Whenever you open a drink and leave the bottle half-full, you wonder how long it will be good for drinking. And mead is not an exception, as this drink that seems to be a cross between wine and beer can cause some confusion.
Does mead go bad? Commercially manufactured mead does not exactly go bad, but its flavor will deteriorate over time until it is no longer suitable for drinking. It can last years unopened or several months after opening while retaining its best flavor. Home-brewed mead can go bad if it gets infected.
This article is your guide to storage conditions for mead as well as how to detect if mead is still good or not.
What is Mead?
You may have seen medieval people drinking mead in movies but always avoided drinking it as you don’t really know what mead is.
Mead is a fermented, wine-like drink made from honey. The water and honey mixture undergoes fermentation with the use of some yeast. You may come across mead with various flavorings, from fruits to spices.
If you ask mead drinkers to describe this beverage, many would say that it is a cross between wine and beer. The alcohol content of the mead ranges from 6 to 20 percent.
Classic meads have a relatively high alcohol content – ranging from 15 to 20 percent. Lighter meads are perfect for people who don’t like strong alcoholic beverages as their alcohol content varies from 6 to 12 percent.
If the alcohol percent doesn’t matter to you when it comes to drinking mead, we recommend that you check it anyway. The higher the alcohol content the more shelf-stable the mead is.
Does Mead Go Bad?
Much like kahlua and prosecco, while commercially manufactured mead doesn’t easily go bad in a way that is unsafe to drink, the beverage gradually deteriorates and reaches a point where no one would want to drink it.
Commercial mead can last years, maybe even a decade or more, if it is unopened. After opening, it can last from several days (lighter mead) to several months (classic mead) and retain its best quality.
Mead brewed at home, however, is more likely to go bad. It takes yeast to ferment mead and it is actually possible for the drink to get infected. Like many foods and drinks, it can also grow mold.
While this is technically possible with commercial meads, they are usually well-sealed and contain preservatives, which means they don’t go bad often or easily.
It’s hard to gauge how quickly your home-made mead will last, but how it is made and stored will likely make a large difference. Homemade mead should be kept in an airtight container. The more you open it, the sooner you can reasonably expect it to go bad – either in taste or safe-drinking.
Storing mead properly, whether the bottle has been opened or not, will help to ensure a maximum shelf-life for your drink.
Does Mead Get Better with Age?
Classic meads that come in a bottle with a natural cork can get better as they age. If you are going to age classic mead, make sure to store it sideways. This will prevent the cork from drying out.
Note that not all meads that come with a natural cork are good for aging. If the cork is not good enough and the bottle is not designed for aging, your attempt to age classic mead may turn out to be a fail.
We recommend checking the manufacturer’s guidelines to learn if the particular mead variety you have purchased is suitable for aging and how to best age it.
If the mead is not suitable for aging, you will end up with the opposite effect. The quality of the drink will deteriorate over time. You will open the bottle to only find out that the mead tastes worse than it initially did.
How Long Does Mead Last?
If you want mead that will maintain its best flavor for many months and even years, buy a classic mead with an alcohol content of 15 to 20 percent.
Lighter meads are good if you are someone that finishes a bottle within a few days after opening it.
So, here’s how long classic and lighter meads last:
Unopened classic meads are very shelf-stable. If you store classic mead properly, it can last 5 years or longer. You don’t need to refrigerate unopened classic mead unless it is very hot in your house.
After you have opened a bottle of classic mead, use it within 6 months if you are storing it in the pantry and within 8 months if you are storing it in the fridge.
For the best flavor experience, drink the mead as soon as possible. Once opened, the flavor of the drink gradually degrades whether you store it in the fridge or at room temperature.
Lighter meads have a shorter shelf-life. In the case of light meads, it is important to check the ‘best by’ date printed on the bottle. Unopened light mead lasts only 6 months past the printed date.
After opening the bottle of light mead, we recommend drinking it as soon as possible. With some brands, you should drink the mead within a day or it will lose its flavor qualities. In general, however, you can drink light meads within 7 days after opening the bottle.
In any case, check the date on the mead bottle and read the manufacturer’s recommendations on the storage conditions of the drink.
How Can You Tell If Mead Has Gone Bad?
Mead doesn’t typically spoil the way other products do. More often, it simply deteriorates in quality so that eventually you will not want to drink it.
If you are not sure whether the mead is still drinkable or not, look for the following signs:
- Rancid smell: Before you drink mead that has been sitting in your fridge for some time, give it the sniff test. If the mead has an odd rancid aroma, discard it and open a new bottle.
- Color changes: If the bottle of the mead is dark-colored, pour a small amount into a glass to see if the drink has undergone any color changes. Cloudiness is another indicator of mead that is no more suitable for drinking.
- Flavor changes: If the mead smells and looks good, give it a taste to see if it is good enough for drinking. Mead that has been sitting in the fridge or pantry in an opened bottle may not taste as good as fresh mead. However, if there aren’t any significant flavor changes, you can safely drink the mead.
As for homemade mead, toss it out when it is infected. Detecting infected mead may be confusing if you are not an experienced brewer.
A sign of infected mead is a pellicle formed on the surface of the brew. Pellicles formed on the surface of the brew may have different shapes. There may be multiple bubble-like spots formed on the surface.
Be sure to note that these two key common sights are not signs of infected or bad mead:
- If it is your first time brewing mead at home, you may think that the frothy coating on the surface is a sign of infected mead. This is a false alarm. Fermentation going on in the mixture is what causes the foam.
- It is completely normal for mead to develop sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Sediment at the bottom of the brewing container is also an indicator of a completely good mead. If you don’t notice any other signs of spoilage, you can safely drink your mead that has a little sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
How to Store Mead?
As mead is similar to beer, wine, and as many think, cider, there is a lot of confusion about its storage conditions. Here’s how to properly store mead.
First off, if you have an unopened bottle of mead, store it in a cool and dry place. It is important that you keep the mead bottle away from direct sunlight. While some manufacturers produce mead in dark bottles, it doesn’t provide complete protection against sunlight.
Keep unopened bottles of mead in any room or cabinet so long as it meets the above mentioned criteria. Opened bottles can be popped into the fridge to help keep it fresh tasting and safer from mold and infection.
These are the basic rules that work for all types of mead.
Should Mead Be Refrigerated?
Unopened bottles of mead don’t need refrigeration. So long as the cork or the cap is not damaged, keeping the bottles at a cool and dry place is enough to ensure that the drinks maintain their best qualities.
For opened meads, you can refrigerate them and should definitely do so if it is a light mead.
To get into more detail, here is how to store classic and light meads, depending on whether they are opened or not:
1. Storing Classic Mead
As we have mentioned above, classic meads have a higher alcohol content. This makes them last longer. Thus, if you see classic meads on sale at your nearby supermarket, you can surely grab multiple bottles as they keep quite well.
Once opened, you can keep classic meads in a pantry or cabinet where it is cool and dark. So long as you seal the bottle tightly, the mead with a high alcohol content will keep well even if not refrigerated.
If it is hot where you live and you can’t find a cool place to store opened bottle of classic mead, don’t worry. You can store it in the fridge too. Storing classic mead in the fridge will help preserve the freshness of the drink too.
Another case when it is recommended to keep a half-full bottle of classic mead in the fridge is when you know you won’t finish it within 3 months.
2. Storing Light Mead
Due to its low alcohol content, light mead is more sensitive to imperfect storage conditions. Thus, it is best to store an opened bottle of light mead in the fridge.
It is important to keep the bottle tightly sealed at all times, especially if you are dealing with a sparkling variety.
Until you open it, however, you can keep it in a cool, dark place in a pantry or cabinet.