and jammed the airlock in. The glass bottles used to have apple juice in them and I though I could reuse them. They look a little nicer and I can really see the clearing process happen a lot better with glass than with a plastic jug. As for the water, I use purified water from my Berkey filter. You can read more about the Berkey filter HERE. I bought the airlocks on ebay for four bucks and I got two of them. Pretty cheap and I don’t have to worry about the balloon drying out or popping off. The corks were a buck from the hardware store. The glass jugs were free.
It takes about 15 minutes from start to finish to get the initial fermenting done. The hard part is just waiting but the results are amazing. You have just made a bottle of wine. There are a ton of recipes online that tell you how to make all kinds off honey wine. You can add cinnamon sticks, different fruits, boil your solutions so you are guaranteed best taste, different yeast brands and all kinds of tricks to give you the most custom mead for your taste. For me, I just wanted to see if I could do it. I did it and am very happy with the results of this super simple recipe. Your mead wine might not be an award winning bottle but the taste is going to be super rich knowing that you made it yourself.~ Adam, Modern Bushman >