People assume that because mead is made from honey and honey is very sweet that the final product has to be sweet. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. To figure out why this is so, we have to introduce you to our best friend in the whole wide world, our bff, our bosomest of buddies, our inter-speciel soul mate: Saccharomyces cerevisiae who goes by the nickname yeast.
Everything that ferments – whether it is beer, wine, mead, or the myriad other alcoholic beverages – starts out sweet; it’s just a mixture of sugar, water, and flavoring components. When yeast is invited to the party, it converts that sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
How sweet the final beverage is depends on one thing and one thing only: When the yeast quits. Four things can make Yeast quit and these factors vary from yeast strain to yeast strain. They are:
- When the yeast runs out of sugar to consume. This may be all of the sugar or only the varieties that yeast likes to eat. (Yeast tends to be maltodextrin and lactose intolerant, but don’t say anything because it’s really sensitive about it.)
- Killing the yeast. Yeast really does not like high temperatures or sulfur dioxide and it ain’t too fond of freezing weather either. If it’s dead, it stops eating (which is also true of humans).
- The yeast strain’s alcohol tolerance. All yeast dies, or at the very least stops doing anything, at a certain level of alcohol (again, also true of humans). This level can range from 8% alcohol by volume all the way up to 24% in some specially formulated strains.
- The yeast strain’s attenuation. This is, roughly speaking, what percentage of the sugar the yeast will consume. With low attenuation yeast, this means that the more sugar one starts with, the sweeter the final beverage.
By selecting how much honey to mix with the water and choosing a particular yeast strain, a meadmaker is able to create beverages with varying alcohol levels and sweetness. Because Groennfell Meadery uses a high attenuating, high alcohol tolerance yeast strain, all of our craft meads are dry. Why? Because that’s how we like it.