It's time to go back down to Pegboard Cellars (the workbench in my basement) to start a new brew. This time I'm taking my first stab at Mead. Since starting my wine, I've been reading and learning from The Compleat Meadmaker, a good book loaned to me by my dad. I also happen to work with a lot of home brewers and mead makers, so I've picked up information and advice for awhile from them.
This was also my first attempt at making a yeast starter culture. Using a recipe outlined in the book, I mixed up some water, honey, yeast energizer, yeast nutrient, and dry malt extract to make my starter. I put the mixture in a glass jug, added the yeast, and sealed it up with an airlock. From my [beginner's] perspective, the yeast starter gives the yeast a chance to grow and multiply, and get accustomed to the kind of liquid they'll be fermenting. In this case, a mixture of mainly water & honey. After about a day of fermenting the yeast starter, I had a healthy culture of yeast that was ready to take on 13-plus pounds of honey in a 5 gallon batch.
While I could make many kinds of mead just like I would make wine (adding fruit and other flavorings), I'm making a simple "Show Mead," meaning that it's only fermented honey and nothing else. The book had a Dry Show Mead, Medium Show Mead, and a Sweet Show Mead recipe. I opted for a Medium Show Mead, using just over 13 lbs of honey in a 5 gallon batch. Based on the advice of the book's author, and other meadmakers I know, I went with the "no heat" method, which makes the whole process much easier by not needing to heat anything up. Supposedly, this also preserves more of the honey's natural flavor. After sanitizing all the equipment, it was just a matter of pouring everything together (water, honey, yeast energizer, yeast nutrient), mixing it up, and adding some oxygen by stirring it up with a whisk.
Before adding the yeast, I dropped in my (sanitized) hydrometer to get a specific gravity reading. It looks like I have a starting gravity of about 1.092. This gives me an idea of how much sugar is in the mixture (water would be 1.000). As it ferments, I can take more readings to see how much sugar has been converted to alcohol, and estimate the alcohol percentage of the finished product.
Now the bucket has been sealed up with an airlock and it's bubbling like crazy. It should ferment pretty vigorously for about 2 weeks, and then I have to wait. They say mead isn't really good until at least 6 months to a year later. I guess I'll have to be patient. For now, it smells delicious.