Mead is fermented honey. It is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to man. Mead is produced when honey, the primary sugar source, is diluted down to a concentration that supports yeast growth.
Diluted honey – mixture of honey and water – is known as must. This must is combined with activated yeast which consumes the sugar in the must to produce alcohol as by product.
The exact alcohol content of mead depends upon the quantity and type of honey used, yeast, and also the quality of your water.
Mead alcohol content
The alcohol content of mead is generally between 8 to 20%. Based on the alcohol content, you have different varieties of meads.
Any mead with alcohol content over 14% is classified as sack mead. Sack meads are generally made using 3 to 4 lb of honey per gallon.
Dry meads, on the other hand, contain about 12% alcohol by volume and are made using 2 ½ to 3 lb of honey per gallon.
Factors affecting alcohol content of mead
The type of honey used can impact the sweetness and hence the alcohol content of your mead.
Honey with higher moisture content activates its natural yeasts that start consuming available sugars and this produces more alcohol. Therefore, the simplest honey meads are usually the sweetest and also have higher alcohol content.
Too little honey produces low-alcohol meads that are prone to quick spoilage. On the other hand, too much honey can kill off the yeast. So it is important to have a balance.
Clover honey and wild blossom honey are commonly sold types of honey for brew making. However, expert brewers usually recommend Goldenrod honey as it makes the best mead. Buckwheat honey is darker and maltier but it isn’t easy to make into tasty mead.
The quality of yeast used in mead making will also impact its final alcohol content. Special mead yeasts are available on the market, although you can add the ones used for making cider, beer, or wine.
Once you have successfully made a batch, experiment with different varieties of yeasts. Each variety will affect the flavour, alcohol content, and speed of fermentation.
Water is a critical component in all alcoholic beverages. In early days, meads and wines were made using rainwater.
Today, expert brewers recommend using at least distilled water or spring water for making mead.
While water does not have a direct impact on the alcohol content of the mead, it certainly does impact the taste of the mead by impacting the pH level. That is why it is important to avoid chlorinated tap water when making mead.
Measuring your mead’s alcohol content
Brewers use a hydrometer during mead-making to measure its sugar concentration. This, in turn, will indicate the potential alcohol content of your mead.
Drop the hydrometer into a container with the must. The hydrometer will float at the point that its weight is displaced. Alcohol is less dense than water. So, the greater the alcohol concentration, the deeper the hydrometer will sink.
For dry meads, you’d want your must solution to be approximately 22% honey to water. This is expressed as gravity reading of 1.025. For sweeter meads, go for 25% or greater, expressed as specific gravity of 1.110.
If you follow good mead recipes, you will get good results. But if you are particular about the sweetness or dryness of your mead, then you should use a hydrometer.
A hydrometer reading of 1.090 will give you alcohol content of 11.9% by volume. Such mead will be bone-dry. You can add more honey to make the gravity reading up to 1.110. This will create 13.4% alcohol to give you medium-dry mead.
Most fans of mead prefer a reading of 1.110. If, despite this reading, your mead turns out medium sweet, then it could be an indication that your fermentation has stuck.
A lot of factors are at play when it comes to the final alcohol content of your mead. You will come to know what you like as you experiment with different recipes.