Ask the Meadmaker – Meadmaking Basics, pt. 1

In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers some of the most frequently-asked questions about meadmaking, mead brewing, mead drinking, and some of the other questions you’re willing to ask him!


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RICKY THE MEADMAKER: I had a great idea. We could do this instead of as YouTube, we could do it as a Zoom meeting. 

But I don't know how to do Zoom meetings really and I don't know how to set them up. So, what I thought you could all do is just start like, nine different videos of me playing at the same time and try to watch them. That's what zoom is, right?

Welcome to Ask the Meadmaker, where I, Ricky the Meadmaker, answer your questions about mead making, mead drinking, mead brewing, and really any question you're willing to send to me.

In the last episode, I asked all of you to say, "What can I do for you, my community?" The number one thing, the number one thing that was asked was for all of us to stay healthy. Try to keep the company going. Much appreciated. Meant a lot to hear that. Number two was bring back Word of the Week Ricky. I have excellent news. Turns out, he was supposed to be back September 14 last year, but we had failed to pay return postage. And I don't know what that means. But it had a really weird stamp on it, in a currency that I don't think has existed since like, the 1820's. Anyway, we sent postage and hopefully he'll be back soon. 

The third biggest question that came in a lot of different forms is: "Can you go back to the basics?" So basically, what I gathered is after answering hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of questions, people wanted like a quick, "These are the most common mead making questions. Can you answer them and do it in a fashion that's actually useful?" And the answer is I will do my best. Let's go. 

Question number one. Does the honey I'm using matter? The answer is yes. I guess, obviously. Okay, nope, I'm going to be serious. Not sassy. Yes, obviously. Nope, that was still a little bit sassy. Yes, it does. It matters a lot. So, just like what grain you use or what grape you use matters when you're brewing other beverages, the honey you pick has a very big impact on the final product. So, the second question to this is yes, obviously, clover honey will taste different from buckwheat honey, but how different? The answer is so many other things come into play that that's not an easy question to answer. If you're using a really strong, alcohol-tolerant yeast, like a champagne strain, it can actually strip away a lot of those flavors from your varietal process. You will never be able to make a buckwheat honey taste like a clover honey. Does that make sense? 

Question number two. What is the second most important thing after the honey I pick? It's actually not the second most important thing after the honey you pick. The first most important thing is clean and sanitize everything. Clean it, sanitize it, have your best friend do it. Clean and sanitize everything you are working with. That is more important than whatever ingredients you use, because a poor sanitation can ruin whatever you're brewing. 

Question number three, I actually know what you're asking, it’s, “After the honey, what is the second most important ingredient?” If you're not adding fruits and spices, that'll be in the next episode, it's probably your yeast. Your yeast has a huge impact on the final profile of your mead. As I just mentioned, some of the champagne strains can just strip flavor out but give you a very high alcohol content. Whereas ale strains can leave you a lot of sweetness, a lot of flavor, but you can get an almost bready, almost beer-like character from them. So, after getting a good honey, it's the thing that I love playing around with most. 

Number four, what should I ferment in? Does it have to be glass? The answer is I'm not answering that. I actually genuinely believe that buckets are the best thing for brewing in. But if I said that out loud, I would get in so much trouble. So, pretend I didn't say it. 

Number five. The last question I'm going to answer in this question. What is the single biggest rookie mistake you see in mead making? And the answer is actually super easy. It's bad use of yeast nutrient. Yeast nutrient is so important. I've written a ton of articles about it. I've talked about it many times on this show. There's a particular brand that I love. I'm not supported by them. I just think Wyeast makes an incredible yeast nutrient. It's hard to overuse, which is the biggest issue I see. Many yeasts and honeys need yeast nutrient to have a healthy fermentation. But using the wrong nutrients in the wrong amounts or the wrong times can create everything from cat urine aromas to a flavor that tastes like three day old, dried out Martini olives. It is the most common flaw in mead competitions, both commercial and homebrewer. So, get a really deep understanding of yeast nutrient. While understanding the science is wonderful, experimenting is better. 

So, that's our last question from this week. And next time, I'm going to do five more of the most common questions in mead making. How exciting. I am shocked I didn't do this years ago. That's what quarantine does to you. It makes you think.

Anyway, stay healthy. Keep sending your questions and I will get to them as soon as possible. Cheers.

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