Fancy yourself as a bit of a mead brewer? You may have just made your first-ever batch of mead, highly anticipating how this beverage will taste. But resist the temptation! One of the most significant things to think about when making your mead is giving it the time it requires to mature.
Patience is a virtue – and the saying goes no different when it comes to bottling up your mead. Read on to learn more about this process and all the key facts you need!
What is Mead?
Firstly, it might be worth sharing what mead actually is so you can better understand how to approach it. This alcoholic beverage is generated through the fermentation of honey mixed with water, sometimes with additional ingredients like spices, fruits, or grains. Its alcoholic content ranges from around 3.5% ABV to 18%.
Depending on the specific brew, mead often tastes like wine with the additional flavour of honey and whatever fruits or spices have been utilised to modify the final result. If you want to discover how you can create great-tasting mead by bottling it up at the right time, check out our advice below!
How long should mead sit before bottling?
So, you’ve done it: you’ve become one of the countless homebrewers out there who have already decided to give making their own mead a go. But, you face the question that each of these brewers has had on their lips at one point or another: how long should the mead actually sit before bottling?
If you’ve already done a bit of research on this, you’ll find that many online individuals hold many different opinions. Some people state that you should wait to bottle your mead until no bubbles are coming out of the airlock, while others suggest you should bottle up after a maximum of 4 weeks.
So, how do you really know how long to let your mead sit?
Well, this alcoholic beverage can typically take longer to ferment than hard beers or cider. It all depends on the ambient temperature but usually takes around 3 to 6 weeks for the fermentation process to be complete. To be safe, consider waiting as long as you can (maybe try stretching to 6 to 8 weeks) before bottling the drink up.
What Happens if you bottle Mead too early?
If you bottle your mead too early, you run the risk of bottle bombs. Since the carbonated pressure within may exceed the bottle’s strength, you could be faced with a multitude of exploding bottles, which would waste all your ingredients and also be a big job to clean up!
If you’re particularly concerned about this problem, you could take a specific gravity reading to determine when your beverage is ready to be bottled.
Also, bottling your mead early will mean it will still be cloudy. Saying this, the cloudiness won’t negatively affect your drink – it’s just really a matter of preference. Many people prefer for their mead to be perfectly clear, and even just picking up the mead bottle will stir up the sediment.
However, if you like the cloudiness and plan on keeping the drink for yourself, go ahead and start bottling up early!
Can you bottle Mead after 2 weeks?
It’s recommended to wait longer than 2 weeks to bottle your mead – mainly to avoid bottle explosions and to get the clearness that many people desire. However, the most basic mead can be ready for drinking after 2 weeks, but it will be worth checking the recipe you are following and waiting for a couple of extra weeks if possible.
Should Mead be clear before Bottling?
As mentioned above, many mead snobs will say that mead should be clear, but the fact is that perfect clarity is not actually essential when bottling mead up – especially if you are just keeping it for yourself. If you plan on giving bottles away, it might be worth attempting to clear the liquid more since clearness seems to be the preference.
This is particularly important if you are selling it – after all, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to turn away from buying your product!
If you do decide you want to clear your mead, put the liquid carefully back into a large carboy, ensuring that you don’t create too many splashes. Let it settle for several more weeks, and then rack it. You could leave the mead in secondary for months until it loses its cloudiness entirely – you could be waiting over 6 months for this, depending on the specific brew.
It’s worth noting here that clearing it in secondary is just as effective as in bottles – as long as you do not leave too much headspace.
An experiment you can conduct to see if your mead is clear enough is to test if you can read newspaper print through the fermenter. This beverage can take a long time to clear, but patience is the only necessary ingredient! If you need to clarify your mead sooner, utilise a fining agent such as Bentonite to speed up the process. These clarifying agents can be used in any mead-making kit or recipe.
How to bottle Mead
So, now that you know when to bottle your mead, it might be worth establishing how to bottle it up. Check out the required equipment and guide below for more information.
You’ll need various pieces of equipment to make this bottling process much more efficient. These objects are all a one-time purchase, meaning you’ll be able to use them each time you decide to brew and bottle this alcoholic beverage. You’ll need:
- Mini auto-siphon with tubing
- Flip-top bottles
- Bottling tool
- Sanitising equipment
Just like in the brewing process, you will need to sanitise every piece of equipment that will come into contact with the beverage – so, this includes your bottles, the bottling tool, and the auto-siphon and tubing. Try opting for a non-toxic solution. Once you’ve gathered your equipment and sanitised what you need, you can begin to bottle up!
This process requires two people, so ensure you’ve got a friend to help you. Attach the bottling tool onto one of the tubing’s ends and the auto-siphon onto the other. It might be easiest to place the bottles on a towel on the floor.
Flip-top bottles are straightforward to use, not needing a separate cork or cap in the process. Corked bottles can be handy if you intend to age bottles for extended periods, but these do create more work for you. If you only plan on bottling up 1 or 2 gallons, you should utilise the flip-top bottles.
If you’re a regular mead drinker, you could even consider purchasing mead that comes in those specific types of bottles to repurpose them. Some brewers prefer using wine bottles for long-term ageing – the cork in this type of bottle enables small amounts of oxygen inside, which could be advantageous for the mead’s flavour.
Since wine bottles aren’t designed to hold pressure, you’ll need to ensure your mead has fully finished fermenting before using this bottle. If you’re using a cork, floor corkers are incredibly efficient, although hand corkers are cheaper and can still get the job done.
Regardless of how you choose to package your mead, you’ll need to follow the same basic bottling approaches. Effective bottling methods minimise oxygen contact, use siphons to transfer the liquid from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, and use a length of tubing. You’ll want to cork or cap the bottles soon after you’ve filled them up.
Once you’ve capped your bottles, you need to store them in a dark, cool place. Give them a minimum of 2 weeks to age, but it’s worth pointing out that the taste will only improve with the more time it’s had to mature, so feel free to age your mead up to a year! With the opportunity to create smooth and flavourful tastes, you may end up being pleasantly surprised by your own brewing skills!
Hopefully, this has given you more awareness about the mead-bottling process and when you should actually start putting the caps on your bottles.
Never underestimate your mead-making abilities and the vitality of leaving your alcoholic beverage to mature. It might be overwhelming to get your head around everything when you first start homebrewing. You may have already been bombarded with dos and don’ts, but when you take that first sip of your matured homebrewed mead, the whole process will have been worth it!