Book Review: The Compleat Meadmaker
August 13, 2010
Yes, my spell check is going bonkers on that title, but the book is indeed named The Compleat Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine from Your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations by Ken Schramm, published in 2003. This is the number one recommended book about mead, but some of that is because there aren’t many out there dedicated strickly to mead, and this one is the newest.
Part One of this book goes though the history of honey and mead, including the decline and recent resergance of mead. He talks briefly about styles of meads, and then he finally moves on Part Two, the Process.
Learning how to make mead in Part 2 starts with a shopping trip to get equipment and supplies, of which a recipe is then presented. He then sort of goes though the process with the recipe so that you are learning though doing, and he explains along the way. However, there are some things I think he glosses over that should have gotten more attention in the general introduction process. For instance, he says that if the mead is clear and there has been no fermentation for two weeks, it is okay to bottle, though he usually ages for at least six months. Most people I talk to who make mead say that mead is undrinkable unless it has been aged, so he really should have broken this out into an “Aging” step.
Next, he moves into a little more advanced ideas, such as note taking, heat’s influence on mead, sulfites, making sparkling mead, more advanced equipment, and additives such as acids. This section is followed up by a lot of science about the actual fermentation, such as fermentation phases, flocculation, nutrient levels, pH levels, and various issues regarding yeasts. Admittedly, the last part drove me a little bonkers because with wine and cider, there is definitely pH zone to be in, which is controlled by the addition of acids, and I couldn’t get a straight answer out of this book about what that zone might be for mead. This is probably the primary reason I haven’t really made mead. It wasn’t until I recently took a class and asked flat out what the pH should be that I found out mead makers don’t care about pH as it will fluctuate during ferment. They will finally measure when it comes time to bottle, at which point it should be in the same zones as wine for taste and stability reasons. I wish he had said that plainly instead of scientifically.
He goes on to talk about fermentation issues before moving on to conditioning, aging, and using oak. Thing is, I’m not sure how many beginners would read that section, as it would probably be the more advanced people who do, so there should have been a quick summary back in the basics of making mead.
In Part Three – Ingredients, Schramm begins by talking about bees, beekeeping, making honey, honey properties, and varietal honeys with a chart of scientific properties. This is followed by chapters on fruits and melomels, grapes and pyment, spices and metheglin, and grains and braggots. Again, I wonder how much of this is initially skipped by the reader, only to be read when the reader is more comfortable making mead.
Finally, in Part Four, does Schramm get to the recipes, which is contained on eight pages out of a 200 page book. Honestly, I would probably use Making Wild Wines and Meads to gain more recipes.
Next, he writes about how to appreciate mead, including glassware, temperature, evaluation, a brief section on hosting a mead tasting.
The appendix includes ten pages of just honey suppliers, wine and meadmaking suppliers, websites of interest, conversion charts, glossary, a large bibliography, and an index.
Overall, this can be an intimidating book, and it kept me from really going out there and making mead. However, it is highly recommended by mead makers, and I think the technical information would be good once a person has a few mead batches made. It is lacking in recipes, probably because he figures you will be creative and create your own recipes after reading all the technical information, so I recommend Got Mead.com or Making Wild Wines and Meads to supplement this shortcoming.