How to Make Mead Like a Viking!

Viking Who's Learned How To Make MeadThough mead making has been covered on the E. C. Kraus Winemaking Blog, mead also falls into the homebrewing side of the equation. It is often judged in BJCP competitions and as it turns out, the mead making process is fairly simple and generally less time-consuming than making beer – at least on brew day itself.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a presentation called “How To Make Mead Like a Viking”, presented by Jereme Zimmerman. Keep reading to learn about what I gathered from the class about how to make mead from honey.
Mead is quite possibly the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. It’s simply a fermented combination of honey and water. Though mead can be made using commercial wine or beer yeast, to make mead “like a Viking”, it should be spontaneously fermented… without yeast added. In other words, the yeast comes from the air or from fruits and/or spices.
The ancient Vikings would often use all parts of the bee hive in their mead, including the honeycomb, the raw honey, and even the bees. If you have access to raw honey or a honeycomb, by all means use them, but also feel free to just use plain honey. Jereme recommended sourwood honey, clover honey, and buckwheat honey.
 
Ingredients
The only ingredients you absolutely need starting out learning how to make mead is honey and water:

  • Shop FermentersDo your best to find raw unpasteurized honey for your mead recipe. Your local farmers market is a good place to look. Just try to avoid the store-bought stuff that’s made with corn syrup and artificial flavors. It will ferment, but the results will be less satisfying.
  • As for water, use distilled, spring, or purified water. If you must use tap water, either boil it or let it sit out overnight in order to evaporate any chlorine that may be in the water. Use about 1 gallon of water per quart of honey for a semi-sweet mead, less water if you like your mead sweeter, more water if you like it drier.

You may also wish to include flavoring ingredients, including fruit, herbs, spices, etc. Zimmerman recommends also throwing in 10 to 12 organic raisins, a bit of tree bark, such as oak, chestnut, or cherry, or black tea for flavor and nutrients for the yeast. Another optional ingredient when learning how to make mead is some sort of acid added to the mead recipe for flavor and mouthfeel.
 
Equipment
If you are a homebrewer or winemaker, you probably already have the basic idea of how to make mead. You probably already have everything you need equipment-wise, as well. This includes:

  • A ceramic, glass, or food-grade plastic fermenter
  • A stirring spoon – Vikings would use a totem, or “magic” stick. They didn’t understand the science of fermentation, however the yeast that would reside on their stirring stick would carry from batch to batch.
  • Cheesecloth or other cloth material to wrap around the mouth of the fermentation vessel, plus a string or rubber band to secure it in place.

 
How to Make Mead Like a VikingShop Beer Growlers
This is how to make mead using a spontaneous fermentation. Your mead brew day should take about an hour from start to finish.

  1. Clean and sanitize your equipment – Again if you’re a homebrewer or winemaker, you know how to do this.
  2. Mix the water and the honey – There’s no need to boil or even heat the mixture. However, you may wish to warm the honey just enough to make it easier to pour out of its bottle. Mix about 3/4 gallons of water per quart of honey.
  3. Add flavorings and yeast nutrient – Though flavorings aren’t required, they can add an interesting dimension to your mead. You might also consider adding yeast nutrient to support the fermentation (though that’s not how the Vikings did it!).
  4. Add yeast – Yeast naturally lives on many different fruits, so this may be just throwing in a few (10-12) organic raisins. Alternatively, add a commercial wine yeast such as Lalvin ICV D-47. Fix your cheesecloth over the top of the fermenter.
  5. Ferment – This is probably the most critical part of the mead making process. About an hour after pitching your yeast, give the mixture a vigorous stir to aerate. Repeat this a few times a day for the first three days or so. You’ll know when fermentation takes off by the froth that forms on the top of the mead. Once the froth settles down, get ready to rack.
  6. Rack to a secondary fermenter – Vikings typically drink their meads young, but modern tastes may appreciate some aging. Some of today’s meads are aged for a year or longer. Feel free to take a sample of the mead to see how it tastes. If you decide to age the mead go ahead and rack it into a carboy and seal with a bung and an airlock. Minimize headspace in the carboy by topping it off with enough water, fruit juice, or honey and water mixture to bring the level of the mead up to within an inch or so of the airlock’s bung.
  7. Shop Wine Bottle CorkersAge – Allow the mead to age for at least 3-4 months. It should continue to improve over the course of a year. This may be hard for someone just learning how to make mead, but it’s well worth the wait.
  8. Bottle – When the mead has completely finished fermenting and it tastes to your liking, bottle the mead. You can bottle with wine bottles and a corker or beer bottles and a capper. Either way is fine. Use a bit of honey or priming sugar if you want a carbonated mead, but only do this if putting in beer bottles. Wine bottles are not designed to hold any kind of pressure.
  9. Drink – You can continue to age your mead, or go ahead and drink it. Either way – skål!

 
And that’s how to make mead like a Viking. Now it’s your turn. Sounds easy enough, right? I’ll give the process a try and let you know how it goes!
—–
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the IBD and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.

44 thoughts on “How to Make Mead Like a Viking!

  1. hmmm here’s an interesting thought too…. Vikings didn’t have the knowledge to sterilize their equipment like we do theses days so that basic cleaning of the equipment might be the way to go if your wanting the feel and taste of the original mead brew…… and they would have used wooden containers to boot, maybe something like the wine barrels winemakers use to this day.

    • Vikings had some of the most advanced hygiene tools for that era, so I wouldnt be very surprised if they had a way to sanitize their equipment. Now we are not talking about the level or type of sanitation we have today, but still.

  2. I really like this “simple” recipe. I have made numerous batches of mead over numerous years and other than some slow fermentation rates have never had a problem with producing good drinking mead. Procuring the raw honey has always been the hardest part of the process for me. Stay thirsty my friends!

  3. Explain one thing to me – After it’s done fermenting, if I want to drink it young, can I bottle it without it exploding? And do I filter out the residues in the bottom?

    • Levis, fermentation activity is what can cause the wine to explode in the bottle. If you have verified with your hydrometer that the fermentation is complete, there would be no problem in bottling the wine without having the bottles explode. Also, remember if you decide to back-sweeten the wine to add potassium sorbate to keep it from re-fermenting. Before you bottle the any wine, it should be after the wine is clear and you have transferred it off of any sediment on the bottom.

      • While using the method mentioned in the article I lost about half of my mead to evaporation over 1 month. Does this mean I need to keep it in a cooler place?

          • When I made mead I always felt that firstly I gained a rather quick ferment by adding cleaned but fresh, not heat treated, fruit which contain natural yeast mostly on their skins; I found a sterile open vessel covered with cling film allowed it to breath without letting in unwanted bugs etc. After that, strained off the fruit and began age fermentation in a sterile demijohn with airlock. After one week, siphoned off of the sediment into a sterile demijohn with airlock. Repeat last task after each following week only until there is not little sediment collecting at the bottom of the john. Then allow to ferment until it appears that the natural yeast within is becoming somewhat starved and fermentation finally slow, showing as lesser activity of gas passing out through the airlock. As I progressed with making mead, I sometimes added more honey to prolong fermentation. Once I allowed fermentation to slow, the mead naturally became crystal clear as sunlight passed through the liquid. I then sterilised my bottles etc and siphoned that fruit mead into bottles, corked, and stood in a cool, dark area to age, ready for any occasion.

        • I had this happen (or so I thought) 5 gal of mead aging quietly in the back room. I looked one day and thought “Is it evaporating?” because the level was lower than it should be. I checked it out and there was a fine hairline crack on the bottom of the carboy 0_0 So…

  4. I am trying to make a 5 gallon apple cider,10 lbs of honey or cyber mead and I can’t get it to ferment so I went back and looked at the apple cider jugs and looked very good and the apple cider has potassium sorbat in it in very small letters.Is there any way to overcome the potassium sorb ate or am I going to dump it ,I hope not I have a lot of money in it.Can you please help me know what I should do.

  5. And here I thought this was going to be an article by the fellow, Jereme Zimmerman, who wrote the book by the same name as the article, “Make Mead Like a Viking”.

  6. Hi Ed,
    You metioned in Levis’s comment that you use your hydrometer to measure the FG.When do measure the OG in order to calculate the ABV? The way I understand is that should you measure the OG when you mix the honey & water it will give you a 1.000 (water) reading?
    I enjoy your emails immensly, always something very interesting to read! Thanks!!
    Co – South Africa.

    • Co van den Raad, the OG reading is taken after all ingredients are added except the yeast. You are correct that the specific gravity of water is 1.000. The more sugar/honey you add the thicker the liquid becomes so the higher it will float.

  7. Newbie here….
    I put a quart of raw, unfiltered honey into a gallon of pure, spring water over a week ago. I’ve stirred it daily and whispered sweet nothings to it. It’s just now starting to bubble slightly. How will I know when its ready? What will it taste like when its ready?

  8. Early Vikings did not have access to grapes or raisins. If you read the translations of the early sagas, they talk about adding honey and water to OPEN TOP vessels. The most likely yeast was a naturally occurring, airborne ALE yeast (see Lambic). The confusion about what they were making comes from the monks, who were used to mead, translating the fermented honey beverage as either mead or used the Norse word for it: Ealu. I had a Prussian lady pronounce the word for me, and it sounded like a combination of the words Ale and Oil, which stunned me. It was not mead, it was the first ALE. The reason ales are now made with barley is because the cultivation of Europe drove the bee populations into decline so that only the rich had honey, and they made it into mead. Barley then became the standard ingredient of ale. If you want to know what the vikings drank, put 15 lbs honey into 5 gals water, throw ale yeast into it and bottle it in strong containers when the fizzing stops in the secondary fermenter. It is sweet and fizzy just like the vikings drank it and ready to drink in three months. The sagas say they tapped it off the bottom while adding more honey and water to the top, so it was sweet, yeasty, and fizzy.

    • In the Greenlanders saga of Leif Erickson he found wild grapes in western Minnesota and called this place Vinland. The vines also made excellent rope.

  9. Righto.
    Hello from the deepest Sussex countryside in the UK.
    I pretty much followed the instructions on the website as a basic guideline to make mead without added yeast as such. I used about 3.5 lb of raw, unpasteurized honey from a friend of mine’s place in a forest in Northern France. The water was from a well known local spring just a few miles away from where I live – 1 gallon of.
    I cleaned everything in very hot water, no bleaches or sanitizers and pretty much mixed the must in a gallon dj warming up the honey prior as man it was thick.
    Ten minutes of solid, hand held mixing later popped half dozen or so organic raisins in and stuck a bung with airlock on it.
    Nothing happened that I could detect for about two weeks so I popped another half dozen or so raisins in with two or three slices of organic apple. I did consider oak bark but my oak was wet outside.
    About a week later bubbles ahoy and all seems to be going well.I tasted it two weeks ago and it tasted of nice tasting honey water.I tried a bit today and it’s definately different and not in a bad way. There was much more depth to it and the fruit mixture which was just for nutrient really gives it a nice crisp feel in the mouth.
    Damn sweet though, seemed somehow sweeter than before but more complex tastes. If that lot gets fed on by the cultures then it’s gonna be a strong ‘un. It’s kept round 20c (68f) to 14c (57.2f) as that’s what my home is ( I don’t live in a house) this time of year in the UK.
    I’ll keep my eye on it and see how it goes and maybe report back with info to share whatever happens. So far so good and thanks for the info on the website.
    Love thy planet folks,
    Gaz.
    I

  10. Greeting and Pura Vida from Costa Rica!
    I am a completely new brewer however my wife is a fermenting apprentice. She makes kefir, fermented veggies, kimchi, and has started a Natural Beer brew from wild ingredients. WE would love to brew beer and mead but we have absolutely no brewing supplies (i.e. carboys, hydrometers, bottling equipment, etc.). Similar to vikings, per se. We do however have an abundance of honey in all forms. Here in CR there are 650 different types of bees and they thrive! I would really like to know if your process can be manipulated to produce a simpler type of mead? For example, we have honey, oak, fruit, good water and glass containers but none that can withstand much pressure. Is there a fizz-free variety that can still properly ferment and become a good “Viking-style” beverage we can enjoy and be proud of? Or, do we need to tool around and find a recipe and method that produces? I’m not troubled by learning things through trial and error, but I figured you would know. Thanks!

    • I’m having the same issues as you, not having nor wanting to get all that fancy equipment. If you found a procedure or way, please let me know.

      • – You can get a few hints at what equipment the Vikings really used in Uncle Thud’s comment (above, December 17, 2018, 4:49 p.m.).
        – Or you may consider reading Jereme Zimmerman’s book – the author that inspired this blog post – although I haven’t read it, so I don’t know to what extent his methods do away with fancy equipment. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1603585982/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
        – a long time ago, when my in-laws and I used to keep bees, we did make mead in the crudest form possible one might say. We simply mixed water, honey, some spices and a little bit of yeast for bread-making (yes, you read that right, bread yeast) in a glass jar and let it sit for a couple of weeks with a simple cotton top. We decanted it and drank it this way. It was definitely blurry, slightly fizzy, low in alcohol and fairly sweet. We bottled some and it kept for several months, no explosions. No ‘second fermentation’ process or racking or anything of the sort.
        We had based our experiments on recipes found in a cookbook written by medievalist French author Jeanne Bourin (https://www.amazon.ca/CUISINE-MÉDIÉVALE-POUR-TABLES-DAUJOURDHUI/dp/2082025373?SubscriptionId=AKIAILSHYYTFIVPWUY6Q&tag=duc12-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=2082025373 — I doubt it’s translater in English though). I seem to recall there was a couple of ‘recipes’ for it. Sources for recipes from these times are few and vague and made assumptions about current-day knowledge of ‘techniques’, so it leaves a lot of room to experiment! These were simple folk recipes, the kind that people made in their own homes.
        In any case, I guess it all depends on what your aspirations or goals are. If it’s simply for fun and home consumption, you can get away with very little investment and fancy techniques. If you want tried and true results, or desire a product that’s more on the dry side or if you want to achieve consistent results batch after catch, I assume it would be best to follow a stricter method. Or be ready to do a lot of experiments. Good luck!

  11. Hello,
    I recently made this recipe, and the first fermentation finished July 5;
    Now, I’ve opened the containers for the first time since straining and “bottling” the mead, and it’s become carbonated.
    It lets out a very explosive hiss when opened and has the tell-tale carbonated bubbles coming up to the surface. As well as a beer-like head.
    It also has off-white sediment on the bottom and along the fill line, where the liquid stops.
    This is my first time ever brewing and the online consensus seems to be quite mixed:
    I figured it best to go to the source,
    Is this a sign of infection or of something else going wrong?
    Thank you for any responses

  12. Dear Mr. Kraus,
    Thank you very much for this explanation on how to make mead. I have one question, however. What would be a suitable glass vessel to ferment the mead in? I prefer glass over ceramic, plastic and other materials. Would this work?
    Thanks again,
    Charles

  13. Hello! I just made some basic mead with a quart of honey and one gallon of water with wild elder flowers and raisins in a crock. When it’s complete, can I store it in the refrigerator like kombucha? Thank you for all of this info!

    • Nicole, You can store any wine or mead in the refrigerator once fermentation is complete and it is ready to bottle.

  14. I started my mead about 6.5 weeks ago. Forgot about it for the last 2 week so so. It smells amazing and tastes really good, but has little white floaties on top. Is this a bad sign?

    • Marique, It could be mold beginning to form, but most likely it is a bacterial infection. This can happen if the wine has completed its fermentation and has become still. You can treat it with sulfites to kill what is starting to form in your mead. For more information, please see the article link below.
      White Stuff On Top Of My Wine
      https://blog.eckraus.com/theres-white-stuff-on-my-wine

      • Thanks Ed
        I would prefer not to add anything. Would it be okay just to scoop of the white bits and bottle? It is just water, raw honey and wild olives. It tastes really good!

  15. Sooo, I was making something I always make. Using 1part herb infused water and 4 parts honey.
    Never have I had it stqrt fermenting but it is doing so. Will I be able to still use this? Another words drink it. Just let it finish fermenting?

    • It’s very possible that it will be suitable to drink. But as with any wild fermentation, you need to be conscience of any bacterial growth, as well. This can be noted as a fingernail polish smell during the fermentation, and/or a vinegar smell and taste after the fermentation. On rare occasions you can get a barnyard smell or burnt rubber smell.

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