Ambrosia Farm



Ambrosia Farm Mead Kit Q&A

Basics

Ambrosia Farm Short Mead Kits make it easy to homebrew historically-based short meads in less than 3 weeks without brewing apparatus or chemical additives. The brewer supplies two pounds of honey and a gallon bottle of spring water, which becomes the brewing vessel. The only other items required are a cup measure, a funnel, a pan with a lid and some way to boil water. The instructions are pretty detailed & have worked for thousands of people by now. I'll be happy to answer any specific questions you have after reviewing the FAQs here and your kit's instruction sheet. Just email me at sherry@ambrosiafarm.com

Q: What exactly is mead & what does it taste like?
A: Mead is honey wine. Of more common drinks, it is most similar to white wine in flavor and alcohol level, ranging from sweet to dry. However, one of our meads, Elderberry, is unusual having more of a red wine flavor.

Q: My friend says short meads aren't "real mead". How are short meads different from regular meads?
A: Short meads use a smaller proportion of honey to water, a fast-starting yeast, and a single fermentation to produce a drinkable beverage in weeks that must be chilled until consumed. Long meads use a higher proportion of honey, a strong finishing yeast that can survive high levels of alcohol and multiple or extended fermentation followed by aging for a year and sometimes longer.

Q: How are your meads historic?
A: In the middle ages, people brewed both long and short meads. An Englishman collected a lot of recipes and published them in his 1669 book, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt. Opened. Ambrosia Farm Short Meads are in the style of the short meads described in this book, using only plant ingredients, honey, water and yeast. If you brew using wildflower honey as recommended, they will taste like meads of that era.

Q: How are your flavors Celtic, if they're based on a 1600's reference?
A: I used plants traditionally associated with given holidays in the Celtic holiday cycle as the basis to create a flavor for each holiday. (Many of the same plants have been in continual use in Europe for millenia, such as mint, elder, and berries. Spices, not indigenous to early Celtic Europe were imported by trade.)

Q: Which of your flavors are sweet and which are dry?
A: Sweet to dry is not in the flavor packet -- all will start sweet and become increasingly dry through the brew process.

Q: How can one recipe make a mead that is either sweet or dry?
A: The yeasts convert the sugars in the honey to alcohol ("dry" is absence of sweetness). It depends how far you let the brew go. The brewer can keep the mead sweeter by decanting before the sugars are all converted and chilling which drastically slows down the yeast activity or allow it to become drier by letting the yeast work longer.

Q: So you get a drier mead the longer it brews (the full 14 days)?
A: Yes, you do get a drier mead the longer it brews. Also, you should know there is nothing magic about the number 14, you can brew it longer if it's not dry enough for you at 14 days. However, don't forget about it, check it daily because the mead will pick up an off flavor (musty taste) from the yeast the longer it sits on the sediment.

Q: How many days should I brew it if I want a sweet mead?
A: Brewing these meads is an organic process with many variables such as temperatures during the brewing time, how much air is mixed in at the start, the different plant ingredients in different flavors, and even the moisture level in the honey you select, so it is not clockwork like a mechanical process. This is why you need to taste daily to assess the flavor after the first week.

Equipment & Ingredients

Q: Is it true I can brew your meads without owning any brewing equipment? How can that be?
A: The spring water bottle becomes your brewing vessel and a cloth fermentation lock is supplied. Our process does not require any special equipment, other than a small pan and the ability to boil water. Plenty of people have started these kits at camping events.

Q: Is it safe to brew in a plastic bottle—what about having alcohol in it?
A: Spring water mostly comes in plastic bottles nowadays. The same plastic (HDPE) is used in the linings of bag in box wines and in low end liquor bottles, both of which are typically in contact with alcohol for much longer periods of time than two weeks.

Q: Do you include chemicals such as yeast nutrient, acid blend, sulphites or cleaning agents?
A: No. We recommend using either boiling water or vodka to sterilize items that will be in direct contact with the mead, such as funnels, bottles and corks. We employ only plant ingredients including dried spices, herbs, flowers and fruits to create our flavors and supply the needs of the yeasts as they brew. And at the end, our method does not kill the yeast using chemicals, because we do not like having these in our drink.

Q: What kind of honey should I get?
A: I recommend wildflower honey for greatest authenticity,  but for just good flavor almost any light flavored honey will do. I have successfully used alfalfa, clover & locust, and had a delicious butterbean brewed by our friends at The Bee Folks. Fruity honeys can also work well with the fruity flavors or the Spice Mead. You want to avoid strong flavored honey (like buckwheat) which would dominate the flavor, for most kits, however it is excellent with Spice Mead, if you like a dark gingerbready flavor. You can buy honey in a two pound jar or measure 3 cups from a larger container. (Three cups is slightly more than two pounds, but since honey clings in the cup, it is close enough.) Just get liquid honey, not the kind that has crystallized.

Q: Do you have any recommendations on where to get honey?
A: Most of the places I see honey are natural foods stores, farmstands-- especially if they are for orchards, and farm markets. Our friends The Bee Folks (www.beefolks.com) offer honey online and also at the Maryland and Pennsylvania Renaissance fairs and numerous other festivals throughout the year. If you are in a rush, you could get honey at the grocery store.

Q: My honey has been around for a while and it tastes funny, what should I do?
A: Get better honey. If it doesn't taste good at the beginning, don't brew with it.

Planning Ahead & Starting the Kits

Q: Do They REALLY only take 2 weeks?
A: Yes, most times they do-- sometimes they are even ready in 9 days or so. One thing you will want to make sure is that your temperature in the house isn't too chilly. Like any natural fermented product, they are temperature sensitive. The kits brew best between 70-85F. See What if my house is too cold? in Brewing below.

Q: If I want mead ready for a specific date, what is the best time to start it?
A: I recommend to serve on a known date that you start the kits at least 3-4 weeks in advance. BUT-- you have to be prepared bottle and chill once done until your event. It largely depends on temperature how fast they will burble along. After the first week, taste once a day until it's dry enough & then bottle & chill until use. (If you put one in to chill pretty sweet, it will get a slight fizz unless you let off the pressure once a week. Most people like the fizz.) They hold fine chilled for at least 4-6 weeks.

Q: Anything else about timing when to start?
A: Yes, allow at least an hour for your starting session, so you have time to allow enough cooling before you add the yeast. Make sure you (or someone) will be available after the first six days to taste the brewing mead daily during the second week, and have bottles for the mead ready then as well.

Q: My kit seems to be clumped up will it still be OK?
A: Yes, this is common with the fruit ingredients. Just use a wooden spoon to break up the clumps once they have softened in the pan of boiling water.

Q: I've never brewed short meads before, what do I need to know?
A: The secret of the brewing is that it's really easy to produce a yummy product (what's hard is to produce exactly the same product reliably over & over again). So take a deep breath, exhale & relax. Here are a few pointers to start you off:

  • Basic Brewing Primer: Yeasts need sugar, air and warmth to grow. Honey supplies the sugar. Shaking the mixture well before adding the yeast blends the honey and air into the liquid. You'll want your mixture to be warm but not so hot as to kill off the yeast when it is added. (No one has ever told me they killed off the yeast using my hand test method.)
  • Since I keep my water in the basement, it's pretty cool when I begin, so to get things off to a good start, I place the gallon of spring water and the jar of honey into a clean sink of hot water about 6" deep for about 10 minutes while I get out my tools, etc. This helps in pouring the honey too.
  • Follow the steps in the kit instruction sheet. Make sure you take the yeast packet out of the flavorings before they go into the pot.
  • It's helpful to mark the date started on your mead bottle and also note it on a calendar you use regularly. Then number the days 0 (start date) to 14 so you can see how far along you are and start tasting it around day 7.
  • Read through the next section for a sense of what to expect during the brew.

Brewing & Troubleshooting

Q: I got my bottle all ready to go and it doesn't seem very full, can I top it off so I'll end up with more mead?
A: No, the empty space at top will decrease as the yeasts multiply and cause frothing up. Topping off would increase the possibility that the brewing mead might overflow and wet the cloth which could then wick in the wrong organisms such as vinegar yeasts from fruit flies, for example.

Q: There is frothy stuff on the top and fizzy bubbles and chunks of things going up and down in my brewing mead—is this OK?
A: Yes, that's exactly what's supposed to be happening.

Q: I think something is wrong, nothing seems to be happening like froth & bubbles-what's up?
A: First of all, make sure you remembered to add the yeast. And the honey. If your house is chilly, see next question for ways to warm up your mead. If yeast and honey are present and air temperature at least 70F, there should be activity-- give it a day. If not, wash your hands well, take off the cloth & clamp one hand over the top and shake the jug a few times. This will ensure air & honey are distributed throughout. Next replace the cloth, put the jug in a clean sink and fill sink with warm tap water to the level of middle of the jug. Together these measures should kickstart a stuck fermentation. (Please check the expiration date under ingredients panel, if you have kept it significantly longer, your yeast may no longer be active. Any kits having no date were expired as of the end of 2010.)

Q: What if my house is too cold?
A: If you do keep a chilly house (in the 60s), you will need to find or make a warm place for your yeast to have the temperatures they require to be active. This could be on top of your fridge or in a warm closet (not in the sun or directly in front of a heat vent). I have used a space heater to keep a small room warm—if you do this 70-75F is warm enough.

You can also place your freshly started mead into a cooler or even just a cardboard box with some towels or other insulating material around it—but top open for air exchange. You can warm it up in the sink (as described in Starting the Kits above) once a day. Or just fill two other gallon bottles of hot water and place on each side of the brewing gallon in the cooler or box, swapping once a day.

Q: Can it get too hot for the kits?
A: YES! Don't get carried away. The mead will go very quickly if heat is held at or above the 70's day and night and may become dry before you expect, so taste daily. They brew fine in naturally cycling temperatures at summer camping events where daytime temperatures are up into the 90's but drop some at night. Those who tried to brew with bottom heat had bad results.

Q: I bought some of your mead to make and am in the process of making it. It has been sitting for about 8 days and is starting to taste good. I wasn't sure if I am supposed to strain any of the stuff off the top of the bottle or should I shake it or just completely leave it alone?
A: Don't shake it mid brew. Once it is as dry as you want it to be, you will rebottle, that is the time to use the strainer. You can pour a bit to taste daily or use a turkey baster to suck some liquid from below the surface. When the taste is right, place on counter where you will pour while preparing bottles. Allow to settle, then pour into bottles through a strainer, leaving the sediment behind. This is described on the instruction sheet.

Q: My dad said there is a crust of stuff on top of the liquid in the bottle and he's worried it will keep the gases from escaping, what should he do?
A: Nothing, it will be fine.

Bottling & Handling

Q: What kind of bottles will I need to store the mead once it's done and when do I need them?
A: Bottles for the mead should be available starting about one week after you begin the ferment. Really they can go in anything, but you have to consider how they will fit into your fridge & later a cooler if you need to transport them anywhere. We often use emptied wine, whiskey or tequila bottles, etc. You could use mason jars! You will need four 750 ml wine bottles (or 3 liter bottles or two 1.5 liter ones) per kit.

Q: What about corks?
A: You can reuse corks that came with your bottle or buy corks that have a top for hand gripping, known as tasting corks (or other ornamental cork). It's best if you can remove and replace your cork to check on things or let off the pressure occasionally, especially if you will transport the mead. Cliptop bottles work well also.

Q: How will I know when to bottle?
A: "Doneness" is a matter of taste. The easiest way to taste is to use a turkey baster to suck a sip of liquid from below the barm (floaty stuff) & squirt it into a cup. It's always possible to bottle some & let the rest brew further before bottling (if you end up liking the more brewed version, you can even put out the earlier bottle with a cloth on top to brew a bit longer).

Q: If my mead is done, can I just put it in the fridge in the fermenter and bottle on the weekend?
A: Try to have bottles ready to go before this happens, because we find letting the mead sit on the lees (yeast sediment) longer than necessary will result in acquiring a musty aftertaste. But you can chill for a day in a pinch to stop the ferment from becoming drier—just get it off the yeast ASAP.

Q: Can you tell me tips for bottling?
A: Clean the sink & a counter next to it. Place the mead there to settle while gathering & cleaning (or freshly rinsing) bottles. corks, a funnel & fine sieve. Handle mead gently to avoid stirring up the lees (settled matter in bottom). Pour slowly through sieve & funnel into bottles in the sink. Leave an airspace of at least 3 inches in narrow neck bottles. If you will be consuming the mead slowly, it is helpful to number the bottles in order poured and use from last to first. The first bottles have least sediment and thus keep longest.

Q: My mead is in bottles—now what?
A: Flavors hold up great for 4-6 weeks under refrigeration. About every two weeks open each bottle briefly to release pressure (called burping). Completed mead MUST be chilled until consumed even if you are transporting it . Meads travel fine on ice in a cooler – just burp the bottles when you get them out of the fridge to pack them, so they are less likely to build up too much pressure in transit.

Q: What if I let it get warm?
A: The yeasts will begin to work again and start building up pressure, this could lead to popping corks, bursting bottles or simply a mead that leaps out of the bottle the minute it is uncorked (like a shaken champagne).

Q: How can I get my mead to be bubbly AND drinkable?
A: If you put one in to chill pretty sweet under a snug cork (or with a cliptop), it will get a slight fizz unless you let off the pressure once a week. Most people like the fizz. To prep for a fizz, plan to leave it under cork for two weeks once bottled. Like any champagne, the liquid may rush out of the bottle when opened if it has been shaken up. Handle gently and burp (open briefly to release pressure) once a week after the first two.

Q: I know some people brewing beer sometimes have burst bottles, could this happen?
A: Whenever sweet mead is put under pressure (cliptop or tight cork), it can build up pressure, especially if it is shaken and or becomes warmed up and starts to ferment again. If you are using corks, then the mead will more likely blow off the cork than actually break the bottle.  We have had mead burst out of the bottle like champagne, especially if roughly handled, but sometimes just because it was put under cork with sugar remaining and not burped. We have only broken bottles by leaving the mead unopened for over two months.

Variations

Our method, yeast type, and the quantities, proportions and form of flavoring ingredients are all keyed to a short brew in small batches. We have trialed all of our flavors repeatedly using the proportions and processes recommended at various times of year and in various sites. You can count on getting the results we describe provided you work with the kits per instructions. We make no guarantee about results should you opt to experiment.

Q: If I want to make a lot of one flavor, how about if I use the five gallon carboy I have because I've already done some other brewing?
A: Personally, I'd recommend doing multiple gallons, we haven't trialed the kits in big batches. Also, it's my belief that the timing and flavor results will not scale up directly, that is placing five kits in a five gallon vessel and treating per the instructions would probably not produce the same results. Do see my method for getting four batches out of three gallons of spring water below, however.

Q: You said you have a method for making 4 batches of mead at the same time with 3 gallons of spring water, can you tell me about it?
A: Yes, this can be done with the same or different flavors. For most people four at a time also works out in the kitchen, since most stoves have four burners. You need a fourth sterilized gallon jug. Pour the 4 cups of water removed for honey and headspace from the first 3 jugs into the 4th jug. Then start all at same time at step of pouring 3 cups into pans for the boil & progress together. Do be aware that different flavor kits have varying cook times depending on what the ingredients are.

Q: Can I make my kit into a long mead by letting it brew longer?
A: No, this is not recommended. The method of adding all the flavorings to the fermenter is suitable only for short fermentation periods up to about 3 weeks and they need to be removed (strained out during a racking over) if one were to try to ferment longer.

Q: Can I add more honey to make it sweeter?
A: Yes, you can use up to 3 lbs, instead of 2— and take out another 2 cups of water. However, remember, this is a significantly higher ratio because you are BOTH adding honey AND removing water. Doing this will not "convert" the kit to a long mead because the supplied yeast is suited to a fast start & low final alcohol. However, I'd recommend first trying one kit per our method, they are quite sweet.

Other Inquiries

Q: Do you have a retail shop?
A: No, we don't. We do sell our products at festivals throughout the year as well as through several other fair vendors and shops, see our Events page.

Q: I brew for large events and I'd like to make your mead in 5 gallon quantities, would you tell me the proportions of your ingredients so I can reproduce your flavors?
A: I would like to help you out but I can't give out my formulations (or suppliers of my ingredients) since they're really the only proprietary aspect of my products. Also, I don't believe a 5 gallon batch would necessarily come out the same.  I am currently working to develop 5 gallon kits.

Q: Can I reproduce your instructions to hand out or post on the web?
A: No. My instructions are copyrighted and I ask folks to respect that.

Q: I didn't get around to brewing the kit and now it is expired, can you send me a fresh yeast?
A: No, we do not send out replacement yeast. If your kit has expired, the flavoring ingredients have also aged. We recommend a fresh kit.  However, if your date has just passed, there is some leeway.  If you are within 1-3 months of date, the kit will likely still work.

Q: Can you come to our event?
A: I am definitely open to possible talks, workshops etc. It's best to talk about dates with me at least 6-8 weeks ahead of time. We have a number of events on our schedule throughout the year where we take our products as vendors to festivals. Then we tend to fill in our calendar with personal activities.

What's New

Email if you still have unaswered questions -- sherry@ ambrosiafarm.com