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.
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.
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.