Mead Making Resources

Mead has been around for many millenia, but doesn’t have the same background of knowledge available to it that beer and wine do.  Having gone out of favor sometime between the Middle Ages and end of the Renaissance, mead hasn’t seen the same interest throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries as other fermented and distilled beverages.  The following are some of the best mead making resources for the beginner and initiated alike.  These don’t cover everything available on the topic, but will at least point you in the right direction.

Considered by many to be the premier resource for beginning meadmakers, this website has most everything you need answered either in their NewBee Guide or buried in their forum.  I can’t stress enough that if you are interested in making mead, the patron membership is well worth the $25 expense.  The members are friendly, and possess vast amounts of knowledge that hasn’t made it to the written press.  Even in just the last 10 years, mead has seen many changes in its production processes, and this location is your best bet to uncover the latest methods.  They even have a thread going on how to create drinkable mead in a month.  Now that’s impressive!  (See Bray’s One Month Mead, or BOMM).

The Compleat Meadmaker, by Ken Shramm

The Compeat Meadmaker is far and away the best published resource for meadmaking.  Targeted to the beginning homebrewer, this book explains many of meadmaking concepts and takes you through your first mead batch (if you don’t follow the JAO path outlined through Gotmead and many other homebrew sites).  It includes chapters on yeast and fermentation, honey varietals, and the various ingredients available to the meadmaker.  The book also provides a good beginning resource for mead recipes to try.

BJCP Mead Study Guide

I recently stumbled upon this, and was amazed at the amount of information contained within, all for free.  The Beer Judge Certification Program has added a mead judge certification to their offerings, and contained within the study guide are copious amounts of information honey varietals, mead types, and the various flavors associated with these. Much of the guide references the certification program itself, so if you aren’t into that, feel free to ignore those parts.  The rest has very valuable information to those looking to better understand the comments on a judge’s scoring card, or the terms used in the wine-tasting world.

Scott Laboratories 2013 Fermentation Handbook

scottlabsFocused on the yeast and fermentation offerings from Scott Labs, this Handbook nonetheless provides valuable information to both the home meadmaker and professional alike.  Topics include the different yeast strains available through Scott Labs, the best nutrient combinations for these, additional flavor components (specifically tannins), and a host of other fermentation topics.  Those only interested in making something family and friends can drink without getting into the nitty gritty details can likely avoid this reference, but valuable information awaits those wanting to step up their game.

The American Mead Makers Association (AMMA)

Started in 2011, the AMMA has four overarching objectives: to improve regulation that promotes the mead industry, to educate consumers about mead, to conduct research to improve the craft, and to promote mead in general.  Now that may seem overly focused on the professional aspects of meadmaking, and admittedly it is, but the AMMA also provides information of interest in their quarterly newsletter.  And if you want to see more mead on the shelves at your local liquor store, maybe consider becoming a member.


So, that’s five great places to start learning about mead.  More and more are popping up, with rumors of new meadmaking books in the works.  The UC Davis Mead Short Course will also have a recording of its first ever mead class from this past weekend available soon.  And I’ll continue to post here with cool things going on with Terrapin Bluffs, and the industry in general.

Got any references you hold dear?  Post them in the comments section for all of us to learn too!

On Presidents Day, Here’s to a Founding Father Who Never Became President

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, circa 1785, by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washinton
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, circa 1785, by
Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washinton

Deemed “The First American” by H.W. Brands, Benjamin Franklin is one of the most pivotal figures in early American history; although he never became president, he nonetheless deserves mention with those who did.

Franklin was born January 17, 1706 to Josiah Franklin and his second wife Abiah Folger, Puritans living in Boston, Massachusetts.  Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, PA at the ripe young age of 17, working in various printing shops.  By 1727 at the age of 21, Franklin had formed the Junto as a place to discuss morals, policics, and natural philosophy.  In 1736, he created the Union Fire Company as Philadelphia’s first volunteer firefighting company.

Fast forwarding many years and many accomplishments (The Pennsylvania GazetteLibrary Company of PhiladelphiaAmerican Philosophical Society, Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia, etc.), Ben Franklin found himself in London in 1765 arguing on behalf of the Colonies against the Stamp Act.  His testimony eventually led to the repeal of the Act, and resulted in Franklin becoming a leading spokesman for the Colonies.

On May 5, 1775, Franklin returned after his second mission to England, with the fighting between the Colonies and the British already begun (the Battles of Lexington and Concord began on April 19, 1775).  The Pennsylvania Assembly unanimously nominated Franklin to the Second Continental Congress, and in June 1776 he was appointed to the Committee of Five to draft the Declaration of Independence.

Franklin served as the first United States Postmaster General, was ambassador to France from 1776-1785, served as the sixth president of the Supreme Executive Council of Philadelphia (fancy speak for governor), and late in life was a leading figure for the abolition of slavery in America.

Benjamin Franklin died at his home on April 17, 1790, age 84, after leading an eventful and important life for early America.  Today, he is still remembered on the $100 bill, as the name of numerous warships, and towns throughout America.  Another interesting fact was that he bequeathed 1,000 pounds ($4,400, or approximately $112,000 in 2011) to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia to appreciate for 200 years before being spent.  Through that miracle called compounding interest, more than $2,000,000 had accumulated in the Philadelphia Trust and $5,000,000 in the Boston Trust by 1990.  Philadelphia ultimately spent its money on scholarships for local high school students, and Boston used it to establish the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

Benjamin Franklin and Mead

For those readers left wondering why on a blog dedicated to mead and its production I would devote this time to Benjamin Franklin (other than the semi-obvious, it’s Presidents Day and we need make mention), here is some more wonderful trivia for you.  On 19 December, 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

Dear Friend: — I have received your kind Letter on the 5th Inst., together with your present of Metheglin, of which I have already drank almost a Bottle.  I find it excellent; please to accept my thankful Acknowledgements.

‘Tis a shame little is known of whom this letter was addressed to, or the underlying recipe in reference.  But here’s to an influential man in early America, a Founding Father, and for those in the know, a lover of mead!

So, What Is Mead?

From a very simple perspective, mead is the result of honey, water, and yeast left to ferment until alcohol has been created.  On a more technical note, I like to think mead is any alcoholic beverage where more than 50% of the fermented sugars originate from honey.  Beer, likewise would be a beverage fermented from greater than 50% cereal grains (typically malted barley or wheat), wine is from greater than 50% grape juice, and cider is from greater than 50% apple juice.  But what is mead really?  What happens if we decide to mix up the alcohol types, and we want to make a mead + beer combination, or a mead + cider combination.

In the mead world this is simple (or not?).  Many variants of mead exist, just as many beer types exist.  Here is a short example of that list.  Note, for the purposes of my definition, at least half of the fermented sugar for all of these types should still come from honey.

Meads are generally categorized as having three different alcohol strengths as follows.  Note, these distinctions can be combined with all of the later definitions, e.g. cyser of hydromel strength, or metheglin of standard strength.

  • Hydromel (or session): This is a low alcohol mead, often served carbonated similar to beer.  It will have a final alcohol by volume (ABV) level of 3.5 – 7.5%.
  • Standard Mead: This is a mead of table wine strength, that is, 7.5 – 14% ABV.
  • Sack Mead: This is a mead of high alcohol content, greater than 14% ABV.

There are two categories of mead where honey is the only fermentable.

  • Traditional Mead: These are meads fermented with honey, water, yeast, and yeast nutrients.
  • Show Mead: This category defines those meads fermented only from honey, water, and yeast.  These meads do NOT have additional nutrients added to the must to improve fermentation.  They often will take a long time to completely ferment as nothing is there to help the yeast, and may take even longer aging to smooth out the flavors produced during a relatively stressful ferment.

The following are the types of fruit meads available.  A general mead from fruit and honey is classified as a melomel, but specific names have been given to many of these combinations.

  • Melomel: This is a mead fermented with fruit.
  • Pyment: This mead is fermented from honey and grape juice.
  • Cyser: Pronounced sizer, this is produced from honey and apple juice.
  • Morat: Mead from honey and mulberries.
  • Capsicumel: Mead fermented from honey and chili peppers.

Then there are the metheglins, grouped as such for convenience, even though some are stretching it.

  • Metheglin: Mead made from honey and a combination of spices, added either during or post fermentation.
  • Rhodomel: Mead fermented from honey and rose petals.
  • Braggot, bracket, or brackett: Originally, this was a mead fermented from honey with hops added, but this category has evolved to include meads fermented with malted grains in addition to the honey.

The following two meads really do not seem to fit any of the above categories as I have outlined them, but are worth mentioning as mead types.

  • Bochet: This is a mead fermented from caramelized honey.
  • Acerglyn: This mead is from a combination of honey and maple syrup.

I also want to mention three traditional Polish meads you may find perusing the shelves of a liquor store.  Poland is one of the few remaining locations where mead has maintained its popularity since the Middle Ages, and three distinct polish styles are provided here.

  • Dwojniak: A Polish mead made using equal parts honey and water.  This will typically result in a high ABV, sweet mead.
  • Poltorak: A Polish mead made with two parts water to one part honey.
  • Czworniak: A Polish mead made with three parts water and one part honey.
Lastly, I don’t want to leave off Tej, an Ethiopian variety of mead fermented with honey and gesho.
If I left off any meads, and I most certainly have, let me know in the comments section.  Considering the number of fruits and spices available, the mead combinations are truly endless.