Brewing 101 Part 4: Mead and beer

This is from the class handout for a Brewing 101: Everything You Needed To Know class I taught in Fall 2008. Nota bene: I don’t pasteurize my honey any more; the heat breaks down some of the flavor and aroma compounds.  I use Ken Schramm’s cold method.


Mead is made of honey, water, and yeast.  Anything else is extra.  That said, there are many names for specific kinds of mead, including:

  • hydromel, which may be lightly alcoholic but is sometimes used to refer to an unfermented beverage
  • rhodamel (rose mead)
  • cyser (apple mead)
  • pyment (grape mead)
  • morat  (mulberry mead)
  • metheglin (spiced mead)
  • melomel (mead made with fruit)

A “quick mead” is a low-alcohol mead that can be drunk as little as a week after it’s made.  Most meads take more than a year to come into their own.  Brother Anselm, an English 20th century monk famous for his outstanding meads, wouldn’t drink anything less than eight years old.  Mead is not an impatient brewer’s drink.

I don’t recommend that you keep your brew in a closet while it’s fermenting, though in a cramped apartment that seems like the perfect place – out of the light and temperature controlled.  However, if the fermentation gets very vigorous – or you get a secondary fermentation going after you’ve bottled it – well, everyone’s got a story about the brew that blew.

You will need to pasteurize your honey.  Honey can carry wild yeasts, which will give unpredictable and usually unpleasant flavors to your mead if they get started – and you’re about to make sure they can get started.  Heat breaks down the flavor of honey, so I prefer to pasteurize it at low temperature over time.  You will see different equations for this:  basically, the higher the heat the shorter the time it will be kept at that temperature.

Do you like your drinks sweet or dry?  Here are some rough rules of thumb:

  • 4+ lbs honey per gallon of water = sack or dessert mead
  • 2.5-4 lbs. per gallon of water = medium sweet
  • >2.5 lbs. per gallon of water = dry

There are about 12lbs of honey per gallon, in case you need to convert weight to volume.  A lot of period recipes refer to parts of water to honey.  Make sure you understand the recipe’s  units of measure.  There are any number of spices in period recipes that we can’t identify or now understand as poisonous.  Please be careful out there.

(Master Chirhart Blackstar is teaching a class this afternoon at3:30on how to redact period recipes.)


  • Stock pot or other pot big enough to hold a couple of gallons of liquid
  • Spoon with long enough handle to stir that pot
  • If you’re going to pasteurize your honey, you’ll need a thermometer.  The kind with a probe you can leave in the honey water, that has an alarm that goes off when you reach temperature, is really nice.
  • Carboy vessel to hold must (combined honey and water)
  • Air lock and cork/bung drilled with hole for air lock
  • Nice to have: hydrometer and test tube
  • Might need spice sock(s), depending on your recipe

Remember sanitizer and yeast nutrients!

In addition to the equipment you need for both beer and meads, you may wish to have wine bottles, corks and a bottle corker.


  1. Make a  yeast starter.
  2. Combine  at least a gallon of water and your honey in your brewing pot and put it over heat.
  3. Warm the honey water gently to the temperature of choice.  This is your “must”.  I use 145 degrees for 22 minutes.  162 degrees for 33 minutes also      works.  The goal is to kill off any      unwanted yeast strains.
  4. Cool the must to 70-80 degrees F, or baby bath temperature.
  5. Transfer it to your primary fermenter, usually a glass carboy or food-grade bucket      with locking lid.
  6. Top off with water to fill the carboy.
  7. Aerate the must.  This is the only time you      will intentionally introduce air to the must.
  8. Add  the yeast starter.
  9. Place the rubber stopper and airlock on the bucket or carboy.  Make sure the airlock has sufficient water.  Cover your vessel to block sunlight and      put it in a quiet corner.
  10. This will ferment vigorously for 10 days – 2 weeks.  About the time it slows down you’ll see      that there is a layer of sediment (“lees”, dead yeast) on the bottom of      the vessel.  At 2-4 weeks rack the fermenting mead off the sediment into another glass or food-grade      container and replace the airlock.
  11. Continue step 10 until the mead is crystal clear.       You should about be able to read a newspaper through it.  Use the lit candle test.
  12. Bottle it and let it sit in a dark, cool place – 65-80 degrees is optimal.  A lot of meads become pleasant around      6-9 months but they rarely get really good until they’re at least a year      old.  It just takes that long for the flavors to really meld.

If you’re adding spices or fruit, you may want a muslin bag to tie them together in for ease of removal later.  Some recipes and some brewers prefer to put these things in the primary fermenter, others swear by adding to the secondary.  How long you leave it in depends on what it is and how much of that flavor you want.  Some things, like cloves, can easily overpower everything else in the brew.

Period recipe sources:

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, published by his son in 1669.

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, ed. Karen Hess.  In her possession from 1749, many of the recipes date back much further, as this was a family manuscript

A Sip Through Time, by Cindy Renfrow, 1997.  Secondary but very useful.


There are three primary ingredients in a beer:  malted grain, hops, and water.  Yeast is used to ferment the beverage and carbonate it.  Ale (widely used in period) is beer without hops:  malted grain, water, yeast.  You have three general ways to make beer:

Extract beer – replaces the malted grains with pre-made liquid or dry malt extract.

Partial mash – replaces the malted grain with pre-made liquid or dry malt extract, and uses specialty grains

All-Grain – no extracts or liquids, just the grain.  (GO TAKE Misha Novgorodets’ class on All-Grain Brewing at2:30 PM)


In addition to the equipment listed for both beer and meads, you will also need dark glass beer bottles, caps, and a bottle capper if you want to bottle your beer.


John Palmer’s How To Brew (, or in paper at your local  brewing store) summarizes the beer brewing process like this:

  1. Malted  barley is soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars
  2. The malt sugar solution is boiled order ambien with hops for seasoning
  3. The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
  4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol
  5. When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit      of added sugar to provide the carbonation.

You’ll need a bit more detail…here are rough steps for a 5 gallon batch.

1.  Choose a recipe.  It will probably specify how many ounces of hops to boil, and for how long; how much malted grain to use, stuff like that.

2.  Make a yeast starter.  Seriously.

3.  Bring 2 gallons of water to a boil

Extract brewing:

4-5.  Add your extracts, dry or liquid, and combine them completely as the water heats.

For all grain brewing, take Misha Novgorodets’ class at 2:30 – here is a very brief synopsis:

4.  Mashing:  Place grain/liquid/dry malt in water.  Let it “mash”, or steep, for an hour

5.  Pour off the liquid ”wort” into your pot.

6.  The Boil:  Heat it up to a rolling boil.  This usually goes on for 1-1/5 hours.

Add hops as specified (For example, 2 oz for 60 minutes, 1 oz at 30 mins, 1 oz for 5 minutes)

7.  Cool the wort to 70-80 degrees F, or baby bath temperature (slightly warm to the wrist)

8.  Aerate the wort.  Get O2 into it as much as possible.  This is the ONLY time you intentionally introduce air to your beer.

9.  Put the wort into your sanitized carboy; add water to five gallons.

10.  Pitch the yeast into the wort.  I recommend making a yeast starter (above).

11.  Fill the airlock, cork the carboy/bucket and put the airlock in the cork.

This should bubble vigorously for a week or more.  Put it someplace you can keep an eye on it.  Make sure the airlock maintains sufficient water.  Make sure light cannot enter the vessel – if it’s a glass carboy, cover it.  This is a great use for extra fabric you happen to have lying around.  Sunlight can give off flavors and colors.

Keep the vessel at about 72 degrees F.

Both beer and mead:

12.  When the bubbling slows significantly, you’ll see a layer of sediment (“lees”, dead yeast) on the bottom if you have a glass vessel. The sediment can give off-flavors.  You can leave your brew in this primary fermenter for two weeks, or even as long as four to six weeks, to give the yeast time to completely metabolize any off-flavors they’ve produced (byproducts such as diacetyl and acetaldehyde).  It’s time to move the wort off this sediment.

13.  Rack (siphon) the beer off the sediment to another vessel – your “secondary” fermenter.  This should also be a food-grade plastic bucket with locking lid or glass carboy.  Your brew can be in this as long as you’d like, as long as your sanitation is good.  In some cases (lagers), longer is better.

14.  Allow the brew to continue to ferment – another week or two will probably be enough for beer.

15.  You are now ready to bottle.  For carbonated/sparkling (all beers):  Dissolve the priming sugar (about a half cup of corn sugar) in a container of warm water.  Rack the brew over the priming solution and mix well.  This is going to reactivate your yeast and provide carbonation.  (Some folks rack beer one more time to get it really clear, adding the corn sugar water to the beer in the process.  However you do it, you want to mix it really well.

16.  I use a bottling container usually called a racking bucket.  It has a spigot near the bottom.  Unless you’re getting ready for a competition (and maybe even then), bottle into dark glass if you can to protect your beverage.  Green and clear glass allow sunlight, which can change the flavors and not for the better.

A 5 gallon batch will typically result in two cases of beer.

17.  Cap or cork the bottles. Store in a dark place.  Carbonated beverages should be ready to drink in about two weeks (“bottle conditioned”).

How long before you can drink it depends entirely on the beer – most improve with age, but most beers are reasonably ready to drink within 3-6 weeks of starting fermentation.


Period beer recipe sources:

There are LOTS or sources ABOUT beer, far fewer actual primary sources.  Check Atlantia’s A&S bibliography, for starters:

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, published by his son in 1669.

The Description of England, by William Harrison, 1577.

The English Huswife, by Gervase Markham, 1615.

Delightes for Ladies, by Sir Hugh Plat, 1609.

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, ed. Karen Hess.  In her possession from 1749, many of the recipes date back much further, as this was a family manuscript

A Sip Through Time, by Cindy Renfrow, 1997.  Secondary but very useful.


Syrups and Sekanjubins


“Sakanjubins and Oxymels comprise a class of compounds whose most general characteristics are a heavily sweetened vinegar combined with any of a wide variety of herbs, spices, or other tonic and/or flavoring agents. The two terms are synonymous; “oxymel” is Greek and means “acid-honey”. “Sakanjubin” is an Arabic transcription of a Farsi (Persian) term, “sirka-anjubin”, and means exactly the same thing; “honeyed vinegar”. There is no standard sakanjubin, it is more in the nature of a principle, from which a great many variations can be derived. In it’s origins, it was (and remains to certain degree) a medicine, a tonic water mixed for a wide number of usages. “ (from a good SCA website on syrups and sekanjubins,


The biggest mistake people make is to use non-period ingredients and seasonings.  For example, one often sees sekanjubin with mint, but mint is not documented in any period recipe.  And of course, check your recipes to make sure your period ingredient isn’t actually poisonous.


Class:  Lady Reyne Telarius sometimes teaches a class on syrups and sekanjubins.


Period recipe sources:  Friedman, David, and Elizabeth Cook. Cariadoc’s Miscellany. Privately published 1992.

Levey, Martin and Noury al-Khaledy. The Medical Formulary of Al-Samarqandi.Philadelphia,Univ. ofPennsylvania Press, 1967. A translation of a medical formulary written in the early 13th century CE, which devotes a chapter to sakanjubins, syrups, and the like.














Local Stores I can vouch for:


Flying Barrel.

103 S. Carroll   Street,Frederick,MD 21701


closed Wednesdays and Sundays.  Has rentable brewing space on premises.


FrederickCommunity Collegeteaches classes about homebrewing and winemaking.


MarylandHomebrew Warehouse

6770 Oak Hall   Lane, Suite 115,Columbia,MD 21045

410-290-3768 or 888-BREW-NOW

closed Mondays and Tuesdays


Some of my favorite Online Suppliers (my apologies to anyone I’ve left out):


Beer, Beer, and More Beer:


Northern Brewer:


Butler Winery (homebrew supplies)


The Homebrew Store:


Homebrew Heaven:


Midwest Homebrewing and Supplies:



John Palmer’s amazing book, How To Brew, is available online (earlier edition than you find in print):



To contact Sorcha Pre?cha?n:


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