Melomels are meads made using honey and fruit. Why were fruits added to honeywine? Probably several reasons, to preserve the fruit harvest, to add fermentables to the mead thus increasing the alcohol (honey was a luxury in those days), to flavor the mead or possibly, in many cases, to hide fermentation problems which most certainly occurred back then.
Some kinds of fruit mead have been made for so long that they have a special name, given in antiquity, or before. These melomels are:
- Acerglyn-is a mead made with honey and maple syrup. I’m calling this mead a melomel because it just fits, even though maple syrup isn’t a fruit.
- Bilbemel-is a mead made with honey and blueberries (sometimes with blueberry blossom honey).
- Black Mead-is a mead made with honey and blackcurrants.
- Cyser-is a mead made with a blend of honey and apple juice or cider.
- Capsicumel-is a mead flavored with chile peppers (might also be considered a metheglin).
- Hydromel- a light refreshing mead (can be a melomel) with lower alcohol content, usually preceded by the fruit used, ie. Hydromel Mead Kit.
- Morat-is a mead made with honey and mulberries.
- Omphacomel-is a mead flavored with honey and verjuice (juice from unripe grapes), I guess you could call this a subtype of pyment
- Perry-mead made with honey and pears
- Pyment-is a mead made with grapes and honey.
- Red Mead-is a mead made with honey and redcurrants.
- Rhodomel-is a mead made with honey and rose hips (I think this would be considered a fruit), if it is made with rose petals, it could be classified as a metheglin (mead with spices or herbs).
- Rudamel-is a mead made with raspberries and honey.
All other melomels are usually named with the fruit, ie. Blackberry Melomel, Cherry Melomel, Elderberry Melomel etc. What makes it confusing is when you start crossing over into other categories.
For example, a Capsicumel is a mead made with chile peppers. Are chiles considered a fruit or a spice? I guess it depends on whether you used the chilies whole or just the seeds, or ground as in cayenne pepper.
Before you enter your mead into a competition, consult the internet and BJCP guidelines. You don’t want to mis-classify your mead and get points deducted for it being in the wrong category.
How and When to Add Fruit to your Melomels
Whatever you call your melomel, you will be adding fruit to a honey wine. There are several ways of doing this and each will impart different nuances from the fruit. Fruit can be added:
- During primary fermentation – This is a common way of adding fruit to mead (and beer or wine). There are several advantages of adding fruit in the primary.
Fruit will add nutrients that the yeast need and will also help to regulate the pH of the must (name used in wine/mead making for the honey/fruit/water/yeast mixture).
The fermentation itself will typically take less time when fruit is added during primary fermentation. Although some of the most volatile aromatics will be gassed-off, most of the fruit’s character will be retained.
Many meadmakers will use a combination of primary and secondary fruit additions to attain that extra-fresh fruit character. There is a big debate on the merits of adding fruit to the primary. The main reason given for not doing so is the loss of those volatile aromatics which will be driven off with the CO2. All I can say is try it both ways and choose which ever works best for you.
- During secondary fermentation – When adding fruit to the secondary, the base mead is fermented most of the way to completion. I’ve seen various degrees from 2/3 completed to completely fermented. Again, there are many ways of accomplishing the same end, and only experimentation will determine which is best for you.
When added prior to finishing, the fermentation will renew due to dilution of the alcohol by the water in the fruit and by the added sugars present. You can also get renewed fermentation even if you add the fruit after fermentation has completed for the same reasons, dilution and added sugars.
Some fruit is 70% water and when added to a finished mead, will dilute the alcohol enough that the yeast are no longer at their alcohol tolerance level.
With the added sugars and lowered alcohol levels, fermentation may sometimes resume.
The primary benefit of adding the fruit to the secondary is that you can control the base mead’s fermentation completely, ie. you know what you are getting before you add the fruit.
When fruit and honey are mixed and fermented together in the primary, there are a lot of variables in the mixture that the home meadmaker just can’t control such as nutrient levels, pH and acidity changes, etc.
The main drawback to adding fruit in the secondary fermenter is that it will take a long time for the fruit and mead to blend fully and determining the optimum point to bottle may be difficult for many beginning meadmakers.
- You can also add fruit juices or extracts just before bottling. You will have to be sure that the yeast is dead so that you won’t get bottle bombs.
The best way to do this is to sulfite (add metabisulfite or campden tablets to sanitize) the must, add potassium sorbate, then add the fruit juices or extracts to the bottling bucket (you must wait 24 hours before adding any yeast).
The way I make my meads is by bulk aging for a very long time and racking several times before bottling.
This method is generally safe, but you just never know with meads. They can sometimes take what seems like forever to finish fermenting and you have to be careful about adding fermentable sugars late in the aging cycle.
How Much Fruit to Add to your Melomels
How much fruit should you add? Most fruit melomels are going to be sweet when bottled. This allows you to add a lot of fruit.
It would be helpful to the meadmaker to know when a particular fruit will be harvested and in the supermarkets or road-side stands. Making fruit mead from the freshest fruit, organic when possible, is always a good idea.
Download a PDF version of Cuesa.org’s Fruit & Nut Seasonality Chart. Good information to have when planning your mead recipes.
Here are some guidelines on adding fruit to your melomels. The amounts listed will give you a medium fruit character from each fruit. Adjust accordingly for a milder or stronger fruit character. The list below is for a 5 gallon batch of finished mead:
- Cysers-Apples-Add 4 gallons of apple juice or cider in the primary. For stronger apple flavors, add 3 cans of apple juice concentrate (16 oz) in the secondary.
- Bilbemel (Blueberry Melomel)-Add 7 to 10 lbs of blueberries in the secondary 1.5-2 lbs/gal. When stronger blueberry flavor is wanted, add around 2.2 lbs/gal of blueberries in secondary.
- Cherry Melomels-For tart cherries, add 7-8 lbs of cherries to secondary (1.4-1.6 lbs/gal). When stronger flavors are wanted, add about 1.8 lbs/gal of cherries to secondary. For Sweet Cherries-add 8-9 lbs of sweet cherries to secondary (1.4-1.8 lbs/gal) and around 2 lbs/gal for a stronger sweet cherry flavor.
- Citrus Melomels-Adjust down for lemons and limes-For a medium citrus mead, use 6-8 lbs in the secondary (1.2-1.6 lbs/gal) and around 1.8 lbs/gal for a stronger citrus mead character.
- Currant Meads-Add 5-7 lbs of fruit to the secondary (1.2-1.6 lbs/gal) and for stronger flavor, add 1.8 lbs/gal or more.
- Melon Meads-Add 6-8 lbs of pulp in the secondary (1.2-1.6 lbs/gal) and for stronger melon character, add 1.8 lbs/gal or more to secondary fermenter.
- Peach Melomels-Add 8-12 lbs of peaches to the secondary (1.2-2.4 lbs/gal) and for stronger peach character, add around 2.5 lbs/gal or more to secondary.
- Plum Melomel-Add 8-9 lbs to secondary (1.4-1.8 lbs/gal) and for stronger plum flavor, add 2 lbs/gal or more to secondary.
- Rudamel (Raspberry Melomel)-Add 5-7 lbs of raspberries in secondary (1-1.6 lbs/gal) and for a very strong raspberry flavor, add 1.8 lbs/gal or more raspberries to secondary.
- Strawberry Melomel-Add 8-10 lbs of strawberries to secondary (1.2-2 lbs/gal) and for strong flavor, add 2.2 lbs/gal or more to secondary.
- The numbers above are for fruit in secondary, as a guideline, if you want a strong sweet melomel, add up to 4 lbs/gal of berries or stone fruits to primary fermenter. If you prefer a dry mead, reduce the levels to 1 to 1.5 lbs/gal and keep the alcohol content below 10% ABV to reduce the harshness of the final melomel.
Choosing Fruit for your Melomels
When preparing and selecting fruit for your melomels, take as much care as possible. When picking or choosing fresh fruit, discard any fruit of poor quality. If you wouldn’t pop it into your mouth, then don’t make mead with it.
Try to remove all leaves and stems from the fruit. Wash and clean thoroughly, then freeze the fruit to help break-down the cell walls.
If you are making stone-fruit melomels, remove the pits (except cherries which can be allowed to ferment for about 4 weeks, then removed).
You don’t need to puree the fruit if using it in the primary because fermentation will take care of breaking down the fruit. Add the fruit to fine mesh bags and then add it to the fermenter. You can mash the bags with your sanitized hands the first time and then mash against the sides with a sanitized spoon when stirring the must.
When using canned purees or concentrates, you must stir frequently as they will settle to the bottom quickly. Sometimes adding some fresh fruit with a fruit concentrate or extract will add some freshness to your melomels.
If you have never made wine or mead before, you may not know about cap management. When the must begins to ferment and generate CO2, the fruit will float to the top and form a cap.
The temperature underneath the cap can get pretty warm because it cannot escape. CO2 will collect under the cap and is toxic to yeast. The top of the cap will get dry and this environment is ideal for molds and bacteria to flourish.
The cap must be “punched down” at least three times daily during the period of active fermentation. This accomplishes several key things.
It keeps the fruit in contact with the yeast, allowing for a quicker fermentation and better extraction of the fruit characters.
It keeps oxygen in the must at a time when the yeast need it most. Many meadmakers will add pure O2 at the same time they are punching the cap for added assurance that the yeast is getting plenty of oxygen for growth.
Punching the cap releases CO2 from below, keeping the yeast healthy and maintaining a steady temperature so the yeast will continue to ferment to completion without adding any off-flavors or fusel alcohols from the warm fermentation.
Some fruits will be deficient in nutrients for a healthy fermentation. How much nutrients the must requires is a guessing game and is dependent on the particular fruit, the area the fruit was grown in and a host of other variables.
Add your nutrient additions per this schedule: Nutrient Addition Schedule (at the bottom of the page).
Too many chemical nutrients may cause a metallic taste which will take months to age out. Try adding yeast hulls to your must for a more natural nutrient which will not cause these off flavors.
Here is what Curt Stock, one of AHA’s meadmakers of the year, recommends for nutrient additions in your melomels, “I prefer to use Fermaid-K (yeast energizer) and diammonium phosphate or DAP (yeast nutrient) for adding the additional nutrient requirements of the yeast during fermentation. One teaspoon of Fermaid-K and two teaspoons DAP should be adequate for a 5 gallon batch. You can mix them together for a stock blend and add them using the following schedule:
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix immediately after pitching yeast.
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix 24 hours after fermentation begins.
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix 48 hours after fermentation begins.
- Add ¾ teaspoon yeast energizer/nutrient mix after 30% of the sugar has been depleted.”
Just be careful when you add nutrients to fermenting must. The addition can cause an explosion of CO2 foam. Try mixing the nutrients with some of the must first, then add the nutrient/must mixture back into the fermenting mead.
Stir slowly and increase the speed as the CO2 is released. Introduce as much oxygen as you can during the nutrient additions.
Once the last addition is done, or the mead is near the 50% sugar break, you can stop adding oxygen to the must. Keep stirring the cap, but do so gently so you don’t introduce oxygen and oxidation.”
Choosing the Right Honey
The choice of which honey to use is not as critical in a melomel as it is in a traditional mead because many of the flavors will be masked by the fruit.
For most meadmakers, a good clover or wildflower honey will make excellent melomels. When using less assertive fruits, or only a small amount of fruit, you can experiment with some of the varietal honeys available to add complexity.
Be sure to use a good source of water with no chlorine or chloramines. If you have very hard water, try diluting with distilled water to lower the alkalinity and mineral content. If it tastes good, it should be OK for making mead. But, you are investing a lot of money in honey and fruit so if you have any questions about your water, buy good quality bottled water and use that to make your melomels.
Finishing Your Melomels
When the mead has finished fermenting, rack over to a clean and sanitized secondary and age for several months.
Keep racking until you are satisfied the mead isn’t dropping any more sediment and has finished fermenting.
If the mead still won’t clear, you can use one of several fining products such as Super-Kleer to clarify the mead. Or, you can filter the mead if you can do so without adding any oxygen.
Once you are happy with the clarity, taste the mead to see if you want to add any more sweetness. I usually sulfite and sorbate my melomels if I’m going to back sweeten them.
Taste the mead and if you want more sweetness and/or honey character, add about 1 cup of honey at a time and stir gently with a drill-mounted stainless steel lees-stirrer if you have one, or a sanitized spoon if you dont.
The honey will sink straight to the bottom, so stir well without adding oxygen. Taste and repeat until you are happy with the results.
Allow your melomels to rest for several weeks before bottling to allow time for the mixture to homogenize.
References: Much of this article came from my own experiences in making melomels. Some was adapted from an article by Curt Stock entitled “Other Fruit Melomels – for Experienced Dummies”, and from posts by Oskarr in the forum at Gotmead.com regarding the amount of fruit to add for given strengths of melomels.
I highly recommend you get, “The Compleat MeadMaker” by Ken Schramm. Everything you need to know is in this book.