You don’t need a whole lot of equipment to get started making your own mead. And it is up to you how complicated and fancy you want to get with the tools you use to concoct your beverages. Remember, they used to make this with a wooden stick and a big open container. The quality then could be hit or miss, so you are likely to have more control over your final product the better tools you use, but you could easily come out with a very drinkable product without all the extra toys. Below I’ve put together a list of items to help you navigate the different levels of equipment you can make use of on your journey. I’ve broken them out into suggested stages where I felt most brewers would find their introduction most appropriate, after getting a handle on the prior stage’s equipment. There’s a whole world of different brewing toys out there that I don’t cover here.
Bare Bones – These will get you started.
A basic, clean container that made with food grade materials
Balloon With a hole poked in it
Will provide a makeshift airlock that can show you that he fermentation is occurring as it slightly inflates.
Basics – For when you don’t want to look like you’re brewing in your dorm room.
Food Grade Bucket – primary fermenter
Buckets allow for easy access when adding fruits and other flavorings to your must. They also mitigates the risk of a pressurized geyser forming like carboys can cause, with their larger surface area. This, however, also makes it less desirable to age in, as it increases the area that can oxidize.
Cover with cheese cloth: preferred for natural ferments
Airlocks (two different types)
Designed to show pressure. Liquid is held in the two chambers in the middle. Their level difference will show whether pressure is greater inside your container (fermentation/degassing is taking place) or outside. These can be a bit difficult to clean – especially if any of your brews ferments vigorously enough to be pushed into the airlock.
3 piece airlock:
The more popular type among homebrewers, especially for primary fermentation. Holds a larger amount of liquid, which means having to monitor it’s levels less frequently. It comes apart and is extremely easy to clean.
They both work fine. Just a few small difference depending on what you’d prefer to use them for.
Hydrometers are used for measuring the specific gravity of your brew. This allows you to determine the potential alcohol percentage based on the Original must. It can also be used to determine when fermentation ends, when the gravity of your liquid stops changing over the course of several days. The comparison of your Final gravity and Original gravity will give you your actual alcohol percentage.
Racking cane and tubing
A racking cane is used for transferring between containers without introducing oxygen into your brew. Also useful for bottling with the bottle filler attachment.
Degasser Attachment for drill
For mixing your honey until dissolved and aerating or degassing the must. These wands will fit in the adjustable tip of a drill and saves you a lot of manual stirring.
Intermediate – You want to take some steps to the quality and presentation
Don’t forget to buy some carriers for your carboys. They get heavy when full and are not easy to hold onto. Don’t bother with the neck rings (little metal handles that hook onto the neck of the carboy). Those put a lot of pressure on that one spot when full and can cause the to fracture – I’ve heard horror stories. You do not want to drop a 60 pound glass object full of liquid. These straps buckle around the whole container and distribute the force, making it much easier to maneuver around.
Bottle Filler Attachment
A bottle filler connects to the other end of the racking cane’s tube to allow more control over when the liquid is being let out. Most of these are spring operated. Pressure against the bottom of the bottle will release the liquid, letting up will stop it.
Used to cork your bottles of finished mead. These will compress the cork until it is thin enough to slip in, and the plunger will push it in to the correct depth. There are several types of corkers in two main styles: handheld and floor. The floor models are much easier to work with, and provide a steadier base for the bottle. The handheld models work fine, but be careful to press straight down on the top of the bottle, or you have the chance to tip them over.
Potassium metabisulphite is used in conjunction with Potassium sorbate to prevent renewed fermentation. Not guaranteed to be able to stop an active ferment. Generally used prior to backsweetening.
Prevents yeast from reproducing. These two used together will prevent your mead from starting up another fermentation. Not guaranteed to be able to stop an ongoing fermentation, however.
Used to speed up the clearing of your mead. These make use of slightly ionically charged particles that attract the particles floating in your mead and pull them down to the bottom with them.
Read more about them in the article on How to Clear your Mead.
DAP (diammonium phosphate) is one of the main nutrients that yeast make use of, and
Fermaid K is a mixture of different micro-nutrients that yeast like to eat. It contains some DAP, as well as dead yeast cells (they’re basically cannibals) which contain the extremely important nitrogen. Fermaid K also has some unsaturated fatty acids and sterols which help improve the yeast’s alcohol tolerance. this allows them to continue creating it past their normal limits, increasing the abv potential of your brew.
Fermaid O is a similar mixture to Fermaid K, except it contains a different source of nitrogen that is thought to be more natural for the yeast to digest than that in Fermaid K. It also contains no DAP. There is not really a consensus on which of these is better for mead, so it comes down to personal preference.
Go-Ferm is a yeast starter used in the rehydration process of yeast, before it is added to the must. This mixture of nutrients is meant to prepare your yeast to begin fermentation in peak condition. It contains no DAP, as that can be harmful to yeast during the rehydration process.
Campden tabs are used to kill off any extraneous microorganisms, including wild yeast, in your must prior to pitching. Useful when using fruit additions, or fresh herbs. Consists of sodium metabisulphite and performs similarly to Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Metabisulphite.
Monitor the temperature of your brew from the outside of the container.
Easier to serve larger quantities than bottles. Also allows you to carbonate without the risk of bottle bombs if you miscalculate the amount of sugar to add.
Advanced – Take your brewing to the next level
Yeast Stir plate
These will collect the lees and other sediment at the bottom of the fermenter in the inverted cone shape. They cause less transfer loss as the sediment is more contained. Many even have a valve at the bottom that can be used to remove the lees first, further reducing the risk of kicking up the dust again while siphoning.
Another tool that can be used to measure the concentration of sugar in your must by means of light refraction. It’s not very reliable for determining post fermentation stats as the alcohol will also affect the refraction off the liquid.
Don’t want to wait as long for your brew to clear? Filter it. These machines run the liquid through a specific sized filtration pad (disposable) which are keyed to removed particles above a specific size. These can get small enough to remove the yeast themselves from the brew, replacing the need for fermentation stabilizer chemicals when backsweetening. Note: some chance of filtering out coloring or flavor causing particles. Many mainstream drinks are filtered in some way.
Fermentation Chamber/Cold Crash Chamber
Regulate the temperature of your fermentation. Useful if you’re using a temperature sensitive strain of yeast and are not able to brew in a location with these conditions naturally. Removes temperature fluctuations as a variable in the outcomes of your mead.
Serve your mead in style! Keep it cold, carbonated and ready to serve.