What’s to Worry About?

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“Can mead make me sick?” We get asked this question all the time. Since we at Groennfell Meadery are pretty sassy, we usually respond, “What’s your tolerance and how much do you plan on drinking?”

All joking aside, many of these people are prospective home meadmakers and we understand the real question: “If I make mead at home, am I going to poison myself, my family, my friends, and my pets who drink the stuff when we’re all convulsing on the floor, foaming from the mouth, with half-finished bottles of homebrew in our hands?” In other words, can mead make me sick?

The short answer is no. The long answer is no, not from pathogens since no pathogens can survive in the environment provided by mead. The longest answer is as follows…

The low-oxygen, alcoholic, high acidity environment presented by all fermented beverages from cider to beer to saké to mead are extremely hostile places to live. Recent papers on salmonella and cholera being introduced into already fermented beverages, both beer and wine, have demonstrated that in a matter of weeks the pathogen is dead and no longer a risk to the consumer. (We encourage you to perform your own search for these papers, just to ensure you find the most up-to-date research on the subject.)

The follow-up question is, how would such a pathogen be introduced into your beverage in the first place? Well, as per the aforementioned cases, sadistic scientists might sneak into your home and inoculate your brew. This seems unlikely, however. Some web forums mention the use of egg whites as finings which could be a potential salmonella vector. Or, if you live in 19th-century London or are on the Oregon Trail, there’s a very good chance the water you mix with your honey has cholera.

Beer has the advantage of starting out by boiling which takes care of any pathogens which are initially present in the grain or the water. As for honey, thanks to small amounts of a recently identified protein known as defensin-1[1] as well as naturally occurring Hydrogen peroxide, honey is antiseptic and has the potential to kill pathogens even when diluted in water. (We DO NOT advocate trying to cure cholera or bubonic plague with honey water, however.)

Then, thanks to the extremely low pH, zero-oxygen, high-carbon dioxide, alcoholic solution which is mead, anything that survived defensin-1, sulfites, and your sanitization practice should be long dead.

Without boiling or proper sanitization one thing can survive in mead, and that is wild yeast. Wild yeast can’t hurt you; it can just make your mead taste awful. And, as we’ve mentioned before, even this can be dealt with through simple sanitization of must and equipment.

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