June, weddings, handfastings and Mead

If you are planning a June (or later) wedding, right now is the perfect time to start a batch of quick, easy, foolproof Ancient Orange mead. See the recipe after the jump.

What is Mead?

Mead is quite simply, a wine composed entirely of honey, water and yeast. A recipe including fruit, such as the Ancient Orange recipe is more properly referred to as a melomel. Mead is one of the most ancient of beverages, along with beer or ale. There is archaeological evidence for honey-based fermented drinks as far as 5-7,000 years ago!

Did you know there is a strong connection between the month of June, mead and weddings?

The month of June was a traditional wedding time for our ancestors in the British Isles and most of Europe for a very simple reason. In the days before refrigerators and supermarkets, food had to be grown each season in order to feed the family throughout the year. Most of the food had to be planted and tended to in the spring months, but by June, most of the work in the fields had been completed, and there was time to attend to things like weddings!

Honey has long been associated with fertility and beauty, and it was one of the only natural sweeteners available in ancient times. In the British Isles, a couple would be given a month's supply of mead, thus leading to the term honeymoon, and this supply was given in order to ensure the couple's fertility as they began their new life together.

This mead recipe was developed as an easy, foolproof way for anyone to make mead. It requires a bare minimum of equipment and expense, and part of the reason it is called Ancient Orange is that it is a recipe which could easily have been created in ancient times. The main thing to remember about this recipe is DON'T try to change it! It was developed with "newbie" brewers in mind, and if you do it exactly as outlined below, you should get a great result.

Buying equipment and supplies

The Beer Nut on State street in Salt Lake City is a good local resource for equipment and supplies. However, all of the actual ingredients in this recipe can be purchased at any major grocery store. If you want to save a little money, a great source for bulk local honey is Jones Bee Company.

We also have a local mead expert, David. You can find his page here, with lots of info about mead, recipes and other great information.

If you just don't feel up to making your own mead, or don't have time, here are a couple of good online sources, although sadly, they do not ship directly to Utah.

Redstone Meadery, Boulder, CO

Meadery of the Rockies, Palisade, CO

You can get also get a lower-quality mead called Chaucer's mead here in the Utah Wine stores(not in the liquor stores)

Ancient Orange Mead Recipe
courtesy of Joe Mattioli

1 gallon glass jug with screw top
1 rubber stopper with hole for airlock
1 water airlock
1 siphon hose with clamp and filter
used or new bottles for final bottling

3 1/2 lbs Honey (clover or wildflower honey)
1 Large orange (or 3 small clementines)** see Afterword
1 small handful of raisins
1 medium size cinnamon stick (2-3")
1 whole clove
1 teaspoon of fresh Fleischmann’s, Red Star or similar bread yeast
Clean spring water to equal 1 gallon


Use a clean 1 gallon glass jug, scrubbed and rinsed well. You must use glass for this project, you cannot use a plastic milk jug or similar item. Keep the screw top handy as you prepare the mead.

Dissolve the honey in some warm water and put it in the jug.

Wash the orange well to remove any pesticides and slice in eight sections. Add the orange slices to the gallon jug, pushing them through the top opening. Don't peel the orange, as the oil from the peel is essential in this recipe. The citric acid from the peel acts as a natural preservative.

Put in raisins, clove and cinnamon stick and then fill your jug to up to 3 inches from the top with cold water.

Put the top on the jug tightly, and shake vigorously for about 3 minutes or so. This is known in mead-making as aeration, which basically puts more oxygen into the mixture which helps the yeast get started fermenting the sugars.

Allow the jug to sit for 1 hour so that the water has time to come up to room temperature.

When the cool water has warmed up, put in 1 teaspoon of freshly-purchased dry bread yeast. You do not need to mix the yeast with water first, just spoon it into the jar. Any kind of bread yeast will work fine as long as it is not old. Yeast will lose its potency and ability to ferment if it has been in storage too long, so it is critical to this recipe's success to use yeast that has been purchased within the previous month.

After you have added the yeast, install the water airlock on the jug and put your mead somewhere dark and warm. It's important to keep your mead somewhere that you can check on it often, such as a kitchen pantry, a closet or some other warm, dark location. The fermentation process works best when the jug is in a location that stays warm, somewhere between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. A colder environment will inhibit the fermentation, and a much warmer environment may cause your mead to explode everywhere!

The yeast should start bubbling in just a few minutes, and most certainly within the hour. Finally, once you have placed your mead jar, DO NOT move it, shake it or otherwise disturb the jar for a minimum of 2.5 months with two exceptions:

Exception 1: You'll have to check your water airlock frequently, every few days or so, to add fresh water, particularly if you live in a drier environment or have a dehumidifier in your home. To add water, carefully remove the top of the airlock and add water to the fill mark.**

Exception 2: After about a week or so of bubbling, the major foaming action will be over, and you can remove the rubber stopper and the airlock and add more water to the jar to bring the water level back up to within 3 inches of the top of the jar. Don't move the jar to do this! Just bring a pitcher of cool spring water and a funnel with you to the jar. Replace the rubber stopper and the airlock and refill the airlock with fresh water.**

What's a water airlock? A water airlock (also known just as an airlock) helps keep your mead from growing with wild yeasts or mold spores that may be floating about just waiting to land in a nice warm, dark, moist spot with lots of sugar. These wild spores can turn your lovely golden mead into a gloppy, smelly mess! A water airlock allows CO2 gases to be released from your mead as it ferments while preventing anything icky from getting back in. It's an easy one-way valve that protects your brew while it's bubbling, and therefore, it's an inexpensive yet important piece of equipment in this recipe.

Final Notes: Near the 2-2.5 month mark, the mead will stop fermenting and will start to clear up. When it is clear enough to read a book through the liquid (or close to it) you can rack your mead into bottles. You can prepare for racking by collecting or buying some re-sealable glass bottles. You can use old wine bottles with new corks, you can use the Grolsch-style bottles with the ceramic flip-top or you can use old beer bottles with corks. It's up to you!

Scrub and rinse and dry your bottles thoroughly, particularly if they are used. Your local homebrew store or catalog can assist you with the purchase of a siphon hose and hose clamp. Use a small cloth filter over the end which goes into the jug to keep sediment out of the finished brew. Make sure that you don't shake the jug or disturb the goop on the bottom. The idea behind racking is to drain the clear, beautiful mead off the sediment and into the bottles.

Carefully bring the mead jug out onto a table, without disturbing the sediment. If you do disturb the sediment a lot, it may be best to let it settle again for a few hours before racking. Place your hose near the top of the jar, about 3-4 inches below the top of the mead, and put the end of your hose below the level of the jar. Start the mead flowing by sucking on the end of the tube, then when the liquid is flowing, quickly close the tube clamp. Keep the end of the hose below the table level. You will want to clean off the saliva from the end of the tub with a cloth soaked with rubbing alcohol. Let the alcohol evaporate off, and then carefully place your hose in the bottle and slowly release the hose clamp. Repeat until the clear liquid mead has almost all been siphoned off and there will be a little left over the top of the sediment and leftover oranges.

Blessed be and enjoy your mead!

**Afterword notes on this entry:
I asked David, our local Mead making expert, to review my advice and give me any feedback about this recipe. Here's what he said:

"I like clementines better due to the smaller amount of white pith (which is bitter).

1) an airlock, even in a dry climate like ours takes about 4 to 6 weeks before it goes dry
(Rev. Heron: In my mead-making experiences with the older type of airlock, it was necessary to check the water more frequently. I have not used the newer s-type.)

2) adding water to "top off" the mead is quite controversial. It is an opportunity to introduce bacterial infection and just isn't worth it since that three inches is only about 1 - 1.5 cups of water. If you're adamant, I'd wait until the mead is totally done and then top off with a nice orange brandy."
(Rev. Heron: Thanks, that is great advice! I'd never seen instructions to top-off with water before either!)

Thanks David, for being willing to offer your wisdom to help out those interested in making this mead!