Making mead is, ostensibly, very simple. You simply mix honey and water, hydrate and pitch your yeast, seal it in your demijohn, and leave it for 2-3 weeks. Rack and leave to ferment for as long as needed, and you have your mead.
Simple as that may sound on the surface of things, however, there are a number of questions that you need to ask yourself before brewing mead. One of the most pressing is, inevitably: how much honey do you need?
What is the Ratio of Honey to Water for Mead?
That depends very much on the type of mead you’re making. There are various strengths (which are not necessarily related to the flavour of the mead):
A standard batch of mead is has a honey-water ratio of around 1:5. This will yield an alcoholic strength of 8-13%.
A very high ratio of honey to water (about 1:2). This results in a very thick type of mead that’s much sweeter than lower-strength ones. It also results in a higher percentage of alcohol – sack mead is about 12-18%.
On the flip side of the coin, we have hydromel. This uses a lower honey-water ratio and results in a much lighter, much drier mead. This kind of mead is often sweetened to compensate for the low amount of honey, and may be carbonated.
How much Honey do I Need for 5 Litres of Mead?
As a general rule of thumb, you need around 200g of honey per litre of water. Thus, if you’re making a 5-litre batch of mead, you’ll need about a kilo of honey.
This varies, of course – if making a hydromel mead, you’d have a much lower amount of honey (~100g), and so about half a kilo for a 5-litre batch. If making sack mead, you’d need about 500g per litre, for a total of 1.5kg for 5 litres.
How much Honey do I Need for 4 Gallons of Mead?
If you prefer to work in pounds and gallons, it again depends on what sort of strength you’re looking for. If you’d like a lighter hydromel-style mead, you only need around 1.5 pounds per gallon of water. For a sack mead, go up to 4 pounds; for a standard, meet somewhere in the middle with 2-2.5 pounds.
Therefore, for a 4-gallon batch, you’re looking at anywhere between 6-16 pounds of honey.
Honey, Mead and Specific Gravity
When talking about gravity with regards to brewing, we don’t mean the thing that Isaac Newton invented to describe getting bopped by apples. It’s actually a measurement of a given liquid’s density in reference to another liquid. That benchmark is, generally, water.
Because mead is made using honey (which is denser than water), your must (the honey-water mix before fermentation) will have a specific gravity higher than that of water.
There are two kinds of gravity that need to be taken into account when making your mead: original gravity, and final gravity.
Mead and Original Gravity
Original gravity is the specific gravity of your must prior to the fermentation process. Because honey is such a dense liquid, the original gravity of your mead must will be quite high. It depends on the sugar content of the honey you’ve used (and the ratio of honey to water), but the original gravity should be around 1.100 to 1.120.
Mead and Final Gravity
The final gravity of your mead depends very much on how long you leave it to ferment, the kind of yeast you used, and your desired taste (drier or sweeter). Because mead contains alcohol, the final gravity will always be lower than the starting gravity, whatever the strength or flavour of the end product.
Generally speaking, a dry mead will fall under 1.010 (and may fall under 1), a medium mead is between 1.011-1.020, and anything above 1.020 is considered a sweet mead. If you’ve a taste for sack mead, then you’ll find that your final gravity will be 1.030 or higher.
How Much Does Honey Raise Specific Gravity?
Specific gravity is measured in ‘points’; one point is equal to 1/1000th of the density of water.
One pound of honey in a gallon of water is equal to about 35 gravity points. Thus, that pound will take the specific gravity up to 1.035.
You can expect a final alcohol content of about 5% per pound of honey added to the must. This means that the sweeter your mead, the stronger it is.
How do you Measure Specific Gravity in your Mead?
Specific gravity is very easy to measure – you simply need a bit of kit called a hydrometer. The hydrometer responds to the density of the liquid into which it’s put; the higher the density, the higher the hydrometer sits in the water.
A hydrometer can be inserted directly into the must to collect a reading, or a small sample of the must can be collected and placed in a container that’s designed specifically to ascertain specific gravity. That container is a tall, narrow jar known as a trial jar.
Either method is fine, but it’s probably best to use a trial jar to avoid any possibility of contamination. Simply collect enough must to fill the trial jar almost to the brim (ensuring that there isn’t so much that the hydrometer would displace it over the rim) and drop the hydrometer in it. It’s then possible to read the hydrometer and find out what the specific gravity of your must is.
The amount of honey that goes into your must very much depends, as we’ve seen. It’s a question of desired strength but also of sweetness, and it should be understood that the two are quite intertwined. Though your choice of mead also affects sweetness, the amount of honey used is one of the most important parts of this process.
Whatever type of mead you decide to make, it’s important to keep an eye on the specific gravity throughout. This will give you a good indicator of how dry or sweet your mead is.