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Have you ever made mead and thought to yourself, “Hmm, this could be a little sweeter”? Most people think that, because mead is made from fermented honey, it will be a sweet drink. However, during the fermentation process, the sugars in the honey are devoured by yeast, resulting in a mead that is not as sweet as you wanted. Fortunately, there is a way to alter the sweetness of your mead. Today, you are going to learn how to back sweeten mead in a couple of ways. Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
- What is Back Sweetening?
- How to Back Sweeten Mead
- Can You Other Sugars Besides Honey?
- How Do You Store Back Sweetened Mead?
- How Long Does Mead Last After Back Sweetening?
What is Back Sweetening?
If this is your first time hearing about back sweetening, here is what you need to know: it’s a technique that reduces the alcohol content of your mead while increasing the sweetness. This is not an advanced technique that requires a lot of skill, but you are not just dumping a ton of sugar into your actively fermenting mead, either.
Adding more sugar to a fermenting mead may encourage the yeast to work harder. You don’t want that. So, the first step when back sweetening mead is to halt fermentation. From there, you can start adding more sweetness to your mead.
Back sweetening is a technique that can be used for more than just mead. You can try it with beer and wine, too.
How to Back Sweeten Mead
Back sweetening may sound like a simple process, but you should never do this carelessly. Leaping in without knowing how to back sweeten mead could end up restarting the fermentation process, as mentioned earlier, or lead to exploding bottles. Both are messes that you can avoid just by knowing the steps.
Check out this video on how to back sweeten mead for some great ideas:
Next, you will need to gather three things:
- A secondary container
- Potassium sorbate
Additionally, you must confirm that active fermentation is complete before you begin back sweetening your mead.
Here are the steps to follow:
1. Monitor Fermentation
Back sweetening happens right as the mead-brewing process nears completion. You must keep a close watch on your mead as it starts fermenting so you are ready to begin sweetening once it finishes. Generally, fermentation begins within 24 hours of adding yeast. CO2 will escape from the airlock, causing a bubbling or hissing sound if you listen closely enough. That is your sign that fermentation is underway. Once fermentation ends, transfer the mead over to your secondary container or fermenter.
Keep in mind that any equipment that comes into contact with your mead must be cleaned and sanitized. Otherwise, you risk contaminating your mead. A great tool for transferring your mead from one fermenter to the other is an auto-siphon. Use it if you have it.
Don’t know which recipe to follow? Check out our Honningbrew mead recipe or our simple 5 gallon mead.
2. Add Potassium Sorbate
Now that your mead is in a secondary container, it is time to add potassium sorbate—approximately 1/2 teaspoon per gallon.
Potassium sorbate is used to halt fermentation. This is not killing off yeast; it simply stops the microorganisms from converting any remaining sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Potassium sorbate is tasteless and harmless. For some foods, it is combined with other ingredients to serve as a preservative. You may find it in wine and cosmetics.
So don’t worry. Potassium sorbate will not alter the flavor or mouthfeel of the mead.
3. Take a Break
Once you have added potassium sorbate, it is time to take a break from this brewing business. Take a gravity measurement prior to leaving your mead to sit for 24 hours. You want that gravity reading to serve as a guideline. Once you add your sweetener, a second gravity reading will tell you whether fermentation has restarted or not.
4. Add Your Honey
Your mead has sat for one whole day. Now it’s time to bring out the honey! This is the point where you get to make your mead your own creation. Add the honey in small amounts. Stir it into the mead before adding any more. Along the way, taste test your mead to verify that it is at the appropriate amount of sweetness.
For a general 5 gallon batch of mead, about 4 oz of honey will give the mead a light sweetness. 8 oz is mild. 12 oz of honey will be very sugary.
Don’t forget to consider the different kinds of honey, too. For most mead, honeys with stronger flavors, such as orange blossom, wildflower, and buckwheat, would be the best. However, if you are making mead with fruitier flavors, you may want to try clover honey. The only honey that will not make your mead taste better is alfalfa. The flavor is a bit too strong.
Once you have found that sweet spot (get it?), you can move on to bottling your mead.
Can You Other Sugars Besides Honey?
You may be wondering about how to back sweeten mead without honey. Maybe you are not a fan of honey or would prefer to use a different kind of sugar. The truth is that most kinds of sugar will work, just not priming sugar. Here are some of the options you have for back sweetening your mead:
Fruits and Fruit Juice
Are you making a melomel? Even if you aren’t, back sweetening with fruits or fruit juice is an excellent way to impart interesting flavors to your mead. Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and currants are the most common. You can also back sweeten mead with stone fruits, including cherries, apricots, peaches, and plums.
And, if you want something truly unique, make a melon-mel by selecting watermelon, honeydew, or cantaloupe.
Want to add a degree of complexity to the flavor of your mead? Try molasses. Made during sugar production, molasses comes in several colors, ranging from light to dark. The lighter versions of molasses are subtle, meaning that it will provide a more delicate touch to your mead. Meanwhile, darker molasses is richer and bolder.
Avoid sulfur molasses, as that will not give you the flavors you deserve in a mead.
Thinking about adding some maple notes to your mead? High quality maple syrup—not the kind made from corn syrup—is another wonderful choice for back sweetening mead.
On that note, you may be tempted to try different syrups to see what flavors work with mead, but it is not recommended. Various flavoring syrups, like those used in your barista-made coffee, contain stabilizers and chemicals that could end up ruining your mead. For the best results, use organic or all-natural syrups, be they maple or something else, that have a limited amount of ingredients.
The fewer odd variables you have in the back sweetening process, the better it will turn out.
How Do You Store Back Sweetened Mead?
After you have back sweetened your mead, it is best to store your bottles in a cool, dark place. Sunlight will mess with the flavors you have worked so hard to develop in your mead.
If you have made a classic mead, it will have a higher alcohol content and will age as fast as one with fruit juice. If you have corked your bottles of mead, be sure to store them on their side. You do not want the cork to dry out.
Mead with higher amounts of alcohol does not need to be refrigerated. However, if you want to keep the bottle for longer, store any unused portion in the fridge. That will keep the alcohol fresher for longer.
How Long Does Mead Last After Back Sweetening?
Mead generally has an ABV that falls within the 6-18% range, depending on the ingredients used. Lighter mead will have less alcohol and, therefore, a shorter shelf life.
An unopened, unsweetened bottle of mead can last for years on a shelf. Once it is opened, though, it will age.
Light mead or those that have been back sweetened will taste best if consumed quickly. You will know your mead has gone bad when the flavors taste more bitter and when it looks visibly cloudy or murky. Sometimes an unpleasant odor develops.
Sweetening Done Right
Having looked at how to back sweeten mead, you may be surprised that it is a relatively straightforward process. Add your potassium sorbate to fermented mead, wait for 24 hours, and then add some honey or another sweetener to your mead. There is a bit of trial and error involved, but once you have found the right amount, you will have a delicious mead that you love sharing with friends and family. What do you think? Will you be trying back sweetening soon?
You can make mead sweeter by adding some kind of sugar to it once it has fermented. The typical ingredient for sweetening mead is honey.
If you want to back sweeten your mead, you are going to need to add about 1/2 teaspoon of potassium sorbate per gallon of mead. Stir it into the mead to halt fermentation then wait for 24 hours. After that, add your honey. How sweet you want the mead is your personal preference, but you can add 4 oz of honey for a light sweetness or up to 12 oz for a heavy sweetness.
Yes, you can add sugar to your mead through the back sweetening process. If you add sugar to your mead while it is fermenting, it can alter the flavors of the drink.
Yes, you can use fruits or fruit juice to back sweeten a mead and make it melomel. If you are making a cyser, use brown sugar. An acerglyn? Use maple syrup.