hist-brewing: spontaneous ferment mead

Matt Maples matt_lists at hotmail.com
Mon Jan 15 22:55:09 PST 2001

----- Original Message -----
From: "Chuck" <meadmakr at enteract.com>
To: <hist-brewing at pbm.com>
Sent: Monday, January 15, 2001 10:38 AM
Subject: hist-brewing: spontaneous ferment mead

>I do not use any yeast  nutrients/energizers.
Well, I have been makeing mead for going on 10 years now and I can tell you
that some honeys just do not have what it takes to do a good ferment to 12%
+. I'm no bee keeper but some varieties are just more tempermental when it
comes to fermentation. Now I have made my share of mead without it but if
you do not know why not toss in a teaspoon or so just in case. Now one thing
I am sure we can agree on is that if you are adding fruit or spices there is
absolutly no need for it as they provide good food for the yeasties.

>I also do not heat my honey musts. I buy my honey only from
> beekeepers/companies who minimially handle their honey so
> that the natural enzymes and other goodies remain intact.
> Through all this I have never had an infected mead

Kudos!! It sounds like you are really good at making a large volume starter
which makes all the diference in the world.

>or one of those "mead takes two years before it tastes good"
> fermentations. Most of my meads are finished fermenting
> in three weeks, and are bottled and ready to drink soon
> after that. And they've won the occasional ribbon or two.

If this is true (and I'm not doubting you) you must have really good control
over the fermentation temp.  becasue too hot can cause higher alcohols that
need to age out and too cool and you can get a lag.

> But, historically speaking, I have wondered just how did
> they do it back there in the mists of time? Where did they
> get their yeast?  Did their mead spontaneously ferment, like
> a lambic? so I did a couple of experiments.

>From the stuff I have read it happened in a few ways. 1) Spontaneous, some
places (like Lambeek Belgium and the bordux region of France) have more (and
better) yeast floating about naturally. 2)  Know yeast harborers. Many recip
es back when called for things like a handfull of rasins or mustard seeds or
something else that they knew would bring on fermentation. 3) Yeast sticks.
Some used the same stick to stir each batch and was handed down though the
generations. The stick collected yeast in the pores and passed it from batch
to batch.

> First, I have read all the 'net tales of "you've gotta heat,
> or boil your honey must and skim off the scum that rises to
> the top." Baloney!

This was handed down from the really old recipes were it was important to
skim off the wax, antena, and bee heads that came with the honey as well as
purifying bad water. I have seen some recipes from the 1500s that called for
rain water that ommited any kind of boiling. You are right that the heat can
damage and remove nutrient from the mead. With the macro filtering that they
do with most all of comercially available honey, there is no need to skim.
As for heating, like I said earlier, the fact you do a large starter has a
lot to do with the fact you have not got infections also whare you live has
a lot to do with it. I have read posts from people who live in warm climates
or live near certain agriculteral product that state they need to be very
careful about makeing sure this a very sanitized to begin with as the mold
and bacteria grow fast or there is a lot of naturally occuring yeast in the

As for meads that ferment in 3 weeks and is drinkable, well my only guess is
that you are not pushing the mead envelope very much. High grav meads 16+
take longer than that, certain flavors take longer to develop (like sherry
type notes). Mead is a patient art, not mater how you slice it most meads do
better with proper aging. I don't like my mead to be drinkable too early
because I might just drink them before they reach there peak.

All of these things are just steps to insure a good mead. Just because you
are good (diligent) at making starters and live in an area that does not
have a lot of airborne yeasts (and other things) does not mean the rest of
us are that lucky. Then again if a person (unlike yourself) is just blindly
following theses recipes without thinking about their situation and
experimenting with that they have to do (and what they can get away with) to
get good mead then they are not enjoying the ART of mead making and just
following some cooking recipe.

Just as you can ride a bike without a helmet and go boating without a
life-preserver, you can also make good mead without taking the precautions
of nutrient or pasteurization. But until you REALLY know what you are doing
you are taking your chances if you do not.

I have made meads without sulfites or pasteurization that have turned out
great. I have also done meads that fermented wild that turned out pretty
good (one that fermented 16.5% DOWN TO .992) But if I am using some
expensive honey or fruit or spice that is hard for me to get I will take the
necessary precautions to make sure it turns out the way I want. People who
are just beginning should follow the rules until they are comfortable enough
to break one or two and not get discouraged if it doesn't work out.

I am glad your way works out for you but I would not encourage people to
just give up taking precautions without some serious thought.

Matt Maples

May mead regain its rightful place as the beverage of gods and kings.

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