mead recipe

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.

What’s great about this short mead recipe?

  • Delicious and full of flavor as a traditional mead
  • takes minimal time: ~15 min to start ferment and <1 hour effort overall
  • honey to glass in as little as 7 days
  • versatile and adaptable to wide range of flavors
  • lower calorie – FG 1.000

This is intended to be a super easy and tasty recipe for veterans and beginners alike. The fermentation is straightforward and a fast. All ingredients are easy to find in home brew stores around the world and no specialty nutrients are required. The use of the spring water jugs also saves a lot of cleaning time and requires minimal equipment.

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.
  • +1-12 hours, add first dose of nutrients: 1.56 grams of DAP and 0.83 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer.
  • +24 hours add second dose of nutrients: 1.56 grams of DAP and 0.83 grams of Fermaid-k/ Energizer.
  • +48 hours add second dose of nutrients: 1.56 grams of DAP and 0.83 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). 24-48 hours after adding clarifier rack to secondary or into a keg.
    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 0.998 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, S-04 will finish between 0.9983 to 1.000. At 1.000 this means that there is residual sweetness. Given the level of alcohol of 4.5%, the final gravity will eventually end up at 0.9983. This means that if the mead finishes at 1.000 the product has 0.0017 residual sweetness left in the mead. This residual sugar combined with the perceived sweetness from the honey and pomme is offers lots of perceived sweetness.

  • Carbonate to 2.5 vol
  • If bottling:
    • confirm FG is 1.000, if not wait until it is.
    • 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
    • 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.

  • Oaked Traditional
    • 5-15 cubes of medium toast American oak
  • Strawberry with Rhubarb
    • 1.5 kg of strawberry
    • 0.5 kg of rhubarb
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • 0.75 grams of pectic enzyme (optional)
  • Strawberry and Rhubarb
    • 1.0 kg of strawberry
    • 1.0 kg of rhubarb
    • exclude the malic acid
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • 0.75 grams of pectic enzyme (optional)
  • Raspberry “mini-Bomb”
    • 1-1.5 kg of raspberries
    • works well with US-05 instead of S-04 yeast
    • exclude the malic acid
    • 0.75 grams of pectic enzyme (optional)
  • Tropical
    • 2 kg of favorite tropical fruit mix
    • 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
  • Cream Soda
    • 2 kg of bright red, sour cherry
    • 1 vanilla bean split in half or 1 tbsp of vanilla extract in secondary
    • 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
  • Herbal Tea
    • concentrated 2/3 strength herbal tea blend (flavored rooibos works well)
    • steep in 1 liter of chlorine free water
    • make sure to steep at advised temp (usually 180 °F) and for minimal time (4-5 minutes)
    • let cool to must temperature before adding concentrate
    • 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
  • Green Tea
    • concentrated 2/3 of strength of your favorite green tea ~ 1.5 cups of loose-leaf (Jasmine and roasted rice works great)
    • steep in 1 liter of chlorine free water in a French press
    • make sure to steep at 140 °F and for only 3-4 minutes, let cool before adding
    • zest and juice of 3 lemons and exclude any extra acid (optional, but add the extra acid if excluding)
    • you can cold steep some tea in the mead for 24 hours if you want extra dryness/tannin/body
  • 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 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 certain meads. However, in others it does bring a mid-palate minerality, a perception of brightness, and can bring a clearer perception of fruit. 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 added for reducing 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.

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. Often found in nutrients so no need to adjust. Levels above 30 mg/l are undesirable.

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 well 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.

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).

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 to very 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: High-Nutrients

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 stick fermentation and 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 than other yeasts.

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 avoid the slight phenolic smell after the second inorganic nutrient addition. If doing this make sure to also use Go-ferm (see above) and add both when mixing the honey, water, salts, and before pitching the yeast. Instead of the first DAP/Fermaid-O addition at 1-12 hours, add 2.68 grams of Fermaid-O.

Nutrient Variations: Wyeast Nutrient

This recipe also works well with Wyeast nutrient. This nutrient has between 0.5-0.8 percent the nutrients of a typical DAP/Fermaid-K regimes (preliminary and forthcoming).

Nutrient Variations: Staggering

S04 will produce phenolics on day 2 if using only inorganic nutrients (DAP/energizer), see off-flavor notes below. However, this phenolic character will blow off and will have little effect on the finished. S-04 is one of the few yeasts that can take all the nutrients upfront with only minor lager-like character in the final mead. However, staggering will help make the later generations of yeast more healthy and may help avoid phenolics cased by mistakes later in fermentation. 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.

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 rubber, band-aid, burnt plastic, mothball
  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)
  2. use DAP within the first 24 hours (phenolics, recoverable)
  3. letting the temperature drop below 60 °F or above 70 °F (phenolics, likely recoverable)
  4. adding acidic fruits during peak fermentation (phenolics, likely unrecoverable)
  5. adding more nutrients towards the end (phenolics, unrecoverable)
  6. use chlorinated tap water (phenolics, unrecoverable)

If you smell sulfur you probably forgot the nutrients or added too much yeast. Example 1), you are ill-informed and think raisins are nutrients or that nutrients aren’t needed. Example 2) you didn’t follow the recipe and added two whole yeast packets (in addition to sulfur this will slow fermentation). If you forgot all nutrients early on add them ASAP, say first 24 hours. 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. If you get diacetyl leave the mead in primary and raise the temperature a few degrees for a couple more days.

Light phenolics will noticeable during fermentation if you stagger using DAP nutrients (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.

The sure-fire 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.

Another way to get phenolic juice is by adding acidic fruits during peak fermentation. 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.

In summary keep to the recipe:

  • Keep temperature between 62-68 °F.
  • Use chlorine-free spring water
  • Do not add acidic fruits during peak fermentation
  • Do not add extra nutrients after 2/3 sugar break and before day 2

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.