“From Start up to Kilnasaggart”
A talk by Thomas O’Hagan of O’Hagan Meadery, and member of East Devon Beekeepers, 3/12/2020
Thomas was introduced by Richard Simpson as one of the participants on the Beginners Course several years ago. As a scientist he was interested in fermentation processes and so realised he could turn his skills in fermentation and his hobby of honey production into a commercial enterprise making mead. So how does he do it?
Yeast and Honey
Put simply, mead is fermented honey. The honey provides the sugars and yeast supplies fermentation in a watery mix. The products of fermentation are alcohols and carbon dioxide gas, provided there is insufficient oxygen from the air to spoil fermentation, hence the air lock used in home brewing.
The carbon dioxide is the same gas that causes bread to rise and the fizziness of champagne, so mead can be still (all sugars have been fermented) or fizzy (some gas retained).
The type of yeast used affects the end product markedly. Standardised, dry powder yeasts are often used but, for the more adventurous, a host of botanical materials can be added to the brew to achieve subtle flavours. Wild yeast fermentations, such as these, can go disastrously wrong but honey is considered a very forgiving medium because potential spoilage microorganisms will be discouraged by the natural antimicrobial agents in honey.
Meads and Mythology
The fermented product called ‘t’ej’ in Ethiopia has a long history and is still consumed to this day. T’ej is a honey wine made with gesho, which consists of the leaves and stems of an Ethiopian thorn bush, the bitterness of which counters some of the sweetness of the honey.
In Greek mythology Ganymede was cupbearer to Zeus, having been abducted by an eagle, and representations of the event can be seen is Roman mosaics, as at Bignor Roman villa in Sussex.
There is a story of St Brigit of Ireland who performed miracles, including the occasion when she blessed the empty drinking vessels of the host ‘and they were at once full with choice mead’.
Kilnasaggart pillar stone stands in a field not far from Kilnasaggart Bridge near Jonesborough, County Armagh. Thomas’ father also makes mead not far from here, hence the Irish connection.
Make Your Own Mead
Many styles of mead have been tried over the centuries. Braggot is a form of mead made with both honey and barley malt. Heat or freeze distillation will produce a more potent brew from normal meads. Meads made with foraged flavours and fruits can produce very acceptable products and, of course, there are a whole range of mulled and spiced products (metheglin, melomel, cyser) that can be produced with additional ingredients.
The process will be familiar to home brewer:
- Add the fermentable ingredients (honey, other sources of sugar) to your Primary fermentation vessel
- Add yeast if required
- Add water and nutrients (such as Young’s yeast nutrient).
To make, say, a 12%abv mead there are calculators on the internet that will help you get the proportions right.
All that remains is to age, bottle and drink!
Thomas gave us a simple, fool proof recipe for beginners.
- Add ingredients to fermentation vessel (could use a clean honey bucket):
- Honey – 500-600g
- Water – (use calculator)
- Nutrients – (if required)
- Rack and continue with 2nd fermentation.
- Settle, bottle/age, drink
Selling your Mead
Thomas briefly took us through the necessary requirements for making and selling Mead.
- You will need Environmental Health Dept. approval of your HACCP procedures (Hazzard Analysis Critical Control Points).
- Trading Standards need to be involved.
- The Tax Regulations will require you to register as a wine producer, and pay duty on the alcohol content.
- You will need to join the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.
- You will require a business bank account and the backing of a retailer. VAT will be required, plus a Premises licence.
- If that was not enough you will require Insurance and you will have to comply with the current Labelling Regulations.
Good luck with your brewing.
Brewing equipment supplier – Vigo of Dunkeswell
Thanks to Thomas for all the practical hints and tips, and also thanks to Nick Silver for stepping in at the last minute as host.