Debatable Brewers' Recipes:
Plain Mead

(brewed Jan 15th, 1996; bottled June? 1997)

Documentation by Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, Debatable Brewers' guildmaster; Mead (recipe and entry) by Tofi, Ellisif Flakkari, Leif Hjalmsson, and Barak Ben David (called "Red").


3 1/2 gallons of fine plain mead may be made thus:


Hydrate the yeast according to the directions on the packet.

Boil the water. Add the honey to it, stirring, and carefully heat to a simmer. Simmer, skimming the foam and scum until no more scum riseth (about 10 mins).

Cool the must, pour into a glass fermenter (aerating well in the process), pitch the yeast, and add a water lock.

After about 6 months, rack into another fermenter.

Bottle after another 6 months.

Let the bottles age in a cool, dark place for at least a year.


About the Recipe

This recipe is modeled loosely after some of the mead recipes in Digbie (particularly nos. 76 (first), 6, and 21; numbering as in [Renfrow]), and the hydromeli recipe of Pliny the Elder (A.D. 77) [Renfrow].

All of these are recipes for plain mead, without any herbs, spices, or fruits. Digbie writes a very clear example in no. 76:

If you will have it to keep a year or two, take six parts of water, and one of honey; But if you will have to keep longer, take but four parts of water to one of honey. Dissolve the honey very well in the water, then boil it gently, skimming it all the while as the scum riseth, till no more scum riseth. Then pour it out of the Copper into a fit vessel or vessels to cool. Then Tun it up in a strong and sweet cask, and let it stand in some place, where there is some little warmth; (It will do as well without warmth, but be longer growing ripe) This will make it work. At first a course foul matter will work over; to which purpose it must be kept always full with fresh Liquor of the same, as it worketh over. When it begins to work more gently, and that which riseth at the top, is no more foul, but is a white froth; then fill and stop it up close, and set it in a cool cellar, where it is to stand continually.

After half a year or a year, you may draw it off from the Lees into a clean vessel, or let it remain untouched. It is not fit to be drunk for it's perfection till the sweetness be quite worn off, yet not to be sower, but vinous. You may drink it at meals instead of wine, and is wholesomer and better then wine.
[Digbie, pp 78--79]

Digbie no. 6 calls for 1 part honey to 6 parts water, and no. 21 calls for a 1-to-4 ratio. Both of these call for the use of egg whites, whipped and slowly added to the must. Doing this will add some proteins into the fermenting must that will cling to yeast cells and other particles and help precipitate them to the bottom of the tun after fermentation is complete.

Pliny's recipe is also quite simple, though it calls for some careful handling in order to clear and purify the rain water used in it. Although we take clean, clear water for granted today, water treatment was a very recent innovation.

Our variations

There really isn't that much to vary here. We made ours a bit stronger than Digbie's 1:4 honey-to-water ratio (for strong mead). We used a commercial wine yeast, since there was no yeast to catch from the insides of a barrel. And we fermented in glass rather than a wooden cask.

On Patience

One of the most critical ingredients in a truly good mead is time. Unfortunately, mead takes considerable patience to brew well. Although the fermentation of this mead was done in 4 months, and the mead was aged in bulk, and bottled an entire year after it was first started, it was still somewhat harsh when bottled. It has smoothed out somewhat

I don't think this point can be emphasized enough. It is possible that this mead is still a year too young -- all of the truly spectacular meads I have sampled have been at least three years old, often older.

Of course, this can be quite daunting for the beginning mead maker. I suggest that beginners make batches of one to two gallons to start, so that they have enough mead to sample each batch early on, and later as the mead ages, in order to develop a sense of which tastes will smooth out with age, and which won't.

On Quality Ingredients

With food and drink, it is generally true that it is hard to make a good product from poor ingredients. This is doubly true with a recipe with very few ingredients.


I have found that while it is somewhat expensive to buy very good quality honey, it can be less expensive when bought as a bulk item, for instance at a food cooperative. And it can be a lot less expensive when bought in very large quantity. As a result, I cannot recommend supermarket honey, and I recommend against the inexpensive honey sold in stores such as Sam's Club.


In general, lighter and simpler meads benefit from softer water. Pittsburgh has pretty hard water, so I soften it before using it in meads.


Use good yeast. The Lalvin brand yeasts are pretty good, though the liquid mead and wine yeast cultures from Yeast Labs or Wyeast are even better. With the liquid yeasts, I have found that one should use a starter, as used in the Scotch Ale recipe.


Digbie, K, The Closet of the eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, kt., Opened..., 1669, in Miscellany from D. Friedman & E. Cook

Renfrow, C., A Sip Through Time, 1995, self-published

Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, guildmaster, BMDL Brewers' Guild.
pwp+ (AT) cs dot cmu dot edu