On a hot summer afternoon, all I want to do is sit on my back porch with a full glass of sweet, sparkling mead. If you’re not familiar with how to carbonate mead, trust me, it’s well worth the effort. In fact, the brewing process for a carbonated mead isn’t all that different.
Carbonated mead (also called sparkling mead) isn’t new. For whatever reason, most of us tend to think of sparkling alcohols as a more modern invention; in fact, they’ve been around since folks first began using yeast for fermentation around 1700 BCE.
These days, you can carbonate mead two ways, through bottle conditioning or force carbonating inside a keg. I’ll walk you step-by-step through both.
Since using a keg after your mead is complete only became possible more recently through pressurization of gases (and is a bit more involved process), let’s start with bottle conditioning. Don’t worry; understanding how to carbonate mead using either method is shockingly simple!
What You’ll Need for Bottle Conditioning
- Two dozen 750 ml champagne bottles OR 22-ounce swing-top beer bottles
- Standard ingredients and supplies for a 5-gallon batch of mead
- 2/3 cup extra honey
- A warm, dark space
Step 1: Choose Your Mead
The flavors of certain meads tend to lend themselves to carbonation more than others, but this is a matter of taste.
Generally, I prefer using crisp, lighter brews because the carbonation really brings out those delectable floral notes. However, go with your taste preference.
Step 2: Make Your Mead
Now, simply begin brewing your mead as you normally would through the primary and secondary fermentation.
I will add that it’s important to time your batches more carefully for sparkling mead. Generally, this isn’t an issue if the fermentations are allowed plenty of time to complete.
However, you don’t want too much yeast left over after the second fermentation. As you’ll see in the next step, too much yeast will result in popped bottle tops.
Step 3: Add More Honey
Brace yourself. It’s about to get highly technical. Add 2/3 cup of raw honey to your mead.
You can use processed honey since the sugars react either way. I just prefer au naturel.
Gently stir the base honey into your batch, but have your bottles prepped and ready to go in advance.
Step 4: Bottle Your Mead
Add the honey right before pouring your mead into swing-top bottles designed to withstand the additional pressure.
The carbonation process occurs in the bottle (hence the term bottle conditioning). Essentially, adding the additional honey causes a small third fermentation as those extra sugars react with any remaining yeast.
Because so little yeast is left, you won’t increase the alcohol percentage significantly, but you’ll still get enough of a reaction to produce carbon dioxide.
Since the gas is now trapped in the bottle with the mead, rather than being off-gassed as it is during the first two fermentations, it’s forced into solution with the mead.
DON’T use regular mead bottles. They aren’t designed to withstand the pressure of carbonation and will explode! Even beer bottles aren’t designed for the pressure created by this type of carbonation.
Step 5: Store at a Warm Temperature
Leave your sparkling mead for at least 2-3 weeks to fully carbonate.
Storing your sparkling mead at a cool temperature helps keep that carbon dioxide from heating up and trying to escape its bottle early. If you use the correct bottles, they should not shatter, but be aware that it’s always possible when pressurized gas is involved.
Champagne bottles with corks are ideal; they are, after all, designed to hold sparkling alcohol. The cork seals well while still providing a little flexibility if the carbon dioxide does try to expand.
As with most sparkling beverages, once the bottle conditioning process is complete, the finished product tastes best chilled.
What You’ll Need for Force Carbonating
- Standard ingredients and supplies for a 5-gallon batch of mead
- 5 gal. stainless steel keg with a pressure regulator
- 5 lb. pressurized canister of CO2
- Optional: 24 750 ml. champagne bottles OR 22-ounce swing-top beer bottles
Step 1: Set Up Your Keg
Sterilize your keg and hoses, even if they are new or you cleaned them after their last use. Let them air dry. Then, hook up your connecting hose and siphon hose to your tank of CO2.
Be sure you don’t turn the CO2 nozzle on yet!
You don’t need a specialized mead keg; a standard homebrew carbonation setup for beer works just fine.
Step 2: Make Your Mead
Just as in bottle conditioning, force carbonation is the final step in making the sparkling mead. The upside is that you can use whatever still mead recipes you want to test out carbonation.
Brew a batch of enjoyable mead and allow it to complete its secondary fermentation. It should be, essentially, ready to drink as a still mead.
Don’t use your favorite mead for your first experimental batch. Figuring out your carbonation balance will probably take a few tries.
Step 3: Siphon Your Mead into the Keg
Use the hose to siphon your mead into the keg.
Or you can simply pour it, though the general brewing rule applies: don’t move it if you don’t have to. Any air knocked out of your brew will be replaced with carbon dioxide, but agitating your mead can alter its flavor profile.
Double-check that the “out” nozzle is closed first, or you’ll end up mopping all that delicious mead off the floor!
While kegs can be pricey, they also allow you to store a large batch of still mead when you aren’t using them to carbonate. Shop around before you invest in one. Don’t forget to measure your space and think about the batch sizes you want. A larger keg will occupy more real estate.
Step 4: Check Your Seals
Once your mead is in the keg, seal the lid. You’ll also want to check for any leaks in the connections between your CO2 tank and the keg. Any leaks mean your carbonation will fall flat.
Step 5: Carbonate Your Mead
Close the regulator valve on the keg, then open the valve on the CO2 tank. The line between them will fill with carbon dioxide. It’s worth stopping at this point to check for leaks again.
Turn the regulator knob on the keg to low, then flip the switch to open it. Now, use the regulator knob to reach whatever pressure you want (a range between 15 and 30 PSI will give you plenty of bubbles).
Briefly open the release valve on the keg once or twice to allow the oxygen to escape and be replaced entirely with CO2. Now, you can close off the hose access and detach the CO2 tank.
Step 6: Slosh the Keg
Yes, you read that right. Rolling the keg around for several minutes allows the CO2 access to more of your mead than just the surface, speeding up the carbonation.
Step 7: Chill Your Mead
Cooler liquids force carbonate faster, so if your keg fits in your fridge, this will also speed up the process. Overall, force carbonation takes anywhere from several days to a couple of weeks to complete.
Charts available online show you how pressure and temperature impact the carbonation process and will tell you precisely when your sparkling mead is at its most effervescent. If you prefer to wing it, I suggest waiting at least a week before you bottle and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is making carbonated mead easy?
Absolutely! In fact, it takes only a few more weeks than making still mead, an extra cup of honey, and some sturdy champagne bottles to make bottle-conditioned sparkling mead.
Do you have to carbonate mead?
Nope. Regular still mead is also tasty. Think of the differences between white wine and champagne; they’re both delicious, even if only one of them sparkles.
How long does it take mead to carbonate?
The carbonation reaction between the yeast and sugars begins instantly in bottle conditioning. However, it naturally takes between two and four weeks to complete the process. Generally, it’s a good idea to let your sparkling mead sit somewhere warm to encourage the process.
Are sparkling mead and carbonated mead the same thing?
Yes, these are two terms for the same bubbly beverage. While there are two different ways to perform the carbonation process, the results can be referred to by either name.
Can you force carbonate mead?
Yes, you can force carbonation into the mead after it is made using a compressed carbon dioxide tank connected to a pressurized, sealed keg.
Does carbonation change the flavor of mead?
This is a pretty common question when first learning how to carbonate mead. While the bubbles help bring out the flavor notes in mead, they don’t significantly alter the flavor. Like wine, mead comes in a variety of flavors depending on the recipe you choose. Forced carbonation may add slightly more of a “carbonated” taste from the stored CO2.
Will bottles of carbonated mead explode?
Ideally, no. However, it’s important to choose the correct bottles. Using bottles designed to withstand carbonation pressure, such as champagne and larger beer bottles, lowers the risk. As a precaution, store your bottles somewhere that any potential mishap will be contained.