Mead-making is pretty straight-forward; you don’t really need much by way of specialist equipment, and what there is tends to be pretty cheap. When starting out, you can make small batches using the plastic milk carton method (see Quick ‘n’ Easy Orange Mead or Quick ‘n’ Easy Bramble Mead); but after a while you might want to start making larger batches.
I’m a firm fan of plastic demijohns; they hold 5 litres (1 gallon) and are inexpensive (around £2-£2.50 each) and light. You can get them either with a plastic cap with a hole bored for an airlock, or a cork bung. You can also get plain plastic caps for when fermentation has finished and the mead has been racked (you may want to pick up a couple of spare demijohns for racking). Larger plastic demijohns start from about £12 for a 27.5L version, or you can get food-grade plastic brewing buckets from about £15 for 50L.
When using demijohns, whether plastic or glass, you’ll need an airlock. There are two types you can get; the plastic bubbler kind which comes in one piece for about £1, or the shorter junior airlock kind which comes in two parts for about 60-80p. These just push into the hole in the demijohn cap or cork bung; you part-fill them with water and they allow the carbon dioxide to escape whilst preventing dust and contaminants from getting in.
If you’re brewing a fruit melomel or other mead that requires some solid ingredients, you’ll want a straining bag to separate off the liquid at some point; you can make your own from fine muslin, use a (very clean!) tea towel, or use a fine nylon straining or jelly bag.
To calculate how strong your finished mead is, you’ll need to use a hydrometer; this will usually cost around £3-£4.
You’ll find it easier to rack your mead if you use a siphon; these generally start around £4.
You might want to get all the basics in one complete kit; these usually start at around £16-£18 (such as this 6-bottle home brew starter set from Home Brew Online) which generally contain a couple of plastic demijohns or a brewing tun/bucket, airlock(s), hydrometer and syphon.
There are many online brewing supply shops around; a few I recommend:
- The Home Brew Shop
- Home Brew Online
- Ballihoo Home Brew (who also have an Amazon shop)
- Art of Brewing
Wilkinsons have a pretty good homebrew equipment section. Boots used to be pretty good for home brewing as well, and you can often find decent second-hand Boots equipment on ebay – particularly filters and brewing tuns.
With regards to ingredients, most are readily available in shops and supermarkets. If you’re brewing a plain simple mead, good quality floral honeys are available by the jar in all supermarkets, with prices ranging from £2-£5 per jar depending on the variety. If you’re opting for a flavoured mead such as one of the melomels, or an acerglyn (maple syrup and honey) then you can get cheap “value” or “economy” honey from as little as 99p a jar from Sainsburys or Tesco. If opting to bulk-buy in tubs, Paynes Bee Farm is the cheapest I’ve found – though even their cheapest honey blend isn’t as cheap as the 99p “value” honey from the supermarkets, though it is good enough for a decent plain mead. Beware that postage/courier costs will increase that price however; for the beginning mead-mazer, the local supermarket will likely prove far cheaper and more convenient.
Yeast for brewing is available from all homebrewing supply shops. You can brew mead with pretty much any yeast – even the dried quick yeast for breadbaking that you can get from any supermarket! – but when starting out, I’d recommend going for a general-purpose wine yeast such as Youngs (about £2-£3 for a 60g tub) or for a stronger or faster brew, Youngs Super Yeast (£3-£4) or Vin Classic Super yeast (about the same price). As you become more confident and experienced with mead mazing, you can start to experiment with other yeasts, but Youngs or Vin Classic are good basic yeasts for mazing.
Even at its most complex, brewing mead is an inexpensive but very rewarding hobby.