This guild is to help the home mead makers sift through the many different yeasts available for making honey wine, a.k.a honey meads, sweet meads, dry meads, sparkling meads, fruit meads, and more.
What kind of yeast can be used in mead making?
One of the beautiful things about making mead is that due to its simple sugar content, the sky is the limit regarding what yeast can be used for fermentation.
Most yeasts strains available on the homebrew market today should have no issues chewing through the actual sugar content of the mead you are making.
You could even go as far as using bread or baker’s yeast, but yeast strains aimed at fermenting wine, mead, or ciders are preferred as they’ve been bred with an alcoholic beverage flavor in mind.
These strains are for high gravity fermentation of simple sugars. They can enhance the varietal characteristics of the honey and be very predictable.
Attenuation Level Determines the Mead Sweetness or Dryness
One of the determining factors of what yeast you should use for your mead is the amount of residual sweetness you desire in the finished product.
Attenuation is the term used to represent the amount of fermentable sugar the yeast can eat during fermentation.
Each yeast that you may consider using will have its level of attenuation attributed to it.
If your goal is to make sweeter mead with some of the sweetness left behind, you’d be best off to try and find yeast that has a lower attenuation level.
Alternatively, if you are looking for a dry mead with a more dry finish, it would be best to choose a yeast with a higher attenuation level.
Lower attenuation level = Sweet Mead
Higher attenuation level = Dry Mead
Another determining factor of what type of yeast you should use for your mead is the yeast’s alcohol tolerance. Each yeast will have a different amount of alcohol that it can tolerate before it no longer ferments.
While most yeasts designated for wine or mead use should be able to handle just about anything you can throw at it, some linger in the lower end of the mead style guidelines.
While it is important to pick a yeast that will survive up to the ABV that you are planning to use, some mead makers intentionally choose a yeast with a lower alcohol limit than the alcohol content of their planned mead.
For example, some mead makers may use a Safale US-05 yeast that can only tolerate up to 10% alcohol in a mead that should go to 11% ABV on paper.
When using this method, mead makers can determine where the yeast will die out, naturally leaving some of the honey unfermented once the yeast reaches its terminal alcohol point.
Many mead makers who desire residual sugar post-fermentation prefer this approach over simply back sweetening with honey.
You may also like: Honey Mead Recipe
While many mead makers understand the role yeast play in creating alcohol, some are unaware of how important yeast is in providing additional flavor components.
In many cases, yeast can play equal importance to the mead as the actual honey varietal being used.
Yeast flavors and aromas range wildly in yeast from more clean and neutral to exuding characteristics such as spicy, herbal, or even fruity flavors.
Liquid Yeast vs. Dry Yeast – which is better?
As mentioned above, just about any yeast can be used in your homemade meads, including liquid or dry yeasts found in a homebrew store.
Which one is better is really up to your preference as both have their strengths and weaknesses.
Some prefer dry yeast as it tends to be more affordable and has a much longer shelf life.
Liquid yeast, on the other hand, tends to have a more custom or defined flavor profile. With liquid yeast, you will need to be much more diligent in checking the age of the yeast you are purchasing.
Liquid yeast should be considered dying by the day, with cell count and viability diminishing rapidly compared to dry yeast.
As such, you may have to use multiple packs of yeast or create a yeast starter before pitching liquid yeast into your batch of mead to ensure the fermentation process goes off without a hitch.
Our Choices for Mead Yeast
As there are many different styles of mead that can be made, and it’s impossible for us to know exactly which one you are making or what your goals are for your mead, we really can’t say the singular “best” mead yeast is.
However, we have done some research and have come up with a list of some yeast choices that will make some great meads.
ABV Tolerance: 15%
Temperature Range: 59 – 86
Notes: This yeast is excellent for traditional/base varietals as it will accentuate the honey notes
Lalvin D-47 is a white wine yeast that is the first choice for many mead makers. It ferments at a moderate to fast pace with little foaming and is good for medium to dry meads. It tends to accentuate the honey notes, so it is a good choice for traditional mead. It does need a nutrient-rich environment, so add some Yeast Nutrient.
ABV Tolerance: 18%
Temperature Range: 45 – 95
Notes: It is a great choice for many mead makers due to its wide temperature range and high alcohol tolerance. This yeast has a more neutral yeast flavor which makes it a great all-around yeast.
The Lalvin EC-1118 is a champagne yeast that is a low foaming, vigorous and fast fermenter with a high alcohol and sulfate tolerance. It is a hearty yeast that can ferment in a broad range of temperatures and inhibit wild yeasts. Being a neutral yeast, it has little effect on the honey character.
ABV Tolerance: 14%
Temperature Range: 59 – 86
Notes: This is a great choice for fruited meads as the yeast can metabolize high amounts (20% to 40%) of malic acid.
The 71B-1122 is red wine yeast, great for cysers and other melomels that use dark fruits like blackberries and cherries. Since it can metabolize malic acid, it produces a smooth, well-rounded, and more aromatic mead that tends to mature more quickly than other yeasts.
White Labs WLP720 – Sweet Mead
ABV Tolerance: 15%
Temperature Range: 70 – 75
Notes: This is a great choice for meads where residual honey or sweetness is desired.
The White Labs WLP720 is a wine yeast strain that is less attenuative than WLP715 Champagne Yeast, leaving some residual sweetness in your mead.
It is also slightly fruity and will tolerate alcohol concentrations up to 15%. The White Labs WLP720 is a good choice for brewing a sweeter mead, cider, or Blush wines, Gewürztraminer, Sauternes, Riesling.
- Attenuation: <75%
- Flocculation: Low
- Optimum Ferment Temp: 70-75°F (21-24°C)
- Alcohol Tolerance: 15%
SafAle US-05 American Ale Dry Yeast
ABV Tolerance: 10%
Temperature Range: 64 – 82
The Safale US-05 yeast displays a neutral yeast character and is a great all-around fermenter.
Its lower alcohol tolerance can ferment a higher ABV mead so that residual sugar will be left behind.
Its dry yeast strain produces well-balanced beers with low diacetyl and a very clean, crisp palate.
It forms a firm foam head and presents an excellent ability to stay in suspension during fermentation.
This strain of yeast is ideal for many American beer types and highly hopped beers.
Safale US-05 is a dried American Ale strain with fermentation properties resembling Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) or White Labs WLP001 (California Ale). Sedimentation is low to medium, and final gravity is medium.
MORE FERMENTED DRINKS AND MEAD RECIPES
Now that you’ve learned all about how to make Honey Mead, here are a few things that you might find interesting…