I've been brewing ales for almost two years (extract plus specialty grains), and I want to try my hands at making a mead. What should I expect to be different in the brewing process? Will there be a violent initial fermentation? Is it more sensitive to temperature changes? Is the honey more likely to burn to the bottom of my brew pot than malt is?
The best resource for mead making is Ken Schramm's book The Compleat Meadmaker. It covers almost all you need to know about mead and is an excellent book.
There current state of the art in mead builds on the information there and can be found in this pdf condensing the info from the Meadmaker of the Year panel at the National Homebrewers Conference.
The main points are:
- honey does not need to be boiled
- nutrients need to be added at multiple times during fermentation
- degassing during fermentation helps
- patience is a virtue as aging can be six months to many years
AFAIK you don't really need to brew/boil the honey, just dissolve it in warm water.
You will probably want to add some yeast nutrient to your must since there aren't a whole lot of minerals and other things yeasties like to eat (other than sugar) in the must to begin with.
There will probably be a somewhat violent initial fermentation, though maybe not as violent as beer ferments, I wouldn't worry if you don't see one, as long as it is fermenting you're fine.
Sandor Katz, author of several books on fermentation (mostly food items) has info on his website http://www.wildfermentation.com/, just search for "mead".
His book "The art of Fermentation" also covers a selection of alcoholic drinks. The book is quite a good resource, keeping an eye on the bigger picture of fermentation, which may help you with equipment and fault finding/background knowledge.
I could not walk by... Expect to make the best mead in the world. In any outcome, repeat the action and again expect to make the best mead in the world (even if your previous one was already the best mead in the world).
Anyway, don't be afraid to experiment. Maybe do small batches, like 1-2 gallon. It is faster on aging and easier to make... and if something goes wrong, there not many regreats on waisting honey, because you might need 15-18lbs for 5 gallon batch... 4-5 for 1.5 gallon batch.
From my experience, the biggest screw up I made was using aggressive yeasts (WLP099) with low original gravity. I was making black currant melomel, and it seemed that all the honey was completely fermented... At the end I've got 5 gallons of 18% alcoholic beverage without sweetness at all with slight taste of black currant. After that I was very careful.
The rule of thumb is... try it, if you like what comes out, great! As of today, I have 4 complete meads... one turned out not so great... Two of them I could enter into Mazer Cup, but out of 10 gallons I only have 4 bottles left... Mean while I have 7 or so different meads in secondary (using 1 gallon jars).