I’m a big fan of alternabrews (patent pending?). These are drinks that don’t get brewed as much as beer and wine, namely cider, herbal wine and mead. They’re easy, quick, fun and more inexpensive both in equipment and ingredients. In addition to the recipes in my book, an Amazon #1 new release in “beer”, I love crafting new recipes at home. Many times these are borne of necessity. Like today’s: a recipe for how to make mead with basil. You can jump right to the recipe if you already know about mead and why I make one gallon batches. Otherwise, read on to learn about mead, sustainable and ethical choices you can make when brewing at home and the equipment and ingredients you need. Product links are Amazon affiliate links. I get a small percentage of any sales generated from this blog. Every little bit helps, so thank you!
What is Mead?
Mead is honey wine. It’s a simple mix of water, yeast and honey that is allowed to ferment, thus becoming delicious alcohol. It was likely first made intentionally by the Chinese but in contemporary times, most associated with the Vikings. Many people think mead is just another name for beer, but mead does not contain any malts. That’s right, mead is gluten free! It is not, however, vegan.
How To Make Mead Easy
The trick to making any home brew easy is to scale down the recipe to one gallon. It’s far more manageable. It also wastes far less water. Water waste is a huge problem home brewers face, especially those of us who want to be less wasteful and more conscious in our kitchens. One gallon batches allow you to really learn the process, screw up without too much waste, and are cheaper on both the ingredient and equipment side. They also take far less time to brew. All of my recipes—whether in my book, this blog or my head—are one-gallon batches. Believe me, it’s the best way to introduce yourself and have more successful batches than unsuccessful ones.
I prefer to avoid plastic when brewing. Look for stainless steal, glass and silicon tools for the most ethical batch.For a standard batch of mead you will need:
- Two one-gallon carboys with polyseal cap, drilled screw cap and airlocks. I recommend doing it this way to save money and not have to buy a package of caps. This way you get some extra supplies and you end up paying less. You’ll only need one airlock, drilled screw cap and polyseal cap when brewing. You will need both carboys.
- Two gallon pot with cover. You’ll use this as your brew kettle, but searching for brew kettles online gets you pots that are around 10 gallons in capacity.
- Funnel. You probably already have one!
- Tubing. Siphoning your mead from primary to secondary requires a ton of practice.
- Immersion thermometer. Don’t use a meat thermometer
- Juice glass.
- Cutting Board
Ingredients for Basil Mead
- One gallon water. Many people use spring water. I use tap water that I’ve run through the Brita.
- 3-4 cups of basil, chopped and lightly bruised. Basil is very flavorful so you don’t have to bruise it much. Chopping it might even be enough.
- 2-3 pounds of honey. The less honey you use the drier your mead. Use local mead for the best flavor. Chances are your local beekeeper will be happy to barter with you for some mead and this will keep your cost down.
- One packet of brewing yeast. I recommend Lalvin D-47 or EC-1118. But I generally use whatever we have in the house.
Brewing mead takes time.˙Ȯn the first day, all you’ll do is make some tea and then let it sit for two days. The good thing is that you can easily do this during the week and then brew over the weekend.
- In the pot, bring the water to boiling over high heat while covered.
- Once it is boiling vigorously, add the basil. Cover and remove from heat.
- Allow to sit for 48 hours.
- Two hours before brewing take the packet of yeast out of the fridge. Set on the counter but do not open it.
- Start your brew day by cleaning and sanitizing everything you will use: carboy, polyseal cap, bung/drilled cap or whatever closure you’re combining with the airlock, airlock, thermometer, hydrometer, strainer, funnel, glass.
- While sanitizing, place the jars of honey, unopened, in a bowl of hot water to warm up the honey. This makes them easier to pour and ends in less waste.
- Place funnel in the carboy and place low in your kitchen. I am only slightly over 5′ tall so I do this on the floor.
- Place the pot with the tea on the stove and heat to around 100° F.
- Pour the warmed honey into the carboy using the funnel.
- Fill the glass with no more than an ounce of the warm water and follow the directions on the yeast packet to activate it in the glass.
- Strain about half of the tea into the carboy.
- Place one of the cleaned and sanitized polyseal caps on the carboy, close all of the way, and shake the heck out of your must. Try to get the honey completely incorporated.
- Add the activated yeast (from the drinking glass) to the carboy.
- Pour in more tea, stopping a little below the neck of the carboy. Shake again and then pour a small amount of the honey and tea mixture into the glass and the hydrometer casing. Take a reading.
- Fill the airlock halfway with water or a neutral spirit, like vodka.
- Place the drilled cap and airlock on the carboy making sure it is closed properly. Store in dark area of your home where the temperature will be consistent and around 65-75°. If you have to store it in a place where it will get exposed to light, wrap it in some blankets, towels or bedding or put a sweater or sweatshirt on it.
- After a day or so you’ll notice the airlock bubbling away. Leave it for a week to ten days. Once it is bubbling no more than once a minute, you’re ready to rack your mead to the secondary.
- Start your brew day by sanitizing the tubing, a carboy and all of its caps and a second airlock.
- Siphon your mead from primary to secondary.
- Mead tastes better the longer it ages. I recommend racking every 1-3 months to keep it off the lees and avoid and funky dead yeast flavors from developing. Take hydrometer readings when you rack.
- Bottle and carbonate, or just bottle anywhere from 6 months on. I recommend allowing it to bottle age for a year but try it at different points to see what you like.
Substitutions & Whatnot
When I set out to make this drink it was supposed to be basil wine. I was really excited for it and had a ton of pairings planned. But then I realized that I didn’t have nearly enough sugar. As someone working toward a zero waste kitchen I had two choices: walk to Spice and Nice and buy some or see what I had in my house that would work.
Veggies don’t have much sugar so there was not going to be anything much to feed the yeast. But I had maple syrup and honey in the house so I figured I’d make the tea and use it instead of water. That’s one of the best parts of making mead. A lot like sangria, you can have a good time making up your own recipes if you have a base of water or tea, sugar and yeast. I encourage you to use what you have at home.
If you make mead with basil from my recipe, please let me know how it comes out. You can leave a comment below, find me on Facebook, Tweet me or track me down on Instagram. I also have a new email address where you can message me about your process, any changes you made or even share a tasting note.