What Do I Need To Get Started
by Lord Riekin and Lady Bridget @ 2001
Equipment to Make Small Mead (Honey Beer)
This is a mead that is drinkable from 10 days to 2 weeks start to finish.
Use stove top, or propane or gas burner that you can control flame height
Cooking pot with a cover
If you are just going to heat the mixture in it and you have a different vessel for the fermentation, you can use an 8 quart pot. If you are going to use the same pot for the fermentation stage also, then you will need a 5 gallon pot. This MUST be enamel or stainless steel - NEVER USE ALUMINUM!
(Any acidic solution in an aluminum pot causes aluminum salts to be included in the food which concentrates in the bodies' tissues and can cause organ failure and death.)
This is assuming that you are making a 5 gallon batch, if you are making less, then of course your pot can be smaller.
5 gallon bucket, pot, or carboy - of food-grade plastic, glass, enamel, or stainless steel only.
Aquarium or other plastic tubing
You will need this to siphon the mixture into the fermentation container, and also into bottles. You will probably need about 3-5 feet, and about 1 inch diameter.
Stirring spoon and Skimming spoon
One long handled spoon for stirring, can be sterilized wood or plastic. The skimming spoon needs to be very wide and extremely shallow. The spoon is used for skimming the "scum" off the top of the mixture, which you will see more about in the actual directions. (This is called "skoming")
Large clean bath Towel
If you are using a pot or large plastic 5 gallon bucket, you can use a large, clean heavy towel to cover the top of the pot. This can be used instead of a fermentation lock for the initial fermentation. It allows air to escape through the towel but prevents bacteria or "airborne" yeast from contaminating your batch. (If you don't understand how this could work, picture that the gasses from the fermentation are constantly rising up, so that there is a pressure from inside the pot. This pressure alone with the use of the towel, will keep any air from coming into the pot from the outside, as long as you resist the temptation to peek!)
This is one of the key ingredients, so use the best water you can get. The best water is pure, spring water. Don't used distilled water either, it lacks any minerals for flavor and character, and it is very damaging to the yeast.
If you have to use tap water, run it through a charcoal filter, and let it sit overnight. Or heat the water for 20 minutes before you do anything else. The amount of water will differ from recipe to recipe.
Honey is another key ingredient, and in this case, the less it has been processed the more wax will have to be removed in the "skoming" step, but the mead will have a better body. In general, for a fuller bodied mead, use a darker, less processed honey. Oddly enough honey that you would not necessarily want to use for your table often makes the best mead. The amount of honey to use will depend on the type of mead you are making, check the recipe.
Champagne yeast, Montrachet "general purpose" wine yeast are the best. Do not use brewer's yeast, or bread yeast, they are not interchangeable. NOTE: Even if the package says it makes 5 gallons and you are only making 2 gallons, use the whole package! Do not waste your money on high priced mead yeast for making small mead, it doesn't ferment quickly enough.
Check your recipes for spices needed. Be aware that they need to be whole or lightly crushed so that they can be removed from the water before the honey is added. You do not want to use powdered or ground spices, particularly cloves.
For making small mead you can store this is two liter soda bottles quite safely.
You can also use champagne bottles, or long neck beer bottle, or "Grolsch" style bottles with seals. Do not reuse your caps on beer bottles, use new. ALWAYS sterilize your containers in advance.
Optional Materials for Additional Techniques
You can add frozen apple juice to your mead mixture to make a Cyser, frozen grape juice to make a Pyment, mixed fruits for a melomel, or any number of other fruit juices and spices to make metheglins. Use the best brand you can find (Seneca is good) and check the label for chemical additives that could kill your yeast before using the brands. You can certainly experiment with your favorite flavors. There are also flavoring syrups on the market today that can be added. Again, check the labels for chemicals, especially preservatives, that will kill yeast.
Basically, it allows gas to escape (which keeps your brew from exploding) but doesn't allow outside air to enter, which keeps the brew from becoming contaminated. If you prefer to use the lock, and you have access to a brew supply shop, by all means get one. They are a great addition to your equipment, and many people simply will not brew without one. However, when you are just getting started and don't have a lot of money to invest, you CAN brew small mead without it. I leave the choice to you.
Another wonderful device for the home brewer, this allows you to measure the amount of sugar in your mixture (called the "must") to determine the amount of alchohol and sweetness in your finished product. You need to learn to use one because all advanced recipes make reference to the initial reading you should have.