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Everyone who brews develops their own methods and they have their own ways of doing things. This document reflects how we at U2M do things. If you are unfamilar with brewing search out some other resources, such as your local brew shop and other resources listed on the Meadery Home page.
Bacteria and wild yeasts can ruin a batch of mead. Maintaining good sanitation throughout the brewing process will keep unwanted bacteria and wild yeasts at bay and result in consistently better meads. At U2M we take sanitation seriously. Other stuff not so much. YMMV.
Yeast may be started a day or two before brewing to give it a head start. Yeast may also be rehydrated at the time of brewing. It never hurts to prestart the yeast, but we've had good results with the brew night rehydration.
To prestart yeast you'll need to give it something to eat. We have used honey, but this is not necessarily the best medium. The instructions below use apple juice concentrate. Other fruit juices may work, though you'll probably want to stay away from those that are highly acidic (like grapefruit juice).
Here's our list of things to sanitize before starting the yeast. Check with your brew store for sanitizing solution and follow the instructions on the bottle. We have also used a dilute bleach water solution. When using bleach, soak for at least 20 minutes and rinse thoroughly before use.
Pasteurize 1/3 of a large can of frozen apple juice concentrate with water. Rehydrate yeast in the measuring cup, leaving the spoon in the cup, and let sit covered with the plastic lid for about 10 minutes. Stir. Yeast energizer or yeast starter may be added. If so, stir to dissolve. Pour apple juice and yeast into wine bottle using the funnel. Add more water if necessary. Put bubble lock on and store in a warm place.
Over time we have jotted some notes about various fruits. Measurements and conversions are approximate. As always, your mileage may vary.
Sanitize all brewing equipment. We usually have a carboy that's already sitting around filled with a bleach water solution. If you don't have this, or are using a plastic primary, fill these with sanitizing solution first, so they'll be ready later.
Things to sanitize:
Put on some music, pop open a homebrew and relax. (Charlie Papazian sez "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew." Our friend Lou added the part about the music.) Measure honey into a large kettle. We usually use about 10 pounds of honey per 5 gallon batch. Add water and start heating slowly, stirring until the honey has disolved.
If the yeast was not pre-started then as soon as the measuring cup, spoon and lid are sanitized, put some lukewarm water in the measuring cup and sprinkle on the yeast. Leave the spoon in the cup, and let sit covered with the plastic lid for about 10 minutes. Stir. Yeast energizer or yeast starter may be added. If so, stir to dissolve.
Keep watching the kettle, stiring often. We don't boil our honey. When it starts to get hot put in a thermometer. Temperatures around 165 - 180 F will pasturize the mixture without boiling. If you're adding fruit or juice do that after the honey/water has come up to temperature.
We use a must chiller that we made by wrapping copper tubing around a jug, and then around a wine bottle for a smaller coil. Both ends of the copper tube should be on top with plastic tubing attached to each end. When the must is ready to cool the kettle can be transfered to the sink where we run cold water through the coil.
Put the chiller in the kettle once the temperature gets to 165 F so it gets heat sanitized. Let the must, and chiller, stay hot for 15 minutes. The chiller makes it harder to stir, but your kettle should be enough wider than the chiller so that you can stir by moving the chiller around. Don't let the must overheat. When done chill the must to around 80 F. Your primary fermentor should be sanitized and ready to go. Pour the must into the primary (carboy or plastic bucket). Use the funnel to pour the cooled must into the carboy, or just pour it into the bucket. If necessary use the second strainer to strain the must. Add some water until the carboy is nearly full. Pitch the yeast. Add a little more water to get the carboy to the desired level. Stir with the big spoon. Put on the bubble-lock or blow-off tube and store.
The first racking usually takes place in about a month. Each U2M mead recipe page will contain the date(s) of racking. Racking should be done when the sediment on the bottom of the carboy becomes very thick. Bottling should take place when fermentation is over.
Fermentation will stop when the alcohol level kills off the yeast, or when the sugar content is exhausted. In the later case it is possible to create a sparkling mead by adding a small amount of sugar to the batch. We usually use 3/4 cup of corn sugar, boiled in one cup of water, which is then poured into a sanitized bucket. Rack the mead into the bucket with the sugar, and remember to stir. If the sugar water is not stirred in well a few bottles will get all the sugar, and may explode. Personal experience. Glass grenades in your mead cupboard can be messy. Stir well, but stir gently to avoid adding oxygen.