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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sparkling Ginger Mead

In my last blog post, The President's Porter, I wrote about making a variant on the Whitehouse's Honey Porter. That made me think about using honey as the sugar for fermentation, which naturally led me to think about making mead.

The principal sugar used in making beer is maltose, a dissacharide made from two units of glucose. The sugar in honey, by contrast, is principally invert sugar.  Invert sugar is a mixture of  the simple sugars fructose and glucose. Fructose and glucose can also form a dissacharide called sucrose, cane sugar. The reason invert sugar has its name is that a mixture of fructose and glucose rotates plane-polarized light in the opposite direction from sucrose.

Invert sugar is very sweet and honey makes an excellent starting material for mead, a honey wine.

  • 18 lbs. honey
  • 1 lb. ginger
  • 3 tsp. diammonium phosphate
  • 3 tsp. Crosby & Baker yeast energizer
  • Spring water to make up 5 gallons
  • 2 pkg champagne yeast
  • 3/4 cup dextrose
Invert Sugar

Both sucrose a d-glucose (dextrose) rotate plane polarized light to the the right. Fructose (sometimes levrose or levulose) rotates plane-polarized light to the left, but more strongly than glucose does to the right; so converting sucrose to a mixture of levrose and dextrose changes the direction it rotates plane-polarized light.

Preparing the Must

My recipe is based upon a recipe from the Home Brewer's Association, but I took some liberties. I used honey from a variety of sources, some store bought, some from stands at the Farmer's market. 18 lbs. of honey is a lot of honey!  I dissolved the honey in about 2 gallons of bottled spring water.  I dipped the ginger in sanitizing solution, put the ginger in a food processor, smashed it all up skins and all, and then added it to the must.  I heated the must up to 180 °F for more than 10 minutes to ensure that any undesirable microorganisms were killed.  I added water to five gallons, cooled the mixture to 100 °F  in an ice bath. The must had a specific gravity of 1.115 at 100 °F  adding a temperature correction of 0.006 results in a specific gravity of 1.121.  The potential alcohol is a whopping 16.2, in reality the yeast won't support such a high content.

I added 1 tsp each of the yeast energizer and the diammonium phosphate to 4 oz. of water, added the yeast and let it sit.

I put the must in a 5 gallon carboy, pitched the yeast, set up a blow-tube, and let it ferment for two weeks.


After two weeks, the mead had a specific gravity of 1.070 at 60 °F, a potential alcohol of 9.4; so the mead had an alcohol content of approximately 6.8 % by volume (5.4% by weight).  The flavor was of a sweet and fairly strong mead with pronounced ginger.

I re-re-racked the must, straining as much ginger out as I could. I added another teaspoon each of yeast energizer and diammonium phosphate.

After another week, the hydrometer reading was of 1.040 at 65 °F. At that temperature a correction of 0.0006 is required for a specific gravity of 1.0406, for a potential alcohol of 5.4%.  Subtracting that from the original potential alcohol yields an alcohol content of 10.8% by volume, or 8.64% by weight.

I added the 3/4 cup of dextrose for priming sugar (probably not really necessary as the mead still has plenty of sugar to ferment) and another teaspoon each of yeast energizer and diammonium phosphate. I bottled the mead and waited another two week.

The Final Product

The mead is as sparkling as champagne.  Because I used beer bottles, it is a good idea to open it over a sink.  The hydrometer read 1.020 at 37 °F, where a correction of -0.001 should be applied; so the specific gravity is 1.019 corresponding to a potential alcohol of about 2.6%.  Subtracting that value from the original value yields an alcohol content of 13.6% by volume or 10.9% by weight.  This mead is strong stuff.  It still tastes sweet with distinct flavors of honey and ginger.  It also has a hint of champagne, but one that is a bit too sweet.