Homebrewing of mead has begun to gain traction in the last few years. Is mead the new trendy beverage? Is honey water more bougie than fruit- or malt-based worts? Whatever the reason, it seems like mead might be here to stay. So many YouTube channels and internet forums advocate for various methods of making meads that are fast ferments and quick to hit the table.
But hold on there a minute – don’t wines (mead technically being a honey wine) need some time to age? Hipster homebrewers might have you believe otherwise. But those of us who’ve been around the brewing block a while tend to disagree. The aging debate is truly a house divided, and admittedly I’ve heard both sides from longtime and beginner brewers alike.
But I’m a big believer in aging of the ancient fructose and glucose fermentable. To make my case, here are the Top Six Reasons you should be aging your mead:
1. A Moment of Clarity
“Looks aren’t everything!” you might say. But I disagree – there is a certain spit and polish in serving up a crystal-clear brewed beverage. Young mead suffers from a lot of haze in its early days. This foamy fog is comprised of live yeasts, dead yeast, wax, and other fermentation byproducts held in suspension. Some of them taste bad. Others can give you some odorous posterior expulsions. Aging gives the mead some time to drop these particulates out of suspension so that the leftover liquid will be clear and untainted. In a lot of cases, this doesn’t even take long – especially if you cold crash your mead at 33-40F for a few days in the fridge. Appearances can be deceiving, so take a little time for transparency and age your mead!
2. Bulk Up Your Complexity
No one is quite sure why time creates more complexity in wines and meads – but it certainly does. And depending on the ingredients, more time in the bottle can make for exponentially complex flavors. Theories on how aging works have to do with everything from tidal forces to simple and natural molecular bonding. Whatever the case, leaving mead to sit does something. If you’ve made a fruit mead (melomel), those added organic compounds may leap to life in as little as 6 months to a year. Some of the best brews I’ve made have been the ones I forgot about in the dark corner of a closet only to rediscover in their prime. Let your mead live up to its full potential. Let it live a little longer.
3. Amp Up Your Quantity
“But I only made a gallon! I want to try it now!” There’s a reason so many of us moved up to 5- and 6-gallon batches early on in our brewventures. The more you make, the longer you get to enjoy it in moderation. You’ll be able to see how a bottle corked a month ago changes to become the bottle corked five years ago. These lessons help you improve your brewing practices, procedures, and recipes. Aging your mead gives you an impetus to make more and build a stockpile – a cellar of sorts. Soon you’ll come to look forward to the bigger investment in equipment and ingredients because the fruits of your labor go so much farther. And as a bonus – you’ll always have a gift on hand for a friend or family member who appreciates a delectable drink!
4. The Benefits of Bulk
Another reason to make a lot of mead at once is that you can assert more consistency across your batch. You might’ve heard of “bulk aging” – the process of leaving your entire brew in a single vessel right up until you’re ready to drink it. Aging mead in bulk means that the whole batch will be a much more consistent product across all of the bottles. Say you make one gallon and bottle it as soon as it is clear. Each bottle may respond to its environment a little differently. One may get too much light. Another may get too warm. Another may end up in your fridge for a month only to be taken out and placed back with the others. There are a ton of variable scenarios when you’re juggling four 750ml bottles.
Now imagine you have 5 gallons of blueberry melomel. You pitch in some toasted oak chips for it to age on. That five gallon carboy is staying firmly put somewhere. You can easily cover it in a heavy blanket and stash it away. A year or two later, you can pull it out and bottle it – and every bottle will have aged exactly the same. The whole batch will be both ready to drink and have flavor and complexity that is consistent across every single bottle!
5. Your Friends Will Notice!
If you end up gifting a bottle – your friends will notice if your mead is young. Young mead tastes “hot” due to fusel alcohols that have not become muted. The effects of fermentation persist in a batch for some time. Acids are prominent. Aromas are pronounced. Some CO2 may still be present – which carries volatile compounds right into your olfactory nerves. They’ll grit their teeth and force a smile, while writing-off homebrew in their liquor lineup. Serving friends young brews may turn them off of your hobby. They’ll come to believe homemade fermentations simply can’t be as good as those from established brewhouses. You, a proud mead mama or papa, are willing to look past these flaws. It is your baby after all. Don’t serve sour toot-juice to your friends. Let your mead age, clear out, and mellow. Your friends will love you for it – and compliments will be sincere!
6. You’re Not in a Rush
Let’s get real for a second. Liquor stores are everywhere. Even in Oklahoma, we have wine in grocery stores now. Incredible intoxicants are always within reach. So you shouldn’t be in a rush to drink your mead before it’s ready. I know, I know – it’s tough to find good mead at a retail establishment. But young mead is typically not good mead. You spent a lot of time and money to make your bubbly brew – now let it spend some time becoming perfect for you. Brewing dynamo Charlie Papazian coined the term “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew” in his popular book The Complete Joy of Home Brewing. If you don’t have a homebrew on hand, grab a nice bottle of red from your local wine shop and sip on that until your mead has blossomed.
If you brew a big batch, let it clear, and give it some time to mature, you’ll be glad you waited. You can’t do the most if you’re in a rush!