Here’s the scoop on making your own medovina:
Company to buy stuff from: williamsbrewing.com (you probably have some local vendors in the Chicago area, Brewcamp is one I would recommend – they even have basic classes you can attend. (brewcamp.com)
Stuff you’ll need – and some good news: most of this crap can be had in a starter kit, probably will set you back $120-$250 depending on what all you get with it. Also a note: you’re going to be muscling around a fermenter and 5-6 gallons of contents from time to time, so if you have a bad back, consider that.
– A big kettle, the bigger the better. I’d recommend at least 30 quarts, 40 if you can find it.
– A fermenter (this is where your brew will go after you heat it, and where the yeast will do its work). Normally kits will sell you a plastic bucket-style fermenter, but I really recommend you go with glass or PET plastic. I prefer a 6 or 6.5 glass carboy myself.
* Alternative: if you have trouble with a large fermenter like those, you can get small, 1-gallon jugs and put stoppers/airlocks in them too. From a weight perspective it’s much more manageable, but from a work perspective you’re going to be dealing with 5-6 of these all fermenting at the same time – it’s a bit more work.
– An airlock (and a stopper for the fermenter if it’s glass or PET)
– A long paddle or spoon (20″ or more)
– A bottling bucket (big food-grade plastic bucket, 6 gallon size or so, has a spigot in the bottom)
– a food-grade plastic funnel
– A siphon and tubing
– bottles and caps (I’d recommend getting the larger 22 oz bottles, 12 oz are just too many). If you can find swing-top bottles with a ceramic plug and rubber gaskets, those are even better, but can be a little more expensive
* bottles are something I just collect from beer and wine I drink – accumulate enough for a few batches and you generally won’t have to buy fresh
– A capper if you’re going with capped bottles
– A bottle brush (for cleaning out bottles, shockingly enough)
– A hydrometer
– cleaning solution (Saniclean I think it’s called over there).
– ingredients for your first batch
– A book on home brewing. There’s only one I can recommend here for a starter: Charlie Papazian’s “Complete Joy of Home Brewing”. This is the only one to get.
– A few bottles of your favorite beer or some wine you enjoy
– A safe place for your fermenter to sit long-term that doesn’t get too hot or cold, and is not subject to sunlight. 70 degrees F or so is perfect. Make sure it isn’t carpeted – accidents will happen and they will make a sticky mess from time to time.
A bottle tree – used for drying bottles, holds them mouth-down so dust doesn’t settle in them while drying, and also has a fountain-tub on top that you can fill with cleaning solution and set up a really fast spritz-spritz and then hang the bottle on the tree. Before getting one of these I would empty out my dishwasher, open it and set my bottles mouth-down on the racks there. Although I mark this as optional, it’s probably the first thing I’d recommend you get. I hate spending a lot of time with bottles ).
A wort chiller (big copper coil with hoses that attaches to your sink, can be very handy, but you’ll be fine without it for your first few batches)
“Jet Bottle Washer” – usually brass, sometimes plastic, this is a unit that attaches to your sink and shoots a high-pressure blast of water into a bottle. VEEERRRRYYY useful for cleaning fermenters
As a first move, I’d recommend you get a simple beer kit for a brown ale or a porter and roll out a batch of beer. That’s only going to ferment for a week or two, and then two weeks in the bottle to carbonate, and it’s ready to drink. Williams has an English Porter kit, with all the ingredients you need. Good for starting out.
Beer is actually somewhat more complicated to make than medovina, so you’ll find doing meads very easy once you’ve done a beer or two. Here’s a recipe for one I make that is a champagne-style (dry and sparkling):
Ingredients to make 6 gallons (adjust down on water and honey if you’re making less):
7kg + .5kg honey – preferably sourced from something specific that you like the smell of, but regular supermarket honey will do if you have to
4 cl isinglass (this is a fining agent available at all brewshops)
6 tablespoons acid blend (used in wine a lot, also available at all brewshops)
1 tablespoon polyclar (fining agent, available at all brewshops)
3 tablespoons yeast nutrient (also available at all brewshops)
1 packets Red Star Pasteur champagne yeast (buy 2, they’re cheap, and in case one doesn’t work you’ll have a spare)
You’re now going to prepare the big sugary playground for your yeast:
Crack open your beer or wine and have a drink.
Sanitize your fermenter and equipment
Set aside one half-kilo of honey, you’ll use that after the ferment is done.
Boil 4 quarts of water in your kettle
Reduce the heat
Add the 7kg honey (remember to leave the extra half-kilo aside), stirring to dissolve it in (rinse the containers with hot water into the kettle so you don’t lose very much)
Return heat, add acid blend, irish moss, yeast nutrient, and isinglass
Bring it to a boil (you’re only bringing it to a boil, you’re not boiling for any length of time – you lose the aroma of the honey if you boil it for more than a few minutes), then turn off heat and cover it.
Let the kettle cool until it’s easy to touch (warm is okay, hot is not)
You’re waking the yeast up here:
Take an empty tumbler (the kind you’d drink whiskey from) and half-fill with clean water.
Put the yeast from the packet into the water and let it dissolve into the water, stir a little with a spoon to smooth it out and get rid of lumps.
Set this aside.
Using the funnel, pour your warm mix into the fermenter slowly and carefully (splashes will get sticky).
Add cold water top-up to 6 gallons. (You want to make sure there is some breathing room between the top of the water and the top of the fermenter, it’s going to get foamy in there.)
Note: be really careful about how hot the mix is that goes into your fermenter. If it’s too hot, you’ll have to wait until it cools significantly before topping it up. Hot + cold in a glass fermenter = shattered glass and a major, major mess in the kitchen. Warm + cold = safe.
Take your glass of yeast and add it into the fermenter. This is termed “pitching.”
Add the polyclar here as well. Nominally this isn’t really a necessary ingredient for mead, but I like to use it just as a habit.
Agitate the water (my fermenter is tear-drop shaped, so I can just roll it around a little to get the water stirring up well, a plastic bucket will need you to use your paddle/spoon). You want to aerate the water this way, so don’t be afraid to get it rowdy.
Cap off the fermenter and plug in your airlock (airlock shouldn’t have too much water, but definitely enough that it’s going to only allow air *out*)
Set the fermenter in its resting place. Check on it every couple hours before bed – you’re looking for tiny batches of foam to start building up on the surface. That indicates your yeast is getting traction, it’s a good sign. Check it again in the morning, it’ll probably surprise you with a big steady stream of bubbling.
It’ll ferment for at least a week, probably two or more. I’ve had meads run for six months in the past, but this one should go pretty easy.
Once the ferment is done (the bubbling will have stopped for at least three or five days – this isn’t time sensitive, you can let it sit for a while), keep an eye on it to see when it clears. Once it’s completely clear, it’s ready for bottling.
Have another beer or some wine while you do this ).
Day 1: Sanitize your bottles and bottling-bucket and hang them mouth-down to dry.
If you have bottles that take caps, boil a quart of water and immerse your caps in it to sanitize them.
Boil one quart of cold water and the half-kilo of honey you set aside earlier
Make sure your bucket’s siphon is closed
Siphon the content of the fermenter into your bottling bucket – try to minimize the amount of the “mud” from the bottom of the fermenter into the bucket. That stuff is called “lees”, btw.
Siphon some of the clear into a small glass. Sip and enjoy while you bottle the rest.
Once you’re done siphoning, add the boiled water with honey to the mix.
Take about half a cup of the lees / mud from the bottom of the fermenter and add it into the mix, stir it all up to make sure it’s evenly distributed.
Fill the bottles from the bottling bucket. To fill, bring them all the way up because when you pull the bottling tube out of the bottle, it’ll create a little air space in the neck of the bottle, that’s perfect.
If they’re swing-tops with rubber gaskets, seal them as soon as you have filled them. If they’re capped bottles, set a cap on them and set them aside. Once you’ve filled as many bottles as you can with the contents, cap them all.
Let the bottles sit in a cool dark place for four weeks. The mead is carbonating during this time. You can put one in the fridge and pop the top on it every week or so to check it – just drink it and be happy ).
Each bottle will get a tiny bit of lees in the bottom – try not to pour this into the glass. It’s not bad or anything, but it will make the taste of the mead off a little.
Chill and serve in champagne glasses.