This section is from the book "A Treatise On Beverages or The Complete Practical Bottler", by Charles Herman Sulz. Also available from Amazon: A Treatise On Beverages.
This is a beverage made by fermenting a mixture of water and honey. It is commonly confounded with "metheglin", but the latter strictly denotes a fermented drink made from honey and wine, beer, etc. Mead, to bo an agreeable beverage, should not contain more than twenty-five pounds of honey in one hundred pounds of the wort to be fermented; the presence of excess of cream of tartar is of less consequence, except as waste, inasmuch as it does not remain in solution in the wine; one pound of cream of tartar upon twenty-five pounds of honey would be sufficient. When honey is simply dissolved in water, of a heat between 80° and 90° Fahrenheit, it mostly enters into fermentation in ten or twelve hours. Into the mixture of honey-water intended to be made into mead, cream of tartar is mostly given; the French also add elder-flowers; but this seems to complicate the fine flavor of the honey. Most prescriptions for the making of mead indicate so much honey that, after the most complete fermentation possible, a strongly sweet thick liquid must remain. One recipe leads to a honey syrup so concentrated that it will support a fresh egg on its surface without allowing it to sink to more than half its bulk. Another French recipe prescribed to infuse six gallons of boiling water on eight or ten ounces of elder-flower; to the infusion two pounds of cream of tartar are to be given; afterwards forty pounds of purified honey are to be dissolved in it, and the wort thus obtained is to be started with four pounds or five pounds of good fresh yeast. Even where less honey is recommended, the mead obtained is to be strongly sweetened with cane-sugar. There is no doubt that, independently of the fact that honey is a relatively dear material for the production of an alcoholic beverage, mead has become disused on account of the excessive sweetness which used to be imparted to it.
Another formula says: Mix ten pounds of honey with four gallons of water, and boil it over a moderate fire for thirty-five or forty minutes, skimming it well all the time. Pour it into a cask; keep the cask filled but open, and exposed to the sun, or in a warm room, while it is fermenting. Then bung it up tightly and bottle it in six or nine months. If the honey is perfectly pure or clarified, five gallons of boiling water may be poured upon every ten pounds of honey, stirred well for fifteen minutes and put to ferment without boiling. Hops may be added with great advantage; they decrease the sweetness and impart an agreeable flavor.
Mead is made more vinous and agreeable by adding a little brandy or fruits or raisins; half a pound of cut raisins will do for six pounds of honey; an ounce of salt of tartar dissolved in a glass of brandy being added when the liquor is put into the cask. Some persons add half an ounce of bruised cloves, mace and nutmegs mixed, and a quarter of an ounce of cut ginger, to ten pounds of honey. Others add lemon peel. Three quarts of white currant juice, or two quarts of red currant juice and one quart of black currant juice, to every ten pounds of honey, will make another kind of mead wine.
Another recipe gives six gallons of cider instead of water to every ten pounds of honey, and adds two quarts of spirits. It should be bottled in three months, and will be fit to drink in three months. Mead improves with age. It will keep for years if properly made. The yeast used to ferment it should be particularly good and sweet, or the flavor of the whole may be spoiled. On all other points mead should be treated like the white wines.