Session Mead Recipes

This is an evidence-based session mead recipe template that makes remarkable tasting mead in minimal time and turns honey to great tasting mead in a week. The mead recipes are 4-4.5% ABV and are under 100 calories per serving.

The yeast brings apple, pear, and honey characteristics which works well in traditional meads. The recipe is forgiving and has high perceived sweetness and high flocculation (drops clear). This recipe works well with a wide range of honey profiles including many wildflowers.

The fermentation is straightforward and effort is minimal (~15 minutes to start ferment and <1 hour effort overall). All ingredients are easy to find in home brew stores around the world and no specialty nutrients are required. This recipe template is intended to be a super easy and tasty recipe for veterans and beginners alike.

Recipe: One Week, Crushable, Evidence-Based Short Mead, 4.5% ABV, 4 Gallons

Specs:

  • OG: 1.035
  • Expected FG: 1.000
  • ABV ~ 4.5%

Ingredients:

  • 1 packet of S-04 (English Ale Yeast)
  • 2 kg (~4 lbs or 1.4 liters) of honey (golden, late summer, wildflower works well)
  • 15-liter jug of (low mineral) spring water
  • 1.5 grams calcium chloride, 0.5 grams sea salt (optional)
  • 0.75 grams of gypsum (optional)
  • 2 grams of potassium bicarbonate (optional)
  • 2.5 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer
  • 4.7 grams of diammonium phosphate (DAP)
  • a 7-gallon wide mouth fermentor (or a second 15-liter jug)

A note on the fermentation vessel

For the recipes involving whole fruit it is easiest to add everything to a cleaned and sanitized wide mouth 7-gallon jug and mix with a wine whip. You can use a 6 gallon bucket, but you won’t have enough headspace, so you will need to be careful when degassing. Alternatively, split all ingredients between two 15 liter jugs (see pictures) which will avoid all the cleaning. Using liquid honey from glass jars (say two 1 kg jars of honey) is easiest for pouring.

Fermentation (~5 days, 62-68 F)

  • time 0 – add all honey, water, and salts. Use a wine whip to agitate aggressively for a couple of minutes or shake both jugs vigorously for at least two minutes. Once everything is dissolved make sure must is between 62-68 °F and then sprinkle yeast evenly on top. Add the rubber stopper (usually no. 10) and air lock. This step can be done in less than 15 minutes.
  • +20 minutes, swirl the yeast into solution.
  • +12 hours, add first dose of nutrients: 1.18 grams of DAP and 0.63 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer.
  • +24 hours add second dose of nutrients: 1.18 grams of DAP and 0.63 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer. Add two minutes of pure O2 if using a wide mouth jug or continue to degas aggressively.
  • +36 hours add second dose of nutrients: 1.18 grams of DAP and 0.63 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer.
  • +48 hours add second dose of nutrients: 1.18 grams of DAP and 0.63 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer.
  • +12 hours to 4 days, keep temperature steady between 62-68 °F, and at least once a day swirl jugs or mix with wine whip. Smell the aroma coming out of the fermentor.
  • +day 4/6 – when fermentation has slowed noticeably take a gravity reading. It should be 1.000-1.004. At this point add fruit/herbs, if desired, using a large nylon bag. Use the pectic enzyme at this point.
  • ~day 4/6 + 24 hours – remove fruit/herbs 24 hours after adding (6/12 hours for hops)
  • ~day 4/6 + 48 hours – two options:
    1. add 2/3’s of a 2 stage clarifier (i.e. kieselsol and chitosan) if a very fast turn around is needed (may remove body/tannin, but it works fast). Rack to secondary or into a keg 2-48 hours after adding clarifier.
    2. rack back into the 15-liter jug (i.e. secondary). If using two jugs you can rack or pour the two half into one, rinse/repeat then rinse/clean/sanitize and save the extra jug.

Secondary

  • add 0.5 grams of ascorbic acid and 1 gram of malic acid in secondary during or after racking (optional)
  • keep between 62-68 °F if gravity is not yet 1.000. If at 0.9983 it can be keep colder
  • keep in secondary until the mead is reasonably clear which usually takes 24 hours (i.e. no protein chunks in suspension). You can use a two-stage clarifier at his point if you didn’t use it in primary and its having trouble clearing.
  • if you shorten or have a floating dip stick you can secondary in the keg

Bottle or Keg

The recipe yields 16.5 liters plus any volume from the fruit. If you are using fruit, adding another 1.5 liters of water in primary will yield 5 gallons. If going for a traditional you will get 16 liters.

Regarding sweetness the meads will finish dry at 0.9983. However, S-04 often crashes for sometime at 1.000. This leaves residual sugar which combined with the perceived sweetness from the honey and pomme is offers lots of perceived sweetness. I often crash and keg at 1.000. Many of the melomels below are balanced at semi-sweet at the 1.000-1.002 range. If kegging you can cold crash when the sweetness is at whatever level you prefer.

Given the level of alcohol of 4.5%, the final gravity will eventually end up at 0.9983, so you should be careful if bottle conditioning. If fermentation stalls at 1.000 then there is 0.0017 residual sweetness left in the mead. If bottling for extended periods of time and your mead is sitting at 1.000 you want to take that residual sweetness into account (reduce primary honey by 50 grams).

  • Carbonate to 2.5 vol
  • If bottling:
    • confirm FG is <1.000.
    • rack to a 15-liter jug and add mix in 130 grams of honey diluted 50-50 in warm no-chlorine water
    • bottle using a bottling wand, cap
    • place in an area of 62-68 °F for a couple of weeks
  • If kegging you may like to scale the recipe to 5 gallons, two options:
    • rack into keg, carbonate to 2.5 vol – keep it off-dry
    • cold crash at desired sweetness and keg out of primary
    • rack into keg, add fruit juices or honey to taste (in steps of <30 grams of honey), carbonate to 2.5 vol

A Short Note on Time Saving

This recipe is designed to work with minimal equipment and with a mind for time saving. One of the biggest time savers is reducing cleaning. Using virgin spring water jugs for primary and secondary means no clean up. Rinse and recycle when done.

If using a 7-gallon fermentor you can leave the wine whip in as the top 1/4 sticks out, so it is easy to reattach back on the drill. The whip is also handy to weigh down bags of herbs and fruit. I also leave my hydrometer in the mead and just take it out every time I stir it with the wine whip. These save dripping mead everywhere and trying to clean and sanitize instruments every time they are used.

Short Mead Recipe Variations

This recipe works really well for dry traditional meads. However, it also works well with additional flavors and here are some tried and true variations on the recipes. In general, I prefer there to be two complimentary flavors as there are only a few flavors I prefer to stand on their own.

Add all fruit and herbs, etc., at end of primary to maximize aroma, flavor and body. All whole fruit need to be frozen beforehand and thawed to the temperature of the must (62-68 °F by warming fruit on a stove-top or leave covered at room temperature for ~ 12 hours), and added in a sanitized nylon mesh bag. Similarly add any herbs/ zest to a nylon bag. If using the two-jug method avoid whole fruit and use fruit juices or variants with herbs.

  • Strawberry with Rhubarb
    • 1.5 kg of strawberry
    • 0.5 kg of rhubarb
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • make sure to add the potassium bicarbonate
    • 0.75 grams of pectic enzyme
  • Strawberry and Rhubarb
    • 1.0 kg of strawberry
    • 1.0 kg of rhubarb
    • exclude the malic acid
    • make sure to add the potassium bicarbonate
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • 0.75 grams of pectic enzyme
  • Raspberry
    • 1 kg of raspberries
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • exclude the malic acid
    • 0.75 grams of pectic enzyme
  • Blueberry Vanilla
    • 1.5 kg of the best tasting blueberries (not wild)
    • 2 tbsp of vanilla extract
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • best with residual sweetness 1.002-1.008
  • Cream Soda
    • 2 kg of bright red, sour cherry
    • 1-1.5 tbsp of vanilla extract
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Cranberry Apple
    • 1.5 liters of organic cranberry juice (alternatively 1.5 kg red sour cherry or 1.5 kg strawberry)
    • 1 can frozen apple juice concentrate
    • exclude the malic acid
    • make sure to add the potassium bicarbonate as the cranberry crashes the pH
    • works well if you add the can of apple juice to keg, FG 1.002-1.003
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Mojito
    • zest and juice of 5 limes (use a peeler for zest – bag it)
    • 15 x 8-10″ sprigs (tops) of fresh mint (no dirt, spanked, minimal stem)
    • exclude the malic acid
    • use US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Thai-style
    • zest and juice of 5 limes
    • 15 x 8-10″ sprigs (tops) of fresh Thai basil (no dirt, spanked, minimal stem)
    • exclude the malic acid
    • Use US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Ginger-Lime
    • 1.5 oz of ginger powder
    • 4 oz of fresh minced ginger (add to a bag)
    • juice of 5 limes (about 1/4 to 1/2 a cup)
    • exclude the malic acid
    • use US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Jasmine Green Tea
    • ~ 1.5 cups (2/3 of strength of volume) of your favorite loose-leaf green tea (roasted rice also works great)
    • steep at 175 °F in 1 liter of chlorine free water in a French press for only 3-4 minutes, let cool before adding
    • you can cold-steep some tea in the mead for 24 hours if you want extra dryness/tannin/mouthfeel
    • if not jasmine or roasted rice, add juice of 3 lemons and exclude any extra acid (optional, exclude malic)
  • Dry Hopped
    • 2-3 oz of juicy/tropical new-world hops for 6-12 hours (note shortened contact time)
    • for example, 1.5 oz Citra, 1.5 oz Galaxy
    • use Cryo hops if possible, but make sure to only add half the weight
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Tropical
    • 2.5 kg of favorite tropical fruit mix (dragon fruit adds wicked color)
    • or 2 liters of favorite (preservative free) tropical fruit juice, say mango and passion fruit
    • exclude the malic acid
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
  • Tropical Hopped
    • 1 liter (or 0.5 liters of two types) of favorite tropical juice (no preservatives) or 1 kg of fruit blend
    • dry hop as above

A Note on Acid Additions

The use of malic acid is not recommended in already acidic recipes. However, in others it does bring a mid-palate minerality, a perception of brightness, and can bring a clearer perception of fruit (especially for cherry and strawberry). If you prefer sour gummy candy over non-sour gummy candy than you will probably prefer the additional acid in the traditional.

The ascorbic acid is not added to reduce acidly but is added as an antioxidant. This will avoid oxidation when transferring and help with color stability. The use is similar to adding K-meta but is not intended to harm the yeast. This acid provides a rounded acidity and helps promote mouthfeel and a perception of fullness. It will also scrub certain kinds of sulfur off-flavors.

Recommended recipes to use with this base (add extra ingredients to this base at the end of primary):

Spring Water and Salt Additions

The recipe calls for the optional salt additions which are used to contribute to mouthfeel, body, and enhance the perception of sweetness. They are used in the same way you use table salt to flavor food. Let’s look at what each of these does.

  • Calcium chloride, (adds Ca, Cl): Helps with flocculation. Contributes body, fullness, complexity and boosts perceived sweetness of honey.
  • Sea salt (adds Na, Cl): Contributes body, fullness, and complexity and boosts perceived sweetness of honey.
  • Gypsum (adds Ca, SO4): Helps with flocculation. Contributes to dryness and a sharp finish. Leave out if you like a persistently sweet finish.
  • Potassium bicarbonate (adds HCO3, K): Contributes body and fullness. Helps buffer pH drops.

The table below describes the contribution of the salts to the water profile. The first row is a common spring water profile that you can replace with your own. The higher calcium with also add residual alkalinity and help with flocculation.

Here is why each of these are important:

  • Carbonate and Bicarbonate (CO3 and HCO3): Buffers pH drops to avoid phenolics from low pH. Levels in the 200-400 range provide mouthfeel similar to a club soda.
  • Sodium (Na): contributes body and mouthfeel. Levels in the 10-70 mg/l range are normal, levels of up to 150 mg/l are used to enhance malty body and fullness in beers, but levels above 200 mg/l are undesirable.
  • Chloride (Cl): enhances the mouthfeel, complexity and boosts perceived sweetness of honey in low concentrations. Levels in the 10-70 mg/l range are normal. Keep below 150 mg/l and never exceed 200 mg/l. Keep the Chloride to Sulfate ratio to at least 2:1.
  • Sulfate (SO4): Enhances bitterness and adds a dry, sharp, profile to the finish. Avoid if you want a lingering sweetness. High levels of sulfate will create an astringent profile that is not desirable. 5-50 mg/l is recommended
  • Calcium (Ca): Contributes to water hardness and lowers the pH. It is an important yeast nutrient and levels just over the 100 mg/l are desirable for optimal yeast flocculation. Keep in the range of 50 mg/l to 150 mg/l.
  • Magnesium (Mg): Contributes to water hardness. A critical yeast nutrient and amounts 10-30 mg/l range are desirable. Levels above 30 mg/l are undesirable. Preliminary evidence suggests that this is important to have in your spring water and not all spring waters contain it. Honestly, I think this is why the fermentation goes so well in my favorite spring water.

Yeast Variations: US-05

IMHO, S-04, with its pear and apple esters, low attenuation, and honey like character is preferred for traditional short meads. However, US-05 dry ale yeast is also an excellent option. It is very clean, with almost no esters and a cracker/candy profile that lets the honey shine through. It is a more forgiving yeast that is more acid tolerant and there less chance of phenolics. US-05 is also a very faster fermentor and may knock an extra day of the fermentation. US-05 works best for the metheglin-type variants, i.e. Thai-style Mojito, and hopped meads. It also works well for acidic melomels, such as the tropical, rhubarb and raspberry.

Nutrient Variations: Alternative Staggering and Pitching Upfront

S-04 is one of the few yeasts that can take all the nutrients upfront (at 2-12 hours). This will bring out extra apple and pear character but will replace some honey character. Make sure to provide oxygen, and you can pitch a high level (Fermaid-K 3.5g, DAP 6.7g total) of nutrients if doing this. However, staggering is recommended as later generations of yeast are more healthy and may help avoid phenolics cased by mistakes later in fermentation. It also risks some sulfur, lager-like character in the final mead if bottle conditioning. This is only recommended for traditional if you like the apple character and you are in a pinch.

The current recommendation for staggering is based on bench trials. S04 will produce phenolics on day 2 if using only inorganic nutrients (DAP/energizer) and you stagger over days 0-3, see off-flavor notes below. However, this phenolic character will blow off and will be barely noticeable on the finished. Make sure all nutrients are in within two days and before the gravity hits 2/3 sugar break, a gravity of 1.012. Either way, the yeast are likely to chew up 0.01 gravity points in a day.

Pitch Rate with Yeast Variations

No matter what yeast you use make sure to pitch both US-05 and S-04 at the recommended 2-3 grams per gallon. The recommended pitch rate of ale yeast is higher than wine yeasts. I have found that a 2.5 grams per gallon pitch rate is desirable (see metadata below). A typical home brew yeast packet will say 11.5 grams but only contains 9.5-9.8 grams.

Use of a “wet” yeast such as WLP001 or Wyeast 1056 may cause sulfur as the pitch rate is several times higher and the yeast are not as well-fed and healthy. You need to provide a high level of nutrients for wet yeasts (Fermaid-K 3.5g, DAP 6.7g total). Again make sure to stagger with Chico yeast variations. If you are using another yeast, strain your really not following this recipe. Ale yeasts YAN requirements differ but normally have a normal to very-high YAN requirement.

Not Recommended for Wine Yeasts

This recipe is not recommended for wine yeasts which have different nutrient requirements, temperature ranges, and fermentation preferences. I have preformed a side-by-side with EC-1118, a champagne yeast, and S-04 with nutrients up front and provided it with a low nutrient addition. The wine yeast will become phenolic early in the fermentation, then produced sulfur whereas the S-04 could handle the fermentation. For wine yeasts you need to stagger and often provide low levels nutrients, or use Tosna 3.0 nutrient protocol. D-47 and EC-1118 are good yeasts. Other wine yeasts often have a wine cooler like flavor which is very different from this ale yeast recipe.

Nutrient Variations: Nutrients Levels

The metadata at the end of this article provides a summary of variations on nutrients and assumptions for this recipe using S-04. This recipe will ferment a few days faster is you use a high level of nutrients (Fermaid-K 3.5g, DAP 6.7g total). The mead will be dryer and have slightly more wine-like, and it will have less honey-like character. A low level of nutrients will result in a sluggish fermentation and potentially result in diacetyl off-flavors. A medium (or a medium-high) level of nutrients for S-04 strikes the balance between preserving honey character and producing nice esters.

Nutrient Variations: Go-ferm

You can also add at least up to 5 grams of Go-ferm in primary before risking excess nutrient off-flavor. This will help speed up the time between 1.01 and FG, potentially knocking up to a day off fermentation. It also changes the esters slightly towards more apple and less of a pear/banana character. Use the manufacture instructions with dry ale yeast and pitch directly into the must. You can rehydrate but do not use the recommended amount of Go-ferm (1.25 grams per gram of yeast).

Nutrient Variations: Tosna 3.0 and Fermaid-O

Tosna 3.0 is not recommended as the fermentation will be sluggish (3+ weeks) and there will not be pronounced pomme esters. S-04 in particular seems to have difficulty metabolizing organic nutrients whereas most other yeasts do not.

One way to use Fermaid-O (yeast hulls) is to substitute the first nutrient addition (day 0). The use of Fermaid-O for the first nutrient addition reduces the level of pear and apple esters compared to inorganic nutrients. It will not produce the phenolic smell that inorganic yeast will produce if the first nutrient addition is upfront. If doing this make sure to also use Go-ferm (see above). Instead of the first DAP/Fermaid-O addition at 12 hours, add 2 grams of Fermaid-O and go-ferm when mixing the honey, water, salts, and before pitching the yeast.

Nutrient Variations: Wyeast Nutrient

This recipe also works with Wyeast nutrient. This nutrient has between 0.5-0.8 percent the nutrients of a typical DAP/Fermaid-K regimes (preliminary and forthcoming). Because of S-04’s difficulty with organic nutrients, the fermentation will take up to two weeks.

Oxygen

Yeast need oxygen to ferment. When using jugs for primary fermentation shaking each of them for 2 minutes aggressively will add sufficient oxygen. If using a wide mouth carboy, etc, it’s best to give a pure O2 addition at 24 hours. If you do not have a pure O2 stone make sure to degas aggressively every 12 hours for the first few days with the lid off. In a side by side test, a traditional mead with US-05 was fermented in jugs where one got O2 at 24 hours and the other was just degassed by swirling the jug. The traditional without the O2 had sulfur character and the traditional with the O2 was bright and fresh (forthcoming). Don’t be lazy with the O2.

How to produce off-flavors

S-04 is quite clean and expresses lots of honey-like and apple/pear esters. Smell the mead every day of fermentation to see how it is feeling. Here are a few possible off-flavors that you’ll be able to smell if you don’t follow this recipe exactly.

  1. Phenolic (more common) – smells like mothball, rubber, or band-aid
  2. Sulfur – at high levels smells like rotten egg, at low levels like a warm American lager beer or muddled esters
  3. Diacetyl – smells and tastes like butterscotch, sometimes caramel or artificial butter

You can get off-flavors if you do the following:

  1. Forgot the nutrients or added too much yeast (sulfur, maybe recoverable)
    • If you smell sulfur you probably forgot the nutrients or added too much yeast. If you added the nutrients don’t worry, the yeast will clean this up, and it is not likely to be noticeable in your final mead.
  2. Stagger with a DAP addition within the first 24 hours (phenolics, recoverable)
    • Light phenolics will noticeable during fermentation if you stagger using DAP nutrients and your first nutrient addition is within 12 hours (including DAP/ Fermaid-K/ Wyeast) with S-04 (especially at high- and medium-nutrients levels). This will blow off and not be noticeable in the final product. This is not a concern for US-05.
  3. Letting the temperature drop below 60 °F or above 72 °F (phenolics if using inorganic, sulfur if organic, likely recoverable)
  4. Adding acidic fruits during peak fermentation (phenolics, likely unrecoverable)
    • Make sure only to add fruit once fermentation has slowed considerably <1.004. Make sure your fruit additions do not drop the pH below 3.0. If they will, make sure only to add fruit once FG is 1.000. Both the tropical fruit and rhubarb mead will get you close to a pH of 3.0 so don’t boost the level of fruit beyond the recipe, add extra potassium bicarbonate, or make sure the fermentation is complete before adding. S-04 is more susceptible to pH drops below 2.9 than US-05 but it can still happen for both.
  5. Adding more nutrients towards the end (phenolics, unrecoverable)
    • A for sure way to ruin the mead completely is by deciding it is not finishing up quickly enough and adding more nutrients that include DAP after a gravity of 1.012. For example, if the mead is sitting at 1.004, and you are getting impatient, do not add more nutrients (DAP/Fermaid-k or Wyeast). This will ruin your mead and is not likely to clean up. Adding Fermaid-O at this stage will help speed fermentation slightly but may not be metabolized this late in fermentation so may be noticeable in the final mead. Best to keep the temperature steady, and wait it out.
  6. Use chlorinated tap water (phenolics, unrecoverable)

If you get diacetyl leave the mead in primary and raise the temperature a few degrees for a couple more days.

In summary keep to the recipe.

What makes this an evidence-based recipe?

This recipe has been derived using evidence from many triangle tests and bench trials. Some experiments have been completed, some are ready for triangle tests, but more can always be completed. The recipe will be updated as new evidence arises. Here are the experiments that support the best practices for the recipe:

  • Great Canadian Short Mead Yeast Experiment
    • evidence that S-04 provided great aroma (apple/pear/honey) and taste
    • evidence that S-04 was low body – i.e. crushable
  • Acid Additions in TANG Cream Soda Short Mead 
    • evidence that small amounts of acid can boost perception of fruit and sweetness
  • Mead Water Chemistry: High Chloride to Sulfate Ratio
    • evidence that higher chloride-to-sulfate ratio is preferable
  • Mead Water Chemistry: High Mineral versus Low Mineral Content
    • evidence that a moderate level of salts are preferable
  • Using potassium bicarbonate to avoid off-flavors (forthcoming)
  • High, medium and low nutrients with S-04 (forthcoming)
  • Direct pitch, Go-ferm and staggering with S-04 (forthcoming)
  • 1 gram versus 2 grams per gallon pitch rate with S-04 (forthcoming)
  • Effect of kieselsol and chitosan (preliminary and forthcoming)
  • Effect of kieselsol and chitosan with fruit (forthcoming)
  • Acid in primary vs secondary with S-04 (preliminary)
  • TOSNA 3.0 vs TANG S-04 (preliminary and forthcoming)
  • EC1118 vs S-04 (forthcoming)
  • O2 additions with US-05 (preliminary and forthcoming)
  • High vs low pitch rate with US-05 (preliminary and forthcoming)

The fermentation characteristics and other evidence can be seen in the following metadata across these studies.

Metadata for S-04

All fermentations have SG between 1.030 – 1.034. “whip” refers to using a wine whip to degas, “shake” is aggressive degas, and “swirl” is swirling of jugs which is less aggressive. O2 refers to oxygenation method with the day being the use of pure oxygen with a diffusion stone, “shake” is a 2-minute shaking of a jug with 50 percent headspace, and “whip” refers to aggressive agitation with a wine whip to during mixing.

Metadata for US-05

All fermentations have SG between 1.030 – 1.034. “whip” refers to using a wine whip to degas, “shake” is aggressive degas, and “swirl” is swirling of jugs which is less aggressive. O2 refers to oxygenation method with the day being the use of pure oxygen with a diffusion stone, “shake” is a 2-minute shaking of a jug with 50 percent headspace, and “whip” refers to aggressive agitation with a wine whip to during mixing.