When you visit the Meadery and take a tour, you can see all our shiny stainless tanks, our buckets of honey, our filtration systems and our bottling line, and you can get a good overview of the whole process. But that doesn’t necessarily give you the real ‘nitty gritty’ of how we get a batch of mead started. So this post goes behind the scenes to delve into the making of a mead.
Our meads all start with honey, and plenty of it. We are usually fermenting with about 3 pounds of honey per gallon of mead. When we ferment with fruit and honey, we typically skew about 55% honey and 45% fruit. So how do we handle those raw materials of honey and fruit?
Since we are relatively small, and our space is limited, we buy honey in 5-gallon buckets. We don’t have a forklift which would be necessary to handle honey in a larger format such as a barrel, which is 55 gallons and weighs 660 pounds. Each 5-gallon bucket holds 60 lbs of honey, and depending on the batch size, we will use between 10-24 buckets of honey in a batch. It’s a long, sticky day to add all that honey into a fermentation tank, and it needs to be diluted and mixed with water so it doesn’t all pool in the bottom of the tank.
We begin by emptying 5 gallons of honey at a time into our mixing vessel, with a measured amount of filtered water. We then mix it by hand using a food-safe paddle that is similar to a canoe paddle, until is is dissolved. Then we pump the honey and water mixture into the fermentation tank. And move on to the next bucket. It’s a lot of patient repetition of empty, rinse and repeat.
If the mead also ferments with fresh fruit, we have a bunch of preparations to get the fruit mead-ready. We purchase locally grown fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, and figs in season. So our summertime is busy with fruit processing. We get strawberries in late April-May , blueberries in June and early July, and figs in late July-August.
The fresh fruit arrives and we then hand-sort, rinse and de-stem them. We are careful to remove any damaged spots. Next the fruit is laid out onto baking sheets and put in our freezer. We want the fruit to be IQF- individually quick frozen – so that it’s not just a frozen solid lump of fruit. Once it’s frozen, it is put into a container and placed in our deep freezer. We use fresh frozen fruit in fermenting, because we are able to preserve the freshness, and because freezing changes the cell structure of the fruit, making it more prone to crack as it thaws and release more juice.
When adding fruit to a mead, the fruit is taken out of the freezer and placed into mesh bags. The bags are placed in the tank with the honey and water mixture, so that they can ferment together. The yeast is prepared and added to the tank, and this marks the official start of the mead. It still has a long journey to the bottle, which we will cover in another ‘behind the scenes’ post.