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A Slice of Humble Pie

Every now and again you realize how much you still have left to learn. But you know what, we only learn through experience, and in that light, nothing should taste better than a genuine slide of humble pie.

The Story

The plan for today was to bottle three mead recipes that have been aging for a while (think greater than a year), two in half gallon carboys and one in a one gallon carboy. I wanted to try something differently though. The last few times I have racked or bottled, by the end of the process I am fed up with the time it takes to get the job done. My racking tube has degraded over the years (I’m only on my second one), so I thought it would be a good idea to go pick one up.*

In the dearth of civilization that is Southern Maryland,** there is a single homebrew shop within regular commuting distance, Danny’s Homebrew. Danny is an all-around fantastic guy, and offers great prices through his quarterly truck orders, but I didn’t want to deal with waiting until the shop was open for a simple purchase like tubing. I figured Lowes would have it stocked on the shelves.

It was rather easy to find the plumbing section, and subsequently the plain clear tubing used for racking. Lowes had three sizes available, 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″ clear vinyl tubing. In the back of my mind, I knew I had read discussions about ensuring the tube size you get matches your equipment, but I was in a hurry this morning to get started, and didn’t measure what I had at home before leaving. 1/4″ tubing was obviously too small, and 1/2″ was likewise obviously too large. 3/8″ tubing it was going to have to be!

So I get home after purchasing my shiny new $8, 3/8″ tube, and of course it isn’t the same size tube as I have been using. I figured I might as well try it anyway. I usually have to cut off an inch of tube after attaching to the canes in the first place because the fit is so tight I can’t get it off.

So I clean up the brewing space, wash the dishes and clear the kitchen counter, inventory everything I need for the job today, and sanitize away. After attaching everything, moving my bottles into position, and rinsing the bottle caps, I start the siphon.

At first it seems to work, but as soon as I stop pumping, the flow immediately stops. Bubbles are forming around both ends of the tube where it connects to the racking and bottling canes. This of course points to a leak in the equipment.

Not having any nice hose clamps handy (and they’d probably break the canes anyway), I tried to tape the edges as close to shut as I could. No dice. I still can’t rack properly.

So after 20 minutes of fumbling around with the tubes, I finally give up, but not until I’ve already transferred half of the carboy contents into bottles and a spare carboy I used for getting the siphon started.***

Alas, I am forced to pour everything into the new carboy, as I didn’t want to leave massive headspace in the original carboy. And the 1.5 bottles I had didn’t seem like they were worth bottling alone. Now everything is in a new 1/2 gallon carboy, with additional headspace and significant oxidation likely to occur. Oh well, here’s to hoping it takes on sherry notes, and not wet cardboard!

The Lesson

The two most common sizes for homebrew equipment are 5/16″ and 3/8″ tubing, and getting the wrong size can prove disastrous. You can’t shove a 5/16″ tube onto a 3/8″ cane, and shoving a 3/8″ tube onto a 5/16″ cane doesn’t seal properly to create a vacuum inside the tube. Make sure to know your equipment sizes the next time you head to the store to get tubing. It will save you a headache, and ensure you racking or bottling plans go smoothly.


* Over time, vinyl tubing degrades. This increases the drag inside the tubing, slowing the flow of mead through the tube.

** In all actuality, I really like Southern Maryland. But this is a rant, and during a rant, calling the state of industry in Southern Maryland a dearth of civilization seems appropriate.

*** I have made a modification to my racking process to avoid auto-siphon as I find these usually require two people. I’ll note this as another blog post topic for later.

Fermentation Temperature Control

Fermentation Temperature Control Options
Fermentation Temperature Control Options

With the coming of spring (and hotter days), fermentation temperature control is once again an important issue. As I mentioned previously in the Analyzing Mead Recipes post, whatever yeast you choose for your fermentation likely has an ideal temperature range. Some yeasts are better than others operating outside their temperature range, but in general, it is best to find the right temperature and stick there. At our household, winter provides an ideal temperature setting for fermentation, as we keep the house in the mid 60s. This is right in the middle of many mead yeasts ranges. Unfortunately in summer our house often climbs into the 80s, well above the temperature range of most yeast types. This requires creative action to manage your temperatures and maximize their flavor contributions. Here are a few common ways to accomplish this.

The Fermentation Fridge

Using a temperature controller with a refrigeration unit to keep mead cool.
Using a temperature controller with a refrigeration unit to keep mead cool.

If you are a member of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), or frequent their website, you might have seen a recent article on a fastastic homebrew setup for controlling temperatures. Most may not be able to afford a setup this elaborate, but this is a good example of how refrigeration can be used to control temperatures. In an ideal world, at TBM we would be using a similar setup to control our fermentation temperatures. The only way to truly replicate a recipe is to control the temperature, and fermentation chambers are your best bet on a small scale (jacketed tanks with glycol coolers also work, but are a significant increase in setup cost and complexity).

To build a fermentation chamber, start with a simple chest freezer. When purchasing one, ensure that there is adequate space inside to handle the number of actively fermenting musts or worts that you will have at any given time. You will also need a temperature controller to maintain a constant temperature of the chamber. Chest freezers are meant to keep their contents below freezing, but meadmakers are going to want their temperatures between 50 and 75 depending on the yeast.

Many temperature controllers exist. Your more basic controllers only take the measurement of the chamber and ensure that the temperature stays lower than your threshold. More advanced controllers might include two temperature inputs, usually the temperature of the chamber and the temperature of the must or wort. Lastly, the most advanced controllers include a measurement of the ambient air outside your temperature chamber in addition to the temperature of the must and chamber. This provides the best control of the must temperature, as it can predict fluctuations in the external environment to predict the heat transfer of the system. As you can imagine, these controllers get more expensive as their capability increases. Choose the best setup for you starting out. You can always upgrade in the future if need be.

At a later date I will provide details of the buildout of a fermentation chamber for TBM, but I haven’t sprung for the supplies yet. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep a must cool enough to keep yeast happy. The next two options are great for those on a budget who aren’t yet ready to spring for a fermentation chamber.

The Carboy in Ice Bucket Technique

Cooling a fermenting must with ice may be hands on, but it provides a great buffer against hot temperatures.
Cooling a fermenting must with ice may be hands on, but it provides a great buffer against hot temperatures.

One way to keep a fermentation cold is to place your carboy or fermenting bucket into a larger container that has cold water inside of it. Playing around with the additions of ice, you can control both how hot and cold your must can get depending on your house temperature. I find it best to use ice packs or frozen water bottles rather than ice directly. With straight ice additions, you may overflow your bucket with too many additions.

Start with a wider bucket or tray than your fermenter with an interior dimension at least six inches high, strong enough to withstand the weight of your full fermenter, and waterproof. The larger your tray, the better. The amount of cold water inside acts as a heat sink, absorbing the temperature rise from an active fermentation and providing a barrier to the warmer ambient temperature. Five gallon fermenters can easily weigh 60 pounds when you include the weight of the carboy/bucket and its ingredients, so strength of the system is key. You don’t want to go through all this effort only to have it break (and spilling everywhere) during your fermentation.

Place your fermenter inside the tray. Fill the tray as high as you are comfortable, enough to provide adequate contact area with the bottom of the fermenter. Be sure to leave some room for ice pack additions. If you know the ambient temperature is above your ideal fermentation range, go ahead and add an ice pack to the tray. After 30 minutes, come back to measure the temperature of both the tray water and your must. If the temperature is still too high, add another ice pack. If it is in a good spot, or slightly lower, let it be. Check back a few times each day and add new ice packs when the temperature is too high, or remove old ones that are no longer cold. Over time you will get a feel for what is needed to keep your system in a good temperature range.

The Wet Rag Technique

Draping a wet towel over an actively fermenting carboy and blowing air across it may help prevent overheating of your yeast.
Draping a wet towel over an actively fermenting carboy and blowing air across it may help prevent overheating of your yeast.

The simplest, and possibly cheapest, solution to keep your fermentation cool is to drape a damp rag (or towel, or old t-shirt) around your fermenter and place a fan blowing in its direction. Tie the rag around the top of the fermenter to ensure it stays in place. Also try to blanket the entire fermenter, and not just a small portion of it, for the best results.

The evaporation of the damp rag will cool down your must, just like evaporating sweat helps cool you down. When you first start out doing this, make sure to check on it frequently to ensure the rag stays damp and that you don’t have the fan turned on higher than necessary (hey, there’s no reason to waste electricity if you don’t have to). You may have to swap the rag a few times a day to maintain a good temperature.

Well there you have it. Three options for maintaining an appropriate fermentation temperature, the fermentation fridge, the fermenter in ice bucket, and the wet rag technique. Do you have any other ideas for controlling your fermentation temperature? Let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

Spring Is Here! Time to Think About Planting.


Well, it is official, spring is finally here. And that means it is time to start gardening again. If you are an avid gardener, use winter to prep your beds, plan the garden and order your seeds. I procrastinate too much for that, so I’m just now putting together my plans for this year. Although by the calendar spring really comes in March, unless you have a greenhouse in Maryland, many of your herbs and vegetables have to wait until later to plant (darn you pesky late freezes!). And in planning the garden this year, I am focusing on things I can use to enhance my meads.

I haven’t talked about it much, but you can’t make great meads without high quality ingredients. And what better way to ensure the quality of your ingredients than to grow them yourself? This includes keeping your own bees instead of purchasing honey, but at this point that is out of the question for me. If you don’t already have a good honey source, go check out the honey locator to find an apiary near you!

Gardening is one of my most satisfying summer hobbies, and not just for growing mead ingredients. It helps cut down on produce expenses, and ensures the quality of the food I eat. If you haven’t tried a homegrown heirloom tomato, for instance, you are truly missing out. Vine ripe tomatoes at your local grocery store don’t come close. The same is true for other vegetables, fresh cut herbs, and fruits that you can grow. Grocery stores and large scale farmers have chosen fruits and vegetables based on their appearance and ability to stay “fresh” over long periods of time on the shelf. They haven’t chosen them for taste. You have two choices to overcome this: grow your own, or find a trustworthy farmer and buy from them (at the local farmer’s market, perhaps). This year in our garden I am making a point of planting ingredients I can use for mead making. Here’s some of the ideas I have for what to harvest and plant.

Collecting flower petalsDandelion_2

In the early spring, rather than pulling all those dandelion “weeds” at first sight, I am letting them flower and collecting the petals to make dandelion wine. If you do this, make sure your lawn doesn’t have pesticides applied. I don’t want to get blamed for someone reading this and getting sick!

I’d like to say I will also collect our rose petals to make a rhodomel, but I don’t think my wife will let me. She purchased a purple rose bush this year, and I’d love to see what colors I could get out of it. Maybe in a few years, when the plant is mature enough, I can steal a few blooms when she isn’t looking.


Perhaps the easiest plants to grow in a home garden, herbs provide fantastic flavors to enhance your meads. Many of the standard mead herbs may not be easily grown at home depending on your climate (cloves, vanilla, allspice, cinnamon, etc), but there are many that apply to wide ranges of climate zones. This year, I am looking at planting some chamomile, lemon balm, and mint varieties. We already have a few lavender plants I can harvest from as well. You can also look into growing hops, exotic basil varieties, or coriander (the seeds come from cilantro for those TexMex fans out there), but alas our gardening space is limited.


In our So, What is Mead? post I talked about the common mead types, and melomels jump to the top of the list in popularity. I am extremely interested in growing fruits native to Maryland, and the United States as a whole. Cider and grape wines are predominately made from Old World fruits, and I would like to test the range of available flavors native to our climate. Nothing says eating local like eating something that would have grown in your backyard centuries ago.

Last fall, as one of our wedding presents, we received a slew of native fruits from a friend. Purchased from Earth Sangha, these plants were grown from wild seeds collected in the Mid Atlantic region around Washington, DC, and included persimmon, lowbush blueberry, huckleberry, and both red and black chokeberry. I don’t expect to harvest these for many years to come (persimmons can take 10+ years to flower when grown from seed), but am extremely excited about the possibilities.

The previous owner of our house also planted thornless blackberry, highbush blueberry, and hardy kiwi. We only had a few blackberries mature last year, but the blueberries may produce fruit this season. The hardy kiwi is still a few years away from really producing, as they aren’t properly trellised. (Note, hardy kiwi is not native to North America. However, given the plant is already in our backyard, I can’t see a reason to tear it out.) We have also planted rhubarb, which although not native, it does taste delicious in pies and mead!

Lastly, we have some wild raspberries, a mature mulberry tree, some pawpaws, and a few black cherry trees growing adjacent to our property that we can harvest. Needless to say, there will be a lot of fruit gathering this season, and hopefully more than we can eat. I only get the leftovers for making mead.


Aside from the fruits and spices, the one vegetable we will be growing for mead making are spicy peppers, likely just jalapenos. Don’t be shy on the spice, many commercial meaderies include habaneros and Thai chilies. Capsicumels may not be everyone’s favorite, but are worth a try if you enjoy spicy foods. You may need to make a recipe that finishes sweet to balance with the spice, and look to add the peppers in secondary to avoid the pepper oils interrupting the yeast.

Are you growing any other ingredients to use in your meads? Let us know in the comments section, as I am sure I’ve missed a few easily grown options.

Reclaiming Bottles


As you get more and more into making mead, beer, or wine, you will find yourself adding bottles to your collection at an increasingly quick rate. Each gallon that you make can yield anywhere from nine to twelve 12-oz bottles or four to five 750 mL wine bottles. So how do you keep up with the demand? There is always the option of purchasing new bottles. This is especially advantageous if you want a unique look for your homemade brand. But new bottles are expensive. Instead, I recommend reclaiming bottles rather than just recycling them. I haven’t gotten into corking bottles yet, so I will focus on reclaiming beer bottles.

Pry or Twist?

This may be more of a personal preference, but I have always chosen pry off bottles to reclaim, recycling all the twist off bottles I buy. I am not sure that there is any proof that pry off bottles create a better seal, but in my mind I like to think they do. I also worry that it is easier to break the small thread on the lip of the twist off via continuous opening and re-capping than the thick lip on the pry off bottles.

Rinse After Drinking

As your bottle collection grows and you find yourself with spares, you will greatly thank yourself if you have remembered to rinse the bottles as soon as you finish them, and not letting the bottles sit with those few small drops in the bottom. These drops can spawn mold growths that are very difficult to clean, even with a bottle brush. At this point, just throw the bottles away. It isn’t worth the effort to clean.

Soaking Off the Label

After you’ve saved up all your bottles, you need a way to clean off the labels. My method is to dissolve a heaping scoop of OxiClean in 5 gallons of hot water. Submerge your bottles in the solution for at least one hour, or until labels peal off easily with minimal residue. If you are lucky, the residue will wipe off by brushing with a finger, a sponge, or steel wool if necessary. There are some pesky labels that may need a razor blade to scrape off the label, but I leave that decision to you as to whether it is worth the time (I just recycle them). Each brewery uses its own label glue, and some are easier than others to remove. I leave it to you to determine what bottles are worth saving, and what bottles are not worth the effort.


So there you have it. Make the choice if you want to keep pry off, twist off, or both bottle types. Be sure to rinse the bottles soon after drinking. Soak off the label with OxiClean, and give it a quick rinse so none of the glue stays inside the bottle. Now you are off to saving loads of money when it comes time to bottle your next batch!

Got any other ideas on how to reclaim used bottles, or a blog idea you’d like me to cover? Let us know in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Musings, Episode 1

Let me start off this week with an apology. My goal for this year has been to write a single post each week on Monday night, and this week I completely strayed, just now getting to it on a Friday morning. That’s not to say I don’t have blog topics or ideas, it is just that life can sometimes get in the way when we let it. I had the time Monday to write, but did not succeed. I did at least transfer some of the better posts from my blogspot site to this one, but no new content was created. Looking back through those posts got me thinking about why I originally started writing this blog 14 months ago. Yes, I have a dream to one day run a small meadery that would provide enough income to keep our family afloat, but the origin of the blog was to create a reference set for the latest mead trends, be they experiments written about in forums, new publications from the mead, wine, and beer industry, or just funny anecdotes and stories. This week, I am going to stray from a post about making mead, to write about the things I have been thinking about the last few weeks. Let’s call it musings, episode 1. I will try to keep these types of posts minimal in the great scheme of things, but if you have any thoughts or would like me to continue in this vein, let me know. The URL for the site is after all, and although meadery is in the header, that doesn’t mean mead is the the only thing I will ever write about.

Musing Topic One: Blog Viewership

To this point, I haven’t done much to promote TBM other than mentioning it a few times on facebook and talking with friends about the content. I have created a twitter account, but my paltry 7 posts doesn’t inspire many people to follow me. And that’s ok. I have only been making mead for a little less than 5 years, so the authority with which I can speak on the subject dwarfs in comparison to some other blogs (I’m looking at you, Jack Keller, or Ricky and company at Groennfell Meadery, or Paul Reiss at The Meadist, or Chrissie Zaerpoor at Kookoolan World Meadery, or so many others I don’t have time to mention). So before I make that massive push to publicize my posts, I’ve preferred the stealth launch. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about why I should say or do to promote this blog and increase viewership.

I am extremely grateful that the friends who have found this site and make mead seem to come back, but being completely honest, my unique viewership over the last month was 19 visitors, with a total of 78 visits. And I’m pretty sure I myself account for half the visits, and at least 5 of the unique visitors (my laptop, my phone, my wife’s laptop, and both work computers). My viewership is growing, as I only had 7 viewers as of April 1, but the growth is disappointing. It bothers me more than I am often willing to admit. So, I spend much of my time thinking about the best ways to promote my site and get more people to read, while simultaneously doing everything I can to not tell people. It is a very interesting dynamic. But in the last few weeks there has been some great content posted about starting blogs, finding readers, and one day making the blog itself profitable. These ideas are universal, and worth a look if you blog, or ever intend to. (Note, my intent is not to make money off of the TBM blog, so I have avoided ads, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Who wants to pay for advertisement when there are only 19 viewers anyway?) In general, this is a great site for learning about what is necessary to run a blog, how to set it up, and what to expect in those first few weeks when no one is reading. About a month back, they published a Beginner’s Week series that is well worth a read if you are just starting out, or looking for new ideas on where blogging can take you. I especially liked the Katie 180 Success Story, and found it extremely relevant as I have another friend who occasionally posts on her own blog (Random Thoughts of a Random Dietician) about similar nutrition information. When I can find a few minutes at work to take a break, I am usually perusing articles at (and occasionally The entrepreneurial topics range across all business sectors, and have resulted in me keeping a folder at work of the inspiring articles I have read. Following Entrepreneur has been especially helpful the last few weeks, as they have posted five new articles in their 2nd quarter startup series about starting a blog as a business. And if you poke around a little more, you will find some other great articles, like this one about long-form content and its importance in gaining social shares and increasing backlinks to your site (if you aren’t familiar with google’s strategy for ranking websites, backlinks are one of the most important parts of the algorithm). I have some great ideas to use this on my site in the coming weeks, so look out for some long-form posts like last week’s analysis of a meadmaking recipe. Pat Flynn has done a great job explaining the ins and outs of online business at What I really like about his take on online business is the importance of getting to the first page in google’s search results. This especially helps with increasing ad revenue, as few people are likely to go beyond the first search page results, let alone beyond the first two or three available links. That doesn’t apply to my site, but it may to yours. If you are interested in online business, start with his Passive Income 101. Pat is also extremely open with his business, and posts monthly income reports highlighting what you can earn if you follow some of his best practices. Awesome stuff!

Musing Topic Two: Designing a Logo

If you have been following along, you might have noticed that when this site first launched I had an About Us section at the top linking to the origin of the TBM name and its logo. I have since deleted the About Us section, incorporated some of the ideas into the homepage, and now have recopied the name and logo pages as archived blogs from my blogspot site. I mention this because to this day I am still not 100% satisfied I have chosen the best name and logo, so I find myself continuously wanting to think up new names or at the least change the logo design. For those especially perceptive readers, to this end you might have noticed me changing background colors on the website a time or two. But what does this mean for you?

When you start a blog, or a business, it is nice to have confidence that your branding is finalized. Me, I spent months in the analysis paralysis stage before I finally decided to just go forward with Terrapin Bluffs Meadery as the name, knowing I could always change it in the future. This change may not be easy, so it is a good idea to spend as much time as possible finalizing your name and logo. Just don’t let it delay that go live stage, as so many things change once you finally start writing and find your unique voice.

Again from, there have been some recent articles discussing the importance of logo design and branding. When you think of the color of brands, do you think about why those colors were chosen, or what they mean to your audience? Jeremy Smith’s article, How to Use the Psychology of Color to Increase Website Conversions, is a great primer on understanding the importance of these decisions as they relate to your audience. If you are marketing for men, they are most likely to prefer blue, green, and black; women are most likely to prefer blue, purple or green. And avoid orange and brown for both sexes, as these are likely to be the most disliked colors of the bunch. You should also check out this infographic, Color, Value, and Evolution of Logos, put together by Ruby Media Corporation, to get a good look at how large corporations have designed their logos and what the color choices say about them.

Smart Passive Income also has a great post discussing important factors when considering a website re-design. The Mega-Details Behind the New Design of The Smart Passive Income Blog is a great reference for those wondering what impacts your web design could have on your viewership and conversion rates. And it is important to remember that when you make these changes, if you are in it for the money, aesthetics and personal choice may not be the only factors to consider.

I mention these articles because over the next few weeks/months I am planning to experiment with the logo colors and a possible complete redesign. While I like the logo as it stands, the striking contrast of the yellow text on a pure black background bothers me. Printed with an inkjet for an iron on t-shirt patch (to this day, one of my favorite Christmas presents, given to me by my wife in 2013), the colors come out faded and more natural. On a computer screen, however, they come off artificial. I’d like to make the logo colors more natural, like the actual colors of the diamondback terrapin, specifically the centrata subspecies native to the coastal Carolina south to north Florida. It may even help with getting readers, as the dominant colors I am looking at are green and light blue (preferred by both men and women!), with accents of brown and grey-black (centrata terrapin shells are typically green to brown, skin is light blue to grey with dark grey to black spots and patterns). Check out some terrapin images here to get an idea.


And with that said, I am going to leave you with one final link to another article, 5 TED Talks That May Change Your View on Life, posted Tuesday. A great way to finish the week if you haven’t seen them already.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments section. I’d love to hear your thoughts on attracting blog viewership and logo design or redesign. Thanks for reading!

Analyzing Mead Recipes

Over the last weekend, “the best kind of friend that anyone could ever hope for” started his second and third batches of mead, and so graciously has allowed me to analyze his mead recipes on the blog (hence, the quotes were his concession to allow the conversation online). His goals were to examine the differences between two very common yeasts used to ferment mead, Lalvin 71B-1122 (71B) and Lalvin ICV D-47 (D47). On top of this, he wanted to compare some spiced samples of the finished mead to the un-spiced original. To this end, he developed the following recipe:

1 gallon Traditional Mead

  • 3.5 lbs honey
  • water to 1 gallon
  • 1 tsp yeast nutrient (1/2 at pitch, 1/2 at 20 hours after pitch)
  • 1/2 tsp yeast energizer (1/2 at pitch, 1/2 at 20 hours after pitch)
  • Make 2 identical musts. Rehydrate yeasts, and pitch D47 in one, 71B in the other. Ferment side by side and treat similarly.
  • After primary fermentation, split batch in half. Add spices to first half, bottle second half with no spice additions.

At first glance, this is a pretty simple recipe. It is just a traditional mead, but there are some important points to make about the recipe.

3.5 lbs honey

Initially, I wanted to know why he chose 3.5 lbs honey, and if this was a conscious choice recognizing the alcohol tolerance of the two yeasts in this test. His response was that his first mead (a JAO variant) had 3.5 lbs honey. He liked the sweetness at the end of this batch, and thought this one would follow a similar sweetness level. Unfortunately, 71B and D47 both have higher alcohol tolerances (14%) than your standard bread yeast (11%). But what does this really mean? This is where your hydrometer comes in handy.

When you dissolve 3.5 lbs of honey into a one gallon must (remember, must is unfermented wine or mead), you will end up with a specific gravity around 1.124. This means the mead has a total potential alcohol of a little over 17%. Using the 71B and D47, you would only have 3% of residual sweetness left after the ferment (granted, this is still considered a sweet mead), compared to the 6% residual sweetness in a JAO. If he wants a direct comparison at the same sweetness level, he would need to backsweeten the new batches or ferment with a greater initial quantity of honey. In this case, because the starting gravity is already so high, it is best to backsweeten if he indeed does want to try this.

I would generally recommend starting with a 3 lb honey per gallon of must recipe, but my friend prefers sweeter alcohols based on cider tastings, so the 3% residual sweetness is probably a good starting point. It will also provide some extra buffer to cover any mistakes if the ferment doesn’t go as well as planned (sweetness can mask any number of flaws).

Yeast Nutrient and Energizer

I mentioned last week that meads require additional nutrients for healthy fermentation. This can come in the form of fruit additions (this was the reason you added raisins in the JAO recipe), or more commonly just from yeast nutrient and energizer available from your local homebrew shop. The amount of nutrient and energizer is up to you, but if you are not familiar with calculating the total yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN) for your must, it is best to just follow the nutrient instructions. The nutrient and energizer are a proprietary blend, depending on the company, of diammonium phosphate (DAP), food grade urea, and other minerals to promote healthy yeast. I will likely cover this in further detail in a later post, but I myself have not done a YAN calculation. I have always just followed the packet directions.

It is also important to stagger your nutrient additions. Numerous staggered nutrient addition (SNA) protocols have been developed over the years, and personal preference combined with the time to monitor your fermentation will decide what is best for you. This topic deserves a much longer explanation, but for now a 50/50 split at pitch and some time up to 48 hours after pitch is a good rule of thumb. The staggered nutrients provide just enough at the growth phases of the yeast so that you don’t end up over feeding when it is not necessary.

When adding your nutrients, it is a good idea to stir the must prior to the addition. The must will react to the addition of your nutrients, possibly resulting in your must bubbling out the top of your carboy, otherwise known as a mead eruption accident (MEA). This could be a slow lava flow, or result in the must shooting up to your ceiling and all over your walls. Just be ready in case this does happen, and don’t say you weren’t warned. For additional information about MEAs and how to avoid them, check out my post on the old blogspot site, Do MEAs a Mazer Make?

Stirring also provides oxygen that is vital to yeast in its early growth stages. I know, it is always mentioned that when you open wine you should be worried about oxidation if you are storing the open bottle for any period of time. But in this case, early in fermentation, oxygen is good. You can aerate by any number of methods, but with a 1 gallon batch, shaking the carboy will suffice. Note, you will need to remove the airlock to allow oxygen in before shaking/stirring/swirling the carboy contents.

The Yeast Choice, 71B and D47

My friend chose some great mead yeasts for his first traditional batches. That said, both 71B and D47 have some unique characteristics you will need to pay attention to for them to finish successfully.

71B. This yeast was originally cultivated in the Narbonne region of France, and isolated to accentuate fruit flavors in wine. When I toured Moonlight Meadery in 2011 the tour guide stated this was the only yeast used to create the myriad flavors available in the shop. I can’t speak to the accuracy of that statement today, but it is a testament to the variety of meads that can be created from this single strain of yeast.

71B has an alcohol tolerance of 14%, and exhibits mild flocculation tendencies. It ferments naturally over a wide range of temperatures between the upper 50s and low 80s, although I would not recommend fermenting above 75 degrees F with most wine yeasts, 71B included. This yeast is usually forgiving when it comes to nutrient additions.

Your major concern when using 71B is to worry about autolysis. Autolysis occurs when a dead yeast cells break down after completed fermentation, creating in a ‘yeasty’ flavor. This is usually seen as a fault in meads, and in the few I have had suffer from this, the flavor did not age out even after a year of aging. To avoid this, you should always rack your mead off of the gross lees within 3 weeks of notices they have dropped out of suspension. It is said that your mead may be safe for up to 6 weeks after they have dropped, but I would rather err on the side of caution and rack early. You can also use a fining or clarifying agent at the end of your primary fermentation to drop the majority of the yeast out of suspension, but in practice I have still always had lees drop after fining.

D47. This yeast was originally isolated in Côtes du Rhône for barrel fermenting Chardonnay. D47 has a 14% alcohol tolerance, and has low to medium flocculation. Unlike 71B, this yeast is great for sur lie aging, and can provide some spicy aromas with tropical and citrus notes as a result of the process. In mead, however, there are two major items of note with D47.

First, you must, must, must pay attention to the temperature of your fermentation! Above 70 degrees F, D47 will create fusel alcohols. These may age out, but it can take years. It is better to just avoid the high temperature than wait to have something drinkable. To control the temperature, your best best is to ferment in a basement or over winter. You can also drape a damp t-shirt or rag around your carboy, as the evaporation of the water will provide a cooling effect. Submerging the mead in a bucket with ice could also help, but may result in the temperature dropping too low. While you don’t want it to get above 70 degrees F, you also want to keep it above 60 degrees F, with an ideal range between 60 and 65 degrees F.

The second major issue with D47 is that it is known to be a nutrient hog, especially in mead musts. To counteract this, follow your fermentation closely, and at the first signs of sulfur odors add more nutrients. Splash racking and introducing copper are known methods to remove the sulfur odor, but again, it is always better to avoid the problem in the first place.


All in all, my friend created a good first traditional recipe, and it provided a great starting point for the two of us to discuss some important aspects of meadmaking. What do you think of the recipe? Anything I left out that should be discussed? We’d love to hear from our readers, so let us know in the comments section below.

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!