Why Only One Gallon?
Most of my brews are one-gallon batches. This saves both time and my sanity since this pixie keeps a busy schedule!
I find it far easier for me to whip up a gallon batch of mead or wine in a few spare hours after work than the half-a-day I feel I need set aside in order to brew a full five-gallon batch.
Another consideration is that I enjoy experimenting with my brews like a mad scientist! Making honey wine in one-gallon batches ensures that I haven’t invested a ton of money into a huge batch that turns out horrible or goes moldy or has some other disaster happen to it.
Why I Brew My Own:
Many years ago, I was given the gift of a taste of home-brewed mead of such sweetness and rich complexity that I was left dazed. Once I came to my senses, I knew I would have to learn more about brewing and figure out how to do it myself. This being the early days of the internet (get off my lawn!) I found myself digging into books and renaissance faire list-servs and asking my brewing friends for advice, and it has been a roller coaster of experience and experimentation ever since.
One thing that I learned early on is that no one agrees on methods of brewing – each brewer has their own way of making their wines and meads. While this can be intimidating when you begin the learning process, you’ll later realize that finding your own way is part of the joy of brewing. As you learn the basic techniques and get them down pat, you will naturally refine your own best methods!
If you have friends around who like to brew, start geeking out with them, or see if there is a local home-brew club that you can join. Check for a home-brew supply shop in your area, as that’s a great way to meet a group of folks that won’t get annoyed when you prattle on about your techniques and will afford you the opportunity to listen and learn from the methods of others. A group to share with will ensure that you’ll always be learning new things to try.
Mead and Wine Recipes from Pixie's Pocket:
Suggested Equipment for Beginners
There are two ways to go with equipment as a beginner brewer. You can either go for the cheap and easy dorm room brew method and use plastic bottles and balloons or invest in a more costly complete brewing kit.
I understand why someone might choose to cut their expenses and use the cheap and easy brewing supplies rather than buying fancy equipment, especially for your first try. However, after trying both techniques, I prefer letting my brew ferment in glass jugs or crocks rather than thin, cheap plastic!
I suggest that you take the middle road with purchasing equipment. Acquiring a good set of homebrew equipment isn’t terribly expensive if you gather your supplies bit by bit, over time. Keep an eye on Craigslist or your local FreeCycle chapter – I often find wine bottles, beer bottles, and sometimes even discounted homebrew equipment from someone giving up the hobby! You can also get “free” gallon jugs by buying apple cider or cheap wine and saving the bottles.
Before you buy online, check and see if you have a local homebrew supply shop nearby. It’s worth it to get to know the staff, support a local business, and you can also get a better understanding of the various supplies face to face instead of through a screen.
Starter Equipment List:
Ingredients for a Gallon of Mead or Wine
If you are new to mead brewing, please make a plain mead for your first batch. Seriously.
Write down all of those fancy mead concepts that you have bouncing around your head, and then set that list aside until you’ve successfully made a plain mead to your own standards of “drinkability.” Learn how the honey flavors work out through the fermentation process before you get really creative. Get familiar with the procedure first, and then you can go crazy brewing that chocolate jalapeño maple mead you’ve been dreaming of. *shudder*
The basic ingredients for a one gallon batch of wine or mead are:
- 2-3 pounds of honey for mead, or 3-4 cups of sugar for wine
- 1 gallon filtered water
- Yeast (Many homebrew tutorials suggest champagne yeast, which results in a dry mead. I am a hummingbird and enjoy specialty yeasts geared towards sweet mead/wine, but don’t sweat it. You can try wild fermentation, or even use a healthy pinch of bread or baking yeast with decent results!)
- Nutrients (You can get all sorts of yeast nutrients and additives from the homebrew shop, but you can also use a handful of organic raisins, bee pollen, or a squirt of lemon juice to the brew. This helps the yeast to go longer and stronger!)
Firstly, get together all of your ingredients. Open up a beer or pour a glass of wine to help you recall the alchemy of deliciousness that you are there to create.
Sanitize the gallon carboy or bucket, the airlock and bung, and the funnel – anything that will come into contact with your brew.
Set your pot on the stove and pour about 2/3 of the gallon of water in. Allow it to come just to a boil and remove from heat.
Let it cool for about fifteen minutes and then stir in your honey and nutrients of choice. If you are using raw, unfiltered honey, you may get a foam on the surface, which can be skimmed off if you wish. I tend to leave it, with no ill effect that I’ve noticed. The honey-water mixture is also called a “must.”
Once you get the honey and water stirred and blended together, let it sit for another ten minutes or so to cool.
While it is cooling, rinse your sanitized equipment. Use the funnel to pour the warm must into the gallon carboy. Top off the jug with the rest of the gallon of cool filtered water until the liquid is just about at the neck of the jug. Add in the bung and the airlock to keep everything clean.
Allow the must to cool down to body temperature – this can take a few hours so I sometimes just leave it overnight. Once it is cool enough to touch the glass jug on the bottom and not feel the heat, you can pitch the yeast. If you are using a packet of yeast meant for a five gallon batch, use a half or a third in your gallon batch. Give the jug a good shake, and then re-cap with the airlock. You can store the rest of the yeast in your fridge in an airtight container to keep moisture out until your next batch (use within two weeks for best results).
Waiting & Racking
The airlock should begin bubbling within 48 hours after you pitch the yeast. It doesn’t go any faster if you sit and stare at it, but I’ve gotten good results from singing to my brews. Your results may vary!
It’s a good idea to stick the fermenter in a place where it won’t get much direct sunlight, or wrap it in an old tee-shirt or clean dish towel to keep it in the dark. Every few days observe the airlock and count how many seconds it takes for the bubbles to emerge.
After about a month or so, you’ll notice the fermentation slowing down to a bloop or so a minute. Unwrap and peek at the jug every now and then – how does it look? When you notice that the liquid inside is clear, there aren’t as many bubbles around the surface of the liquid, and all of the yeast and trub has settled to the bottom of the jug, it is time to taste the mead and decide where to go from there.
To take a taste, I’ll sanitize a clean straw and use that to get a taste of the mead (be careful and don’t backwash into the mead).
Analyze the flavor. What do you taste? Bear in mind that this is a young mead, and any sharp, sour flavors will likely mellow out with aging. Is it too dry? Do you want something sweeter? If so, check out Back-sweetening, otherwise, go on to Bottling.
If you want to make your mead sweeter, you can do so by a method known as back-sweetening.
If your mead is too dry for your tastes and needs to be sweeter, make a simple syrup from honey or sugar. Make sure the syrup is warm, but not hot so that it will blend easily. Add somewhere between a quarter and a half cup of your sweetener into a clean, sanitized carboy and rack the mead over onto it. Give it a few gentle swishes to encourage it to mix, but don’t shake it enough to aerate the mead.
Put a clean, sanitized airlock on the newly sweetened mead and let it sit for another week or two, just in case the sugar kick-starts any residual yeasts back into gear. Once you are confident that the fermentation is done, prepare to bottle the mead.
How to Bottle Your Brew
- Auto Siphon: A racking cane with an auto-siphon is more than worth the cost. This simple little tool greatly eases the process of bottling. It has turned bottling from a team sport into an adventure I can handle on my own. Note that they make these for 5 gallon carboys as well as one gallon – make sure you’re getting the right size!
- Bottles: The image on the right shows beer bottles and swing-top bottles. I tend to use both beer bottles and caps and a few swing-top bottles on each batch.
- Swing-top bottles are kind of fancy. They are great for taking to potlucks, parties, or giving as gifts. I adore my swing-top bottles so much that they feel like a worthy gift to give just on their own, and the booze inside is just an extra bonus! The swing-top bottles are more expensive to purchase new, but I also get them by buying root beer and fancy lemonades that come packaged in them so that I may re-use them. They also have the side benefit of not requiring any extra equipment to seal the bottles. Also, replacement rubber gaskets are easy to find and cheap, too!
- Beer bottles are my go-to for small batches. I enjoy drinking beer and make sure to keep empty bottles around for reusing with my own brews. Beer bottles are cheap – I save mine and use them over and over as long as they have no cracks or chips. When you use beer bottles, you need new bottle caps and a bottle capper to seal them up.
One gallon of brew will fill 6-8 beer bottles and a swing-top bottle or two, or any combination that you choose.
Ageing, Opening, and Drinking!
I always love to taste the mead as it is going into the bottles so that I have an idea of what it might be like after some time in the bottles. Ageing will always make a better mead or wine! I try to leave the bottles for at least a month before cracking one open to try.
If you open a bottle and there is a mess of foam spooting out everywhere, then you may have bottled too early or gotten something living in your brew – one way or another, that kind of activity means that you have to wait a good while longer before opening another bottle, or that you might have a bad batch. How do you tell if you have a bad batch? If it tastes like vinegar or something rotten, don’t drink it.
If your final product is still not sweet enough, you can always add sugar syrup or a splash of juice or even ginger ale to your glass. Enjoy your drink while you consider what you might do differently next time!
Questions and Answers about Brewing Mead
Is stratification of the must a problem and if it is what should I do?
Stratification, or the separation of the honey and liquid in the fermenter, is normal if you did a mead recipe where there is little to no heating of the water before adding the honey. If you use such a method, make sure you shake the everloving heck out of your gallon jug after you pitch the yeast. If the layers appear while you are still in fermentation, you can try to give it a stir or mix with a sanitized tool.
Another reason for stratification may be that you are fermenting in a cooler environment. Try putting your jug in a warmer spot, but out of direct sunlight.
I’ve never brewed mead before and would love to try. How long before the mead is fully done fermenting?
Fermentation time varies depending on the temperature, the kind of yeast, the amount of sugar and such. Just keep an eye on it, and watch the bubbles in the airlock blurping away. When they stop bubbling, consider bottling your mead, or if you are afraid that it isn’t done, you can “rack” it into a new jug to get it off of the old yeasts and see if it is still going.
All that being said, for one gallon batches it can take anywhere from a month to three months, although I’ve been lazy and let some sit for even longer.
Tip for beginners that may not want to invest in equipment until they are sure this isn’t going to be a one-time thing. My first wine was made in a milk jug with a homemade airlock. Get some 1/4 inch clear tube like is used for fish tanks. About 12 to 18 inches should be plenty. Drill a hole in the milk jug cap just large enough for the tubing to fit through. It only has to slip through about 1/2 inch. Use some silicone to seal around the tube. Everyone has a small container about 6 to 8 inches tall. I used one of my wife’s bud vases. Fill the vase about half full or maybe a little more with water and place the free end of the tube in it. As the wine bubbles, the gas will travel through the tube into the glass of water and out. The water allows the gas out but no air back into your wine.