Yeasts are micro-organisms classified in the kingdom Fungi. There are currently about 1,500 identified species of yeast. The word “yeast” comes from the Old English words gist and gyst and from the root yes, which means to boil, foam or bubble. Yeast has been used throughout history for fermentation and baking. It’s probably one of the earliest known domesticated micro-organisms.
The oldest and most widespread application or use of yeast is in the fermentation of sugars. It is used in the process of making mead, beer, and wine. In the process of making an alcoholic beverage, ethanol is produced by fermentation. Fermentation is the metabolism of carbohydrates by yeast under low-oxygen (anaerobic) conditions. Wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages all use yeast.
Mead, or honey wine is an alcoholic drink made from water, honey and yeast. Mead production can be traced as far back as 7,000 BC. It was a drink of choice in ancient Greece and early Hinduism. It has been referenced in such literature as Beowulf, was the preferred beverage of the early Germanic tribes, and even some monasteries produced it.
There is not really a set rule for making mead, and it comes in a wide variety of types and flavors. It can be still, carbonated, dry, sparkling, semi-sweet, or sweet and the alcohol content varies as well. Depending on the recipe used, spices, fruits or grain mash are sometimes added to create different flavors.
There are numerous varieties of mead: Great mead is one that is supposed to be aged for several years before consumption. A Short mead or quick mead is aged quickly, and used for immediate consumption. It may be bubbly, and taste a little like cider. A Sack mead refers to a mead that is made with greater amounts of honey than usual and has a very sweet taste. A Show mead is one that is plain mead and has not added flavors, spices or fruits.
Acan is a mead native to Mexico. In keeping with that, there is a variety of mead called Capsicumel, which is flavored with chile peppers, of all things! Pitarrilla is a Mayan mead made from wild honey, balché tree bark and fresh water.
There are numerous Polish meads, including Czworniak (3:1 ratio of water to honey), Dwojniak (1:1 ratio of water to honey), Półtorak (2:1 ratio of honey to water, thus a sweeter variety) and * Trójniak(2:1 ratio of water to honey).
Myod is a traditional Russian mead, with 3 types: Aged, a mixture of honey and water and/or (preferably) berry juices, aged anywhere from 12 to 50 years. There is also Drinking mead, a honey wine made from diluted honey by traditional fermentation. And lastly, Boiled mead, which is close to a beer, made from wort of diluted honey and herbs.
Tej is Ethiopian in origin. It is made from fermented wild yeast and gesho. The Gesho is a shiny-leaf Buckthorn, a shrub native to Africa. The stems are boiled and the extract is used with the honey.
Braggot is a Welsh mead, originally brewed with honey and hops. Metheglin is also Welsh, and is a traditional mead with herbs or spices added. Common Metheglin flavors used are ginger, vanilla, cloves, coriander, cinnamon and orange peels.
Acerglyn is yet another type of mead, made with honey and maple syrup, resulting in a sweet mead. Melomel is a mead produced from honey and any fruit. Morat is a variety that uses honey and mulberries. A mead made from honey and black currants is a Black Mead. Rhodomel is made from fermented honey, rose petals (or attar or hips) and water. Cyser is a blend of fermented apple juice and honey (much like a cider).
Omphacomel was a medieval mead made from honey and verjuice. Verjuice is the pressed juice from unripened grapes. Oxymel is another medieval mead, made with honey and wine vinegar.
How Mead is Made
Typically, mead is made by starting with about 4 gallons of water and 12-15 pounds of honey. This will yield about 4-5 quarts of mead. The mixture is usually heated. Then the yeast is added, along with a nutrient to help the yeast grow. The nutrient can be purchased or things like lemon peels or tea leaves can be used instead. The mixture is left to sit for a period of time, around two weeks, at which point, the mead is starting fermentation, and bubbling. It is then poured into a clear bottle, where it is left until it is no longer active (not bubbling or moving). It is then poured into individual bottles and stored for anywhere from three months to a year. There are faster processes, however, that involve less fermentation and storing time, numerous websites offer recipes and how-tos on mead making.
Where to Buy Yeast and What Type to Buy
There are variety of yeasts that can be used to make a mead. A beginner can try using Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast, bought at just about any grocery store for around one dollar. Liquid yeast is also used. The best way to find out what type of yeast to use is to try out different recipes to find out what type of mead you like the best. A sweet or dry mead yeast can be purchased online from William’s Brewing for $6.50. Homebrewmarket.com carries Vintner’s Choice WYeast for $7.99 a packet, it’s a dry, sweet mead yeast, and used in making Mead, Fruit Mead, Herbal Mead, Dry Ciders, Ginger Ale, Fruit Wines and Cysers.
Sweet Mead: 3 1/4 pounds pure honey, 7 pints water, 3 teaspoons Malic Acid, 1 1/2 teaspoon Tartaric Acid, 1/4 teaspoon Tannin, 1 teaspoon Yeast Nutrient, 1 Campden Tablet, crushed, 1 pkg. wine or mead yeast, makes 1 gallon.