Standard Meadmaking Equipment

So, if you’ve been following along, you now have your basic meadmaking supplies and you’ve started your first recipe. You’ve just broken into the world of meadmaking, and while you’re waiting for that first batch to finish fermenting, let’s talk about the remaining supplies you will need to be successful in this hobby. Note, I have linked all of the equipment through Midwest Supplies, but Northern Brewer, Amazon, or your local homebrew shop are likely to have similar items available. Shop around to find what’s best for you.

The Hydrometer

For many serious homebrewers, this is the most important item in their collection. A hydrometer allows you to measure the specific gravity of a liquid, and in doing so provides an accurate measurement of potential alcohol and residual sweetness levels. By comparing the two, you can understand your final alcohol content, and understand any risks associated with bottle bombs due to bottling before your yeast’s alcohol tolerance when fermentable sugars are still present. I will cover more on this topic later, but if you want to make meads beyond the Joe’s Ancient Orange recipe and its variants, a hydrometer is a fantastic, and necessary, purchase. (Another option is a refractometer, but these are much more expensive for providing the same functionality. A good purchase for advanced meadmakers and homebrewers who know they want to continue in the hobby, but for beginners building out your supplies, your money is better spent on high quality ingredients.)

Siphon and Tubing

Last week I mentioned that it is possible to pour directly out of the carboy to drink your mead. While this is true, if you really want a beautiful product, it is best to have a means to siphon your mead out of carboy to avoid any lees transfer. Lees are the sediment that forms at the bottom of a carboy at the end of fermentation. There are many siphon products out there, the most common of which is an Auto Siphon that sucks your mead out of the carboy after an initial hand pumping motion to get it started. Beware, this may require two hands to work effectively. You will need some food grade tubing to go with the siphon, usually 3/8″ or 5/16″ diameter. I’d recommend about 5-6′ of tubing to give you enough clearance to reach the bottles or secondary fermenters with plenty of room.

Bottle Filler

If you have siphoned liquids before, you know that the siphon will only stop running by blocking the flow or removing the siphon end from the liquid. So how do you apply this to bottling? Some folks have developed a marvelous bottle filler for just this problem. This piece of equipment has a small valve at its end, that when pressed onto the bottom of the bottle, allows liquid to pass through. As soon as it is lifted, the flow stops as the valve closes. Spring loaded and gravity fed options are available, but having used both I recommend the spring loaded option for better seals when moving the filler from one bottle to the next. Again, check the filler diameter to ensure it matches the tubing size of your auto siphon.

Bottle Capper or Corker, and Bottles

After fermentation you are going to want something to store your precious mead in. Long term, you may find yourself getting into kegging because you can bulk age or easily carbonate your meads, but for now, bottling will be the easiest choice. If you are an avid beer or wine drinker, start saving up some of those empty bottles to build up your collection. I recommend pry-off bottles, as they provide a better seal. Bottles can be pretty expensive when bought in small quantities, so why throw away empties that could be put to better use? Labels are easily soaked off with OxiClean and a little elbow grease. Depending on your bottle of choice, you will need to buy a capper or a corker. Again, being thrifty, you will probably want to start with a hand capper/corker instead of a bench capper/corker. While the bench varieties make bottling day go more smoothly, the cost may not be justified. And make sure to get the right size caps or corks to go with your bottles!

Carboy and Bottle Brushes

One of the hardest things to clean is the inside of a carboy or a bottle. I’d say you can easily avoid this by just rinsing well immediately after use, but the truth of the matter is that even during fermentation things will dry on the inside of you carboys. And bottles, if not rinsed properly can get mold or other fun things growing in the bottom (be sure to rinse and soak well before setting aside!). Carboy and bottle brushes are great remedies for this. Be warned, if you are using plastic fermenters (bottle or carboy), it is best not to use a carboy brush as they will scratch the surface making it harder to sanitize.


Each yeast strain has a preferred fermenting temperature, so you will need some way to measure the temperature of your must. Stick on thermometers are great ways to monitor temperature without having to put a thermometer or temperature probe into the must. An ambient temperature thermometer will also help determine whether you need to insulate the fermenter in a blanket to keep it warm, or use evaporative cooling techniques to keep those yeast happy at cooler temperatures.

The Basic Winemaking or Brewing Kit

Most of the items above, and maybe a few more (who doesn’t want extra carboys?), are going to be included in a basic winemaking kit. Check the pricing to be sure that it is a good deal. You are likely going to save ordering a kit, but may not get use out of every item on it. Shop around and see what each supplier has to offer. But don’t stop reading here. There is one more item you are likely to need for making mead.

Yeast Nutrient and Energizer

Honey, delicious as it may be, is not nutrient rich. Wine musts and beer warts are chock full of nutrients because of the ingredients used to make them, but mead musts naturally are a poor environment for yeast growth, reproduction and fermentation. To counteract this, meadmakers use yeast nutrient and yeast energizer to ensure a healthy fermentation. You can get fancy and use the more basic ingredient (Diammonium phosphate, Fermaid K, Fermaid O, etc) instead of the nutrient and energizer blends, but for beginner’s the nutrient blend will simplify the process and provide for a balanced mixture for healthy fermentations.


Well there you have it, a good shopping list for meadmaking supplies you will need for your next recipe, a basic traditional mead. If I forgot anything you have you your meadmaking equipment repertoire, let me know in the comments below.

First Mead Recipe

Pouring JAO
A glass of wedding JAO.

Four and a half years ago I began my meadmaking journey with the following recipe. It comes highly recommended in the Gotmead world as a beginner mead, especially for those who have never tried commercial meads and are experimenting to see if mead is something you could like. You will have to relearn/forget much of the process to make this mead when you transition to making traditional meads and melomels with wine yeasts, but nonetheless, this is a good starting point to understand mead’s potential. It finishes in a mere three months, compared to those pesky traditionals that may take a year or two to finally round out into something good. And the recipe is nearly foolproof. Without further ado, here is a great first mead recipe. A big thanks to Joe Mattioli who developed this recipe many years ago!

Joe’s Ancient Orange Mead, aka JAO or JAOM

This recipe makes one gallon, and I implore you to follow the recipe exactly if it is your first time making mead. No shaking the must, no early samples. Just let it ferment until clear, and bottle it or drink directly from the jug. (No worries, I won’t tell anyone!)

1 gallon batch

  • 3.5 pounds of clover honey, or your choice honey or blend
  • 1 large orange
  • 25 raisins, or thereabouts (a small handful)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (find the real stuff, not the fancy looking cassia parroted as cinnamon)
  • 1 whole clove
  • Optional, a pinch of nutmeg and/or allspice
  • 1 teaspoon of Fleischmann’s bread yeast (Active Dry is a better option than Rapid Rise)
  • Water to 1 gallon

Gather the materials outlined last week (see here). Sanitize your carboy and airlock, and all materials that may come in contact with your ingredients listed above. This includes a knife to cut the orange, any pot or bucket to mix the honey and water, a spoon to stir the mix, and possibly a funnel that may be used to help pour the must (unfermented mead) into the carboy.  Wash your orange well to remove dirt or pesticides from the exterior.

Pour honey and a small amount of water (2 cups) into a mixing pot or bucket, or directly into your fermenter if feasible. Stir the pot, or shake the carboy, until honey is completely dissolved. Pour honey-water mixture into your fermenter.

Cut orange into eighths or smaller. If you are prone to heartburn, you can remove the pith, but it is not necessary. Cram the orange slices down the neck of the carboy into the must. Add your cinnamon stick, raisins, and any optional ingredients into the must.

Fill your carboy with room temperature water until it is 3 inches from the carboy opening. Shake the carboy with all ingredients for a few minutes to aerate the must (you will need an airtight cap for the carboy so it doesn’t splash everywhere or through the airlock). I will cover the fancy ways to accomplish aeration in future batches at a later date. For now, just shaking the carboy for a few minutes is enough for this batch. Remove the carboy cap and install your airlock.

Place your carboy in a dark place out of the way. Bread yeast prefer warmer environments than most wine yeasts, so fermenting between 70-80 is ideal. After the initial burst of fermentation (a few days after you have pitched your yeast), add a bit more water to the must (about 1.5-2 inches from the airlock). Now leave the must to ferment. No racking, no stirring, no additional feedings. Leave it be!

After about two months, the mead should be clear. At this point, it is ready to drink. You may wait additional time until all the oranges sink to the bottom, or not. Once the mead has cleared, it is drinkable. This mead does age well, but don’t worry about that. You will have plenty of future batches to wait for.

I recommend racking the finished product into another carboy, leaving it a week at the location you plan to bottle, then bottling from the second carboy. This is not necessary, it just creates a better looking (clearer) finished product. You may also bottle the mead directly from the original carboy, or pour the mead out carefully into a glass to drink. Both of these may result in a little cloudiness in the finished product, but the mead will still be drinkable. (If you are pouring out of the carboy, expect to get some cloudiness from the yeast. You will also need to drink the full carboy immediately, as any leftover mead will spoil from oxidation.)

Now sit back, relax, and have a drink. I can’t guarantee 100% success with this recipe, but it is darn near foolproof.


Well, there you have it. A great first recipe to begin your meadmaking journey. Let me know what you think in the comments section, or let us know if you have any other great first meads to make. Thanks for reading, and thank you again Joe Mattioli, for providing a great recipe for all of us to enjoy.

Basic Meadmaking Equipment

If you are already a meadmaker, or transitioning from the homebrewing ranks into the meadmaking ranks, you’ve likely acquired the following items already (I don’t know how you can’t have!?). And if not, read along for your shopping list, outlining the basic meadmaking equipment you need.

The Fermenter

A fermenter is the vessel in which fermentation occurs. Just what it sounds like, right? Fermenters come in many shapes and sizes, and for the homebrewer, are typically made of glass or food grade plastic. Professional equipment will typically consist of stainless steel conical fermenters, but many wineries and small meaderies still ferment in 55 gallon plastic drums. Of course, there is also the wood barrel (usually oak), but then again, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For your first fermenter, if you don’t want to specially order a carboy or fermenting bucket, look no further than your grocery store jug wine. You know, the cheap stuff that comes in a gallon glass jar. Some ciders and specialty juices can also be found in glass jugs. These are great for small batches, and can be found for less than $10. You even get to drink the contents first! Note, if you buy the cheap wine, have your first glass come from a higher quality product to mask the taste of the contents.

Various fermenters, from left to right. Front row: 1/2 gallon plastic jug, 1 gallon plastic jug, 1 gallon glass carboy, 1/2 gallon glass carboy. Back row: 5 gallon bucket, 2 gallon bucket.
Various fermenters, from left to right. Front row: 1/2 gallon plastic jug, 1 gallon plastic jug, 1 gallon glass carboy, 1/2 gallon glass carboy. Back row: 5 gallon bucket, 2 gallon bucket.

The Airlock

When fermenting, and aging for that matter, you need something to protect your precious brew from the outside elements, namely spoiling micro-organisms (mold, bacteria, and wild yeasts), bugs (the creepy crawly kind), and oxidation (exposure to oxygen). This protection is accomplished via an airlock. For those who want to buy minimally for their first mead since they aren’t sold on becoming meadmakers yet, you can use a deflated ballon with a pinprick wrapped around the neck of your carboy. For those willing to spend some money, I suggest getting a stopper with an airlock.

Stoppers come in two varieties, the universal stopper and the drilled stopper. My preference is for drilled stoppers. They don’t slip from the neck of the carboy nearly as much as universal carboys, which is very important for long term aging. They will likely not last as long, but are well worth the investment.

Common airlock and stopper designs.

Traditional airlocks also come in two varieties, the S-type and 3-piece airlock. The S-type
airlock looks a bit like a fancy S, if you give artistic license to the writer, as he has to continue the ends of the S to the top and bottom.  The 3-piece airlock, naturally, comes in three pieces, the body, the top, and for lack of a better term, the shuttlecock (it looks a bit like one). In both designs, the air outside the fermenter is separated from that inside the fermenter by a fluid that requires changes in pressure during fermentation to bubble through. During fermentation, air will typically only flow out of the fermenter, and since CO2 is the byproduct of fermentation, and it is heavier than oxygen, the oxygen gets pushed out of the fermenter minimizing your chance of oxidation.

Water is the most common fluid to fill your airlock with, but you may hear of vodka or glycerin being used. Vodka is naturally sanitized, so you minimize spoiling possibilities. Glycerin doesn’t evaporate, making it great for long term aging when you leave the carboy in the back of your closet for months to forget about it.


Lastly, you will need some method of sanitation to ensure that the only organisms you have growing in your must (unfermented mead) are the ones you choose to have there. Sanitation can be accomplished via a variety of methods, the most common being a sanitizing solution. Brewshops usually carry Star-San and Iodophor, but this can be accomplished with Oxi-Clean or bleach solutions as well.  If you are using Oxi-Clean or bleach, make sure to rinse until no scents are present. The beauty of Star-San and Iodophor is that they are both no-rinse sanitizers, meaning if you let them dry after applying the sanitizer for the set amount of time, you can start your batch without worrying about rinsing. That being said, I still rinse for every batch I have made.

That’s it! Well, except for the ingredients…

“Wait!” you may say. “Is that really it!?!” Well, I am here to tell you, for your first time, yes, yes it is. At least, it is to start that first batch!  There are numerous other options in the equipment category at your local homebrew store (LHBS), but to get started, there isn’t much else you absolutely need.  Maybe you’ll want to get a siphon, but again, it won’t be necessary until you are racking or bottling, and that will come later, after you’ve finished fermenting your batch. You can always just pour directly from the carboy for drinking, just make sure it’s at a party as you will want to finish all of the contents that day to avoid oxidation.

Next week I will post a great recipe for beginner meadmakers.  It’s been copied and modified all over the internet, but if you use the original recipe, you are highly likely to come out with a drinkable product.  It may not win awards at competition, but It will be a great introduction to mead for those who haven’t had any yet. I made a batch for my wedding that got pushed to the second round of the Mazer Cup, and I know of another meadmaker who made it to the final round of judging with an oaked variety only to come just short of winning.

So what’s your excuse? Get started on the meadmaking journey now! Go gather your fermenter, airlock, and sanitizer. I’ll be back next week to provide that recipe. For you impatient ones, a google search for Joe’s Ancient Orange will point you in the right direction.

The Modern Mead Industry

Recent articles espouse the emergence of the modern mead industry, with Yahoo declaring, ‘We’re Seeing It Everywhere’ and The Oregonian arguing, ‘Mead is the new cider,’ both in just the last week! And it’s true. Meaderies are popping up all over the place, at an ever increasing rate. The Oregonian cites that there were just 90 meaderies in 2009, more than 200 today, and at least another 150 in the works. (I’d like to think TBM is included in the last category, except that in reality I am years away from making the professional plunge. A website is difficult enough to keep updated with a weekly post!)

The brutal honesty about mead is that today, the general public is very much oblivious to its existence. When I bring it up with friends, many look at me funny and ask “How can you make meat?” Or, “What is a ‘meatery’?” (This is an especially interesting conversation given that our house is vegetarian…) Mead isn’t just Beowulf’s drink, or something to be enjoyed at the Renaissance Fair. But many do not know this.

There is more information about mead available today than 5 years ago when I started making it, but we have a long way to go. The mead industry is ever expanding (see an industry map here), but it hasn’t been around long enough to assess the viability of the movement. Can it replicate the craft brewing movement, that continues to make inroads against the brewing giants? I do think in five years mead really will be the new cider, and bars across America will stock it as a staple product.  Then again, my wife likes to remind me that even today she can’t find cider at every restaurant.

So if you can’t find it in your neck of the woods, how do we solve that problem? Check out the map again and see what is local. Maybe take a trip to the meadery to pick it up in person. Mead tours make for great dates! Or ask your liquor store if they can order some. Odds are they may even have some in stock, it just isn’t properly labeled and only a few die-hard fans really know where to find it. There is that long list of mead options (list of mead types here), and with names like metheglin, melomel, cyser, or braggot, only the initiated will know what to look for. If that doesn’t work, maybe bug an out of town friend with your birthday or Christmas list that includes a mead option.

Last of all, your option is to join the ever growing ranks of home meadmakers. I highly recommend this option to anyone who wants to learn more about mead and wine, brewing, or in general wants to make a product they like, even if they can’t find it on the market. Last week I posted on some great resources to get you started. If you are the patient type (admittedly not me), I will be bringing up much of the information in the coming weeks. Until then, here’s to the developing mead industry. May it continue to grow!