Meads are fermented from honey, The most concentrated natural source of sugar. Honey is a mixture of natural sugars, and does not ferment by itself because the concentration literally pulls water out of bacterial or yeast cells (a process called "dessication"), preventing them from growing. This tendency of concentrated sugar solutions to pull water out of other things is called "osmotic potential", and can have a profound impact on the survival and fermentation rate of yeast. The basic mead technique is to dilute honey to the proper sugar content, heat or boil it gently to kill wild bacteria and yeast, and then inoculate with a large quantity of yeast.
Since honey is essentially pure sugar, it is also very low in the vitamins and minerals so abundant in malt extract. It also has no buffering capacity, so the acids produced by the yeast during fermentation will rapidly reduce the pH and slow down the fermentation. Consequently, mead has a reputation of being very difficult and time consuming to make, and is not attempted by many people.
Home mead-makers generally ferment in glass containers, ranging in size from 4 liter (one US gallon) jugs through 20 liter carboys. Glass is especially recommended because it's impervious to oxygen. A plastic container would allow significant amounts of oxygen to diffuse through the walls during the very long, quiet fermentation traditional to mead.
Recently, techniques have been developed to properly feed and manage the pH of yeast growing in diluted honey or sugar that make mead making almost as rapid and reliable as beer brewing. These will be discussed in the section on fermenting techniques.
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