A quick mead takes 10 days-2 weeks, and tastes like slightly alcoholic soda pop. It runs 2-4% alcohol – just enough so it’s more than honey water, but not so much that a long cold drink will hurt you. Quick meads are great for camping events, particularly when you’ll be there for a while.
Quick mead is easy to make and can taste really good. I like them cool to cold. It’s perfect for afternoon chillin’ in camp. You can make them a gallon at a time so everyone will drink them up before they go sour in the summer heat.
A couple of things to bear in mind: first, recipes for quick meads don’t age well. They are specially designed for ten-day-to-two-week fermentations. After a month, you will almost certainly want to throw it out. Second, there are ways around having brewing equipment, so if you’re not into brewing as a hobby you can still make nice quick meads for camp. Third, after that 10 day-2 week mark, you probably want to store them cold. And fourth, they really are better if you make them with spring water, or well water if you have a really great water profile. My local County tap water is very high in chlorine, making it very safe to drink, but it does unpleasant things with yeast and fermentation.
Let’s talk about how to make a one-gallon batch, then I’ll share some of my favorite recipes.
You will need:
- A one gallon jug and a gallon of spring water or really great well water. We suburbanites can get a gallon of spring water at the grocery store and voila! Two birds with one stone, jug and water both.
- 2 lbs of honey. 3 lbs. gets pretty sweet. I know plenty of folks like to drink mead that’s thick and sweet like cough syrup, but a) that’s not mead, that’s candy (your mead actually has to fail to get that sweetness and consistency) and b) save that for after-dinner drinks, mmkay?
I like wildflower honey for a quick mead. Orange flower honey is nice too, light and delicate. Avoid clover honey, it’s too light, and you need to cut buckwheat or killer bee honeys at least 1:4 strong to light flavored or the taste is unpleasant and overwhelming. For a quick mead, you really don’t need to get any fancier than wildflower honey, which is available pretty much everywhere honey is sold.
- You’ll need one of two options for covering the mouth of your jug so the fermenting yeast can release its gas byproducts (mostly CO2). You can use a square of fairly finely woven muslin or linen rubber-banded over the mouth of your jug. You can also use a balloon with a pinhole at the top, furthest from the mouth of the balloon (where you would inflate it). If you’re not sure which end you’d use to inflate a balloon, get a friend to help you. Do NOT put your mouth on the balloon, please. These days manufacturers put a powder inside balloons and I don’t want to risk having that stuff come into my mead, so I use muslin squares.
- A funnel whose neck fits into your gallon jug’s neck.
- A clean vessel to store about half a gallon of water and pour it back in later.
- Yeast. Plenty of people use Fleischmann’s. Please do not. Bread yeast and brewing yeast diverged about a hundred and fifty years ago with the Industrial Revolution. They are not the same thing now.
Think about it: what do you want in a loaf of bread? Even rising. Air pockets roughly the same size throughout. Not factors we care about for making a quick mead. Yeast shapes a good bit of the flavor of your quick mead. Fleishmann’s yeast gives very distinctive, not very nice flavors in mead, though it makes mmmm delicious bread. I can almost always tell when someone’s used Fleishmann’s. Only once in all my (25+) years of brewing have I had a nice mead made from bread yeast such that I couldn’t even tell. Brewing yeast is inexpensive – no more than $2-$3 for the very fanciest – and they package a wee packet of brewing yeast for 5 gallon batches. You can dole it out in portions and make 5 batches of quick mead. Yay! Not sure where to get it? Your brewing friends will know, and can probably pick some up for you on their next run to the homebrew store. This time of year you can bet they’re visiting their brew supplier regularly.
Brewing yeast can come in dry packets, wet vials, or smack-packs, all packaged for 5 gallon batches. Avoid smack-packs, they’re hard to subdivide. I find vials a bit challenging to subdivide, but excellent for reusing the vials to secrete rum or a beverage of choice on one’s person. A dry packet is very nice, particularly if you have a scale for spice weights (measure in grains or similarly small measures).
Or, you can mail-order packets of yeast from Maryland Homebrew in Columbia, Flying Barrel in Frederick, Austin Homebrew, Midwest Homebrew, Northern Brewer, Williams Brothers or others. I love da intarwebz.
- Other ingredients are optional, depending on the recipe.
To make your quick mead (the basics):
First, keep everything clean and away from other active food prep. Wash your hands. You don’t have to get crazy, but the cleaner the better. I don’t sanitize everything in sight for a quick mead, using an oxygen-based sanitizer like I would if it were a big batch of long-fermenting honey wine deliciousness, but some folks do. Do NOT use chlorine bleach. Ever.
Warm your honey very, very gently until it is liquid-runny. The more you heat it the more aroma and flavor you lose, so a gentle warm water bath is nice.
When your honey is ready, remove something like half the water from your 1-gallon jug. Pour it into that vessel that you can pour it back from, you’ll want it later.
Pour the honey into your water. Cap the jug. Put your hand over the cap FIRMLY. Shake shake shake until the honey and water are well mixed and uniform throughout. You’re adding oxygen too, and that’s good. If you warmed your honey to the runny stage, this will go well. If you didn’t, it’ll sink to the bottom and sulk. It won’t really mix, the yeast has a hard time getting to it, and mead life just got a lot harder. You want the honey and water to mix.
Add water to your jug bring the total liquid to within a couple of inches from the top. You are about to have must, or incipient mead.
Drop your yeast in. Cap it FIRMLY and shake shake shake again. You’re aerating your must again/some more, which at this point is a very good thing to do.
Take your square of muslin or linen (finely woven) and place the fabric over the neck. Rubber it into place. OR take your balloon with the single pinhole and work it over the neck of the jug so it can’t come off easily. Leaving your quick mead exposed to open air invites floating wild yeasties in, and for most of us they’re almost never nice yeasties. They tend to give your quick mead very distinctive paint-thinner qualities. KEEP the jug’s original cap, you’ll need it for transporting your quick mead to share with your friends.
Remember your quick mead will make gas and push it out. If you capped your jug with a balloon, in about 24 hours you’ll see it start to inflate. I admit that’s fun. If the balloon starts to get too big, poke another hole or two in it. You want it to stay inflated but don’t want it to get pushed off. I’ve never had any trouble with the muslin square getting pushed off. Of course, if you have a one-gallon-sized screwlid gasket for an airlock, use it (plus the airlock).
Put your jug in a cool, shadowy place with some air flow – a kitchen cabinet is nice. After about ten days, taste it and see what you think. Remember: alcoholic soda pop. You’re not going to get fine wine.
House Greydragon has some very nice recipes for quick mead: . This fella knows a thing or two. Just fyi, I rarely remove these extra ingredients before I serve it – I pour carefully, though you can also do the Norse thing and pour through a fine sieve. Some other combos I like:
- Combo 1: Half an orange; a dessert-spoonful of raisins (10-15), rinsed. Possibly cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or allspice. Cut the orange into small segments. I’d be tempted to peel it and scrape the white pith off the inside of the peel and the outside of the flesh before adding both. The pith is bitter. Add after you’ve mixed in the honey but before you’ve topped off the water.
- Combo 2: 2 Tb coarsely chopped fresh ginger, juice of 1 lemon, 8 cloves or 3 nutmegs. This combo is from House Greydragon, and the original is for five quarts water (4 qts. to the gallon). They recommend poking the cloves into the lemon peel for easy removal, but that’s up to you. The neck of a jug is very narrow. Again, scrape the white pith off the inside of the peel; it’s bitter. Also this is a LOT of clove for one gallon. I use 7-8 clove buds in a five gallon batch , myself.
- 1 tsp nutmeg. Really. That’s all.
- A small palmful of raisins with that nutmeg.
- A small palmful of uncracked pepper. Gets you a nice spiciness.
There are plenty more recipes available on the web if you search on “quick mead recipes”. (You will have to have a login for the GotMead website, which is bound to come up a couple of times with that search string.)
Ambrosia Farm makes some great short mead kits. They have a seasonal variety available. They were originally designed specifically for Pennsic, a two-week medieval camping event in the full heat of a Pennsylvania summer. All you need to provide for an Ambrosia Farm kit is a gallon jug of spring water and 2 lbs. of honey. The spice mead and midsummer mead kits are two of my favorites. Sometimes I see their kits at other vendors’ booths – Dancing Pig Pottery often has them – or you can order directly from Ambrosia Farm. They are a very pagan-Celtic-calendar oriented site, so if that makes you uncomfortable, try to get their kits elsewhere.