When making mead, most of us spend the majority of our time researching and selecting the best honey available to use. However, by choosing the best yeast for mead as well, we are able to further adjust and even improve upon this beverage’s flavor. Yeast can change the taste of your mead in several ways. It can mellow the flavor, create a dry drink, a sweet dessert mead, produce a high or low alcohol (ABV), and can even affect the amount of carbonation (CO2) produced.
In a world where most yeast is produced with beer wine and cider makers in mind, it can be challenging to decide which ones are specifically best for mead making. Here are my 5 top yeast picks for those who specifically make honey wine. Each yeast option will impart a different “personality” to your beverage. Experiment with a few of them (or all 5) to find the one that works best for you!
Here are our top 5 picks:
- Red Star Sampler Pack Wine Yeast Best For Experimenting With A Variety of Yeasts
- Vintner’s Harvest Wine Yeast Best For Sweet Meads
- Mangrove Jack’s MO5 Dry Mead Yeast Best For Accenting & Pronouncing Floral Notes
- Lalvin EC-1118 Champagne Yeast Strongest Yeast For Fast & Dry Meads
- Lalvin KI-V1116 Winemaking Yeast Best Flavors & Aromatics
This variety pack of yeasts is perfect for experimenting with different strains. This set includes 1 Premier Blanc, 1 Premier Rouge, 1 Premier Classique, 1 Premier Cuvee, and 1 Cote des Blancs. This will provide you with a range of sweet dry, and even slightly sparkling meads. The alcohol tolerance of these yeast packets range from 14% to 18%. The seller, North Mountain Supply, will provide free replacements if for any reason your yeast does not activate before the expiration date.
Vintner’s Harvest is a new name in the yeast world that is quickly gaining traction for their quality products. This yeast is great if you’d like to make a sweet or dessert mead. This is a slow fermenter and can take 21 to 35 days to reach desired alcohol levels and sweetness levels. It does best in a temperature range of 72-78F and can produce up to 15% ABV.
Many brewers mead-makers and wine-makers say that this yeast is great for accentuating fruit flavors, making this a good choice for making a melomel.
Unlike other options in this list that work very well for mead, Mangrove Jack’s product is made specifically for mead.The finished product is described as mellow and dry, balanced with a high alcohol content. The finished product is very clear without murkiness, making it easy to separate the dead yeast from your mead at the end of the fermentation.
This yeast is also high-ester producing, meaning that it will produce fresh floral scents that compliment the honey flavor. It is flexible with its temperature needs and can ferment in the range of 59 – 86F.
This strong flexible yeast was isolated in Champagne and is a well known choice amongst seasoned and beginner mead makers alike. It’s a great choice if you’ve had issues with slow to start ferments. In fact, this is a good yeast to add to a batch of mead that needs some support with starting or speeding up fermentation.
It works well in temperatures ranging from 45 – 95F, making it a great choice for most seasons and locations in your home. It’s flavor is very neutral which can help allow for the notes of your honey to stand out in your final product.
This yeast is a strong popular strain that produces dry and aromatic wines. It can produce up to 80% alcohol and does best in a temperature range of 50 – 95F. This strain does a good job of overcoming wild yeast which will help to produce consistent and reliable batches of mead.
Another convenience factor is that KI-V1116 does well with low-nutrient musts, which means that you can get a good fermentation going without adding additional nutrients.
What Role Does Yeast Play In Mead Making?
Yeast is a microorganism that is a critical ingredient in the mead making process. Yeast eats the honey which produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast can affect the alcohol content and sweetness of your mead depending on which one you use.
What Yeast Should I Choose?
Here are the 4 factors what will help you determine which yeast best suits your mead making needs:
Alcohol Tolerance: The type of yeast you use will determine the overall alcoholic content of your mead. You can create a beverage that contains around 5% of alcohol or a strong one that contains 18%. Make sure to look on the packaging to find out which type of yeast can produce the alcohol strength you’re aiming for.
Because they’re living organisms, yeasts will produce results within an alcoholic range, rather than a specific number. You can use a hydrometer to determine an exact alcohol content.
Temperature: Each yest strain has a temperature range in which it performs best. Some yeasts are more tolerant to a wide variety of conditions, while others are very sensitive and need a very controlled environment. If the temperature is off for your yeast, the fermentation process will produce flavors and odors that we aren’t going for in a mead. These batches will need to age for quite some time to return to a more stable and mellow flavor.
In a very cold environment, the yeast may not even become active, which means your drink won’t ferment. Not only does this halt your mead making process, but it also leaves the batch susceptible to other microbes. Make sure that you can adjust the temperature in your home to accommodate the needs of your yeast.
Nutrients: The honey in your mead is a great source of sugar for the yeast cultures to eat. However, there are more nutrients that are essential to the health of the fermentation. Yeast needs a good amount of nitrogen as well as other trace minerals in order to metabolize the honey properly. Check your yeast package to see it’s nutrient content.
You can also add Yeast Energizer to your brew to increase the nutrient density. It’s a blend of diammonium phosphate, magnesium sulfate, yeast hulls, and vitamin B complex. You can add half a teaspoon per gallon of mead to help stimulate fermentation.
Flocculation: Flocculation refers to when yeast falls out of suspension and to the bottom of your mead container when it has finished fermenting the honey. Some yeasts take a long time to reach flocculation and others reach it very quickly. This helpful factor will let you know how long it will take to ferment your mead, so make sure to check your yeast’s flocculation time before you begin.
What Else Do I Need To Make Mead?
Here are some other important items you’ll need when making mead:
2 one gallon jugs, 1 rubber stopper, 1 airlock: These can be bought together or as separate items. They serve as the primary containers for your mead’s fermentation process. You can just let the mead ferment the entire time in one jug, however, most brewers prefer to siphon the mead into a second jug to remove the dead yeast and create a smoother beverage.
Siphon and Tubing Kit: These materials allow you to safely transfer your mead into other containers. Insert the siphon into your container and the liquid will automatically fill the auto-siphon. Pump the racking cane 2 or 3 times to begin tilling the tubing. It will begin flowing on its own when all of the air has been pumped out of the tube. You can practice with water first to get the hang of this method, and make sure to follow the specific instructions from your manufacturer.
Stock Pot: Make sure your stock pot is large enough for the amount of mead you want to make. For example, if you’re planning on making 1 gallon batches, get at least a 2 gallon (8 quart) pot.
Bottle Brush: These are great for reaching those tricky spots and making sure you don’t have build-up in your containers after multiple uses.
Hydrometer: This will help you to monitor the alcohol content of your mead.
1 quart or 3 lbs of honey: You can use 3 pounds of honey for each gallon of mead you produce. Once you’ve tried this ratio, you can increase or decrease the amount you use depending on personal taste and experimentation.
3 quarts of un-chlorinated water: A store-bought spring water will be fine for this process. I personally use my Berkey purification system to filter all of my water for fermentation.
Brewing Sanitizer: You will need a no-rinse sanitizer to clean all of your supplies in each stage of the mead-making process. Sanitation is one of the most important parts of this process and will help protect your investment.
How to Prepare Your Tools
When sanitizing your tools, you will use a no-rinse brewing sanitizer. Before you use the no-rinse sanitizer, make sure to thoroughly clean and rinse your materials. The sanitizer is not a substitute for soap so make sure not to skip this part. I also like to put my (dishwasher-safe) items into my dishwashing machine using high heat for another layer of cleanliness.
Star San is a very popular brand of no-rinse sanitizer that mead, wine, beer, and kombucha-makers alike have applauded. You can dilute one ounce of the sanitizer per 5 gallons of water. It is easiest to make this in a large 5-gallon bucket and submerge your supplies within it. If you don’t have a bucket available, you can use your kitchen sink.
Make sure to leave your materials submerged for at least two minutes before beginning the mead-making process. When you’re done, you’ll see bubbles on your items, since this is a high-foaming sanitizer. Don’t worry, these are perfectly safe and should not be rinsed away. Lightly dry your items once you’re done and you are all set to begin putting ingredients in your containers!
Mead making may seem like a daunting process, but it’s quite simple when you understand which ingredients to choose. Pairing a honey with yeast can magically transform this food into an effervescent and exciting beverage. My suggestion is to try more than one, and to keep learning from the different variations as you perfect your batch.
Make sure to experiment with different honey options as well as fruits when you find a favorite yeast, and you will be able to create the “perfect” mead, customized just for you.
Happy mead making! Please share any thoughts, responses, or experiences you’ve had with these strains of yeast in the comments below.