At the end of my last post on this topic, I listed the equipment necessary for bottling the mead you have so painstakingly crafted. You should have had time to go out and buy/scavenge all of the items by now so, on to the last tasks in creating your first mead.
Step 1: As usual, you will need to wash your hands in warm soapy water, rinse them very well and dry them with a clean towel.
Step 2: Move your mead from where ever you had it while it fermented and place it on your kitchen counter. Move it carefully. (If you shake it too much, you will stir up sediment and if that happens, place the just on the kitchen counter, where you want it, and walk away for at least a week, then come back and begin again at step 1.)
Step 3: Sanitize all of the equipment we will be using today, which will be:
• Five empty wine bottles, or eight 500ml grolsch style bottles
• Five corks (if you are using wine bottles, I like the synthetic corks)
• The gaskets for the grolsch bottles (if you are using grolsch bottles)
• Racking cane
• Hand corker (does not need to be sanitized)
Step 4: Once all of the sanitized equipment has air-dried attach the tubing to the racking cane and take the airlock off of the 1-gallon jug and set it aside.
Step 5: Note: From here on out, you will need two people to have the rest of this go smoothly. One person should insert the racking cane into the 1-gallon jug and lower it until it is in the middle of the liquid. DO NOT insert it into the sediment at the bottom of the jug (it is not poisonous; it just doesn’t taste very good). The other person should line up the bottles on the floor below the jug and place the hose into the first bottle letting the tubing touch the side of the bottles neck about half way down (you can also place the first bottle in an empty saucepan to help keep the floor clean in case of any spills).
Step 6: The step depends completely on the racking cane you bought: Whoever is supposed to start the siphon should do what they need to do now.
Step 7: Allow the first bottle to fill until it is about 1 inch from the top of the bottle, then the person filling the bottles should pinch the hose to stop the flow of liquid. Remove the hose from the bottle move it to the side. Place the next bottle where the first one was and fill it as well. Continue this process until you have filled as many of the bottles as you can. You may end up with a partial bottle, this is not a problem, just place it on your kitchen counter where it will not get spilled. Note: The person holding the racking cane should slowly lower the cane into the jug as far as they can without stirring up and sediment. This is to keep the racking cane from taking in any air, which will stop the siphon and cause you to have to start it again, possible stirring up sediment and causing further problems.
Step 8: Once you have finished filling the bottles, you can place the siphon hose into the sink and cap or cork your bottles as necessary. Once that is finished, wipe the outside of the bottles clean with a damp rag and place them on your counter.
Step 9: Move to your kitchen sink and put the gallon jug in it. Remove the racking cane and let it sit in the bottom of the sink. Run warm water into your jug just to loosen the sediment in the bottom and pour it all down the drain. You will have to work to get the cinnamon sticks and orange slices out of the jug, but it should not be too hard. Once rinsed clean, fill it up half way again and put back on the counter next to the sink. Insert the racking cane back into it, letting the end sit on the bottom. Start the siphon once more and drain the jug into the sink. Note: You are probably wondering why I had you stop and do this cleaning when you are so close to finishing the bottling, but it is important to get the gunk out of the jug ASAP as it can stink to the high heavens if you let it sit.
Step 10: Even with the bottles filled and corked, you are not quite finished yet. You have a couple more steps before you can enjoy this beverage. The first of these last steps is to label your bottles. Why, you ask? Because you have invested a bit of time and money in this endeavor and things always seem to taste better coming out of a bottle with a decent label on it. As for your labels, you can design them in a word processing program (tutorials can be found online) or you can go to the Beer Labelizer and design and print your own custom labels for free. Once you have them printed out, just cut them out with scissors and glue them to your bottles with children’s glue sticks you can get at Wal-mart or Target.
Step 11: Now that you have your bottles labeled, you still can’t drink from them (in your mind you should near Nelson from the Simpsons saying “Ha-ha!”). I know, I hear your cries and they do not fall on deaf ears. You will be able to taste your creation soon enough, but you must let it age and mellow a bit. You should put the bottles in the back of your refrigerator and forget about them for about another two months...that, or at minimum two weeks, to let the beverage settle inside the bottles. Now, if you have a partial bottle, this is where you are lucky (see step 12).
Step 12: For those of you who have a partial bottle, there is no point in placing it in the fridge. The oxygen trapped in the bottle will destroy the alcohol inside and make the mead taste nasty. You are one of those lucky few who will be able to taste what you have created right now. Just pour yourself a glass and sit back on the couch, turn on your favorite program and take a sip. Now, I am no guaranteeing that this will be the most fantastic thing you have ever tasted, but it should taste good. Remember, the longer you let it age before drinking it, the better it will get (to an extent, all bottles have their “maximum shelf life” and there is no way to tell when that has been reached. I have drunk meads I have created 3 years after making them and they are still good, but you could have a bottle go bad sooner.)
When you do finally go to drink your mead you might have a thin layer of sediment in the bottom of each of your bottles. This is nothing to worry about, just pour each glass slowly and try not to stir up the sediment. As I said before, it will not hurt you, but it may mildly alter the flavor of the beverage if it’s mixed in when you drink it.
That concludes my writing on this topic for now. I hope you have enjoyed this little tutorial and that you enjoy the beverage you make. Until next time, keep safe and warm, and above all, enjoy life to the extent you are able.