Homemade mead may be the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world but back sweetening your mead lets you put your very own twist on this age-old drink. The process of back sweetening allows you to sweeten your newly made batch of mead just before you bottle it. Practice and a bit of time will have you filling your sanitized beer bottles with golden nectar before you know it.
What is Back Sweetening?
This artful strategy is a widespread yet useful technique as your mead will begin to lose its smooth sweetness during the active fermentation process. This is especially true if you want your mead to have a lower alcohol content. While not an advanced technique, be aware that you can’t simply start dumping in a bunch of sugar to back sweeten your mead. You need to pay very close attention to the yeast activity in your brew.
Your yeast has a particular job in your brew. It works to convert sugar into alcohol and CO2; this transmutation of sugar into alcohol is called fermentation. Fermentation will carry on until all the fermentable sugars used in the process are gone, or if you, the brewer, put an end to it. A hot water bath is a good way to kill fermentation.
Now, if you have decided that you want to increase your mead’s sweetness and simply start dumping any type of sugar into your brew, you run the risk of sending your yeast back to work. If your yeast were to ferment the sugars you added, the overall sweetness would greatly diminish, and the alcohol content would rise.
Back sweetening allows you to avoid all this while still achieving the perfect level of sweetness for your brew. Below is a step-by-step guide to help you back sweeten your very own mead at home and enhance the flavor profile.
What you’ll need
- Secondary container
- Potassium sorbate
Step 1: Monitor the Fermentation
Back sweetening is one among several brewing techniques that occurs at the tail end of the mead-making process, so you’ll need to keep close watch as your brew begins to ferment. After adding your yeast, you should start to see signs of fermentation within 24 hours. The airlock will begin to bubble as CO2 makes its escape. Once you’ve witnessed this, you should transfer your mead off the yeast and into a secondary fermenter.
Make sure that the equipment used in the transfer is clean and sanitized. A great tool for this step in the process is an auto-siphon.
Step 2: Add Potassium Sorbate
Once your mead has been transferred, you can add potassium sorbate into your secondary fermenter. You’ll only need to stir in 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon of mead to halt additional fermentation.
While the presence of potassium sorbate doesn’t kill off the yeast in your brew, it does prevent the yeast from transforming sugars into alcohol and CO2 without any detectable flavors. So let’s take a closer look at this essential ingredient.
Potassium sorbate is one of several harmless chemical additives in food. It is the potassium salt of sorbic acid. This white salt is incredibly soluble in water and primarily serves as a preservative in food. You’ll find that potassium sorbate is used in various ways, like preserving wine and in products designed for personal care.
Step 3: Let it Rest
After you’ve added the potassium sorbate, let your brew rest for at least 24 hours. Also take a quick gravity measurement to establish a baseline before adding your sweetener. You’ll want to take another reading to measure the gravity after sweetening to make sure the process of fermentation hasn’t restarted.
This is where patience plays a critical role in the back sweetening process. Once at least a whole day has gone by, you will then be able to add your honey. Letting the brew rest means that you won’t have to worry about the risk of fermentation beginning again after adding your honey. This will allow you to have sweet and flavorful mead that you and your friends can all enjoy.
Step 4: Add Your Honey
This is where you can calibrate the balance of sweetness in your mead to your own personal preference. So go ahead and start adding your honey, but be sure to do so in small increments. As you add the honey, make sure you are stirring it thoroughly into your mead.
As you stir the honey, you’ll need to taste test it. This way, you can verify that the mead tastes just the way you want it you’ll have sweetened your mead to perfection. You can now bottle your mead and share that carefully crafted finished flavor with your friends and family.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Types of Honey are Best for Mead?
Honey is the most common sweetener that is used to back sweeten mead. The best types of honey to use for this process have strong flavors, like wildflower, buckwheat, and orange blossom.
If you have made a more fruity mead, then clover or berry blossom honey is the best choice. These types of honey will also give your mead a gorgeous golden color. Avoid using honey sourced from alfalfa. This type of honey will not give your mead the strong flavor you’re looking for.
Can I Use Other Sugars Beside Honey?
You can use other types of sugars to back sweeten your mead. Making the right sugar selection is essential to the taste of your mead. Below are some great sugar options to honey:
Maple syrup is an excellent option for home brewers, but don’t just grab any old maple syrup while you’re at the grocery store. You should make sure to use high-quality syrups. When out shopping, be sure to buy B-grade syrup. This type of syrup has a more robust composition, and your mead will have a luscious maple character.
Molasses, a byproduct of the sugar refining process, provides another excellent way to sweeten your mead. Molasses comes in a range of colors, from dark to light. The color of your molasses depends on when it was collected. Lighter molasses will typically provide a delicate complexity to your mead. On the other hand, darker types of molasses are far more rich and full-bodied. Featuring strong aromas and flavors, darker molasses are incredibly bold. These are usually the best to use for back sweetening your mead; however, you should avoid sulfured molasses. As you add molasses to your brew, always do a taste test. Make sure to add the molasses in small increments so the flavor doesn’t become overpowering.
If you would like to add a sweet and natural fruit flavor to your mead, try adding fresh fruits — more specifically, berries. The best berries to use for back sweetening mead are strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and currants. You can also use stone fruits to produce a delicious tasting mead. Stone fruits include peaches, plums, cherries, and apricots. Finally, if you would like to try creating a truly unique mead, try using a melon for the back sweetening process.
What types of mead are there?
Mead is traditionally created with the basic ingredients of yeast, water, and honey in addition to a small percentage of acid. The acid provides an exquisite balance to the residual sweetness in the profile of your mead, but from this simple list of ingredients, you can make a wide variety of meads.
One type of mead you can make is now called Metheglin, but it was once known as Meddyglyn, which meant ‘medicine.’ This originally Welsh mead was produced by adding herbs or spices, like cinnamon or even cloves.
Herbs that once played a medicinal purpose were also added to mead. These medicinal herbs were mixed into the brew so that the sick could find the medicine more palatable.
Another kind of mead is called Melomel. The spices, as well as fruits or fruit juices, found in Metheglin can often be used in Melomel. These fruits enhance traditional mead. There are many varieties of Melomel.
One particular type of Melomel is called Cyser. Cyser is primarily made from apple juice or fresh apples. Another kind of Melomel is Pyment mead. You can make Pyment with grapes or grape juice or even with a wine that has been sweetened with honey. One variety of Pyment is the Hippocras mead, which is spiced.
Stronger meads that contain higher amounts of honey and have a very sweet flavor are usually called Sack.
Meads can be as varied and as sublime as you are. You can make your mead to fit your palette perfectly.