Monday, September 30, 2013

Happy Mead Maker

Where I make mead; pear and rosemary mead; and quince and spice mead.

Mead is a magical elixir made from honey.  Among other things, it's know as the drink of the gods.  It's said to have the power to grant you insight into the unseen realm - which is surely true if you consume enough of any alcoholic drink.

Then again, the bees are said to travel between this world and the next, as messengers to the gods and the dead.  That's one of the reasons why the mythology of bees says we must tell the hive the household news each day.  Imbibing a drink made from the nectar of such supernatural messengers must grant some special powers, if only temporary.

I have read about mead from time to time, in poetry and literature, but always believed it was far too complex for me to try making.  Until recently, none of the local shops carried it, or if they did, it was beyond my price range.  But recently, I've grown more enamoured with the idea of mead.  I have found numerous mentions of mead through my research into medieval and iron age cooking.  Giving my new found courage (and decent level of success) with fermenting and increasing desire to keep bees, I have decided it is time to try mead.

I first tried some mead at a medieval event, it was berry mead and to my taste, it was very sweet.  But good, and surprisingly strong alcohol content.  But still a bit yeasty (I get flushed from yeast) so I imagine it would have been even better with another racking and 6 months more ageing.  Then I discovered some mead in a liquor store.  Two brands from Vancouver Island, actually - although it was all fruit and berry mead, with only one bottle of spiced mead, which was as close as I could get to unflavoured.  So I brought a bottle of spiced mead home and have an oz of it every now and again.  It helps settle my stomach if it's still upset at bedtime - an added benefit.

Deciding that yes, I like mead, it is now time to make some of my own.

Following the instructions from Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, I combined 1 part raw honey with 4 parts room temperature water, mixed very well and left in a wide mouth container, stirring at least three times a day, for about a week until it looks like there is yeast active (small bubbles, froth, taste and smell).  Then it goes in a jug with an air lock to bubble away.  Once it's finished bubbling, I'll taste it and rack it (move it into a different jug with an airlock to aerate the mead and re-activate the yeast).  I don't know how long I'm going to age the mead before bottling, there are some meads that age for years before bottling, others are drunk in a matter of weeks.  I think it will depend on what else is going on in my life and how it tastes to determine when I'm ready to bottle it.  For these first few stages, I have it upstairs at room temperature, but once I rack it, I think it will go downstairs where it is cooler.

The first batch looked good, so why not try some more?

I had a hand full of pears that missed being made into Parry this year, so I thought why not pear and rosemary?  It's a good pairing - ha ha - as I've used this combination as a sauce for pork.

The quince tree only had two quinces.  Quite frankly, I can't seem to like quince very much, it's kind of coy tasting and very strong smelling.  But I don't want to waste them, so I decided to try for a Quince Poudre Douce tasting mead.  Quince, pepper, ginger, cinnamon stick, and some anise (because they look so pretty).

pear and rosemary
 To make flavoured mead, at least according to Sandor Katz, is to slice up your fruit very fine and add them to the mead during the open vessel stage.  Proceed as per normal mead, and strain when you put it in the jug.
quince and spice

The fruit has natural yeast on it, so it will usually start to ferment faster than honey on it's own.  However, certain processing and herbicides in commercial fruit may have adverse effects if you are capturing wild yeast like I did, so please use organic or home grown fruit.

For the fruit mead, I used less honey as the fruit already has plenty of sugar.  I did 1 part honey for 5 parts water.

These are just small batches one gallon, or in the case of the first mead, half a gallon.  These tastes combinations may be completely horrid!  But from what I've read, if the mead tastes terrible, leave it for six months to four years, and it could improve... or else, you may have killed the offending taste buds in the interim.

During the open pot method while I was stirring three times a day, I was amazed with how the smell of the fruit mead changed.  At first the pear and rosemary smelt horridly medical, the rosemary was overpoweringly antiseptic. But after a couple of days, the smell of the herbs subsided and it started smelling strongly of pears left too long in the sun.  By the end of the week, it was quite pleasant smelling, a nice balance of herb and fruit, although it tasted overpoweringly of sweet and yeast at that time.  The quince and spice started out smelling of nothing at all, then after a day it started smelling of sickly sweet quince.  The quince smell grew sweeter and more pungent until it was rank, almost rotten, on the fifth day.   I almost tossed the batch, but instead on the 6th day it suddenly didn't smell revolting any more and started to smell like pepper with a hint of quince.  I didn't taste it when I put it in the jug, but I think it will be okay...


This process is simple, albeit fruit fly generating.  I can't believe I ever imagined it would be difficult.  It is a nice way to use up small amounts of fruit, berries, and other goodies laying around.  I'm looking forward to finding out how these little experiments taste in a few months time.

I think that making mead at home is an affordable way to make a nice sipping alcoholic drink.  Considering it costs about $25 for a 750ml bottle at the local liquor store, as opposed to the $12 starting price for a drinkable plonk (wine),  you don't need much honey to make a bottle of mead.  About 1/2 to 2/3rds of a cup aught to do it, which is about $1.30 per homebrew bottle of mead.  Would be less if you make mead from gleaned fruit and use less honey per water ratio.  Although making mead doesn't take much active time, it does require a lot of waiting, I'm told, to make a good mead.  So perhaps it is worth the extra twenty three dollars not having to take up space and carboy waiting for the mead to age.

Honey has many health benefits and mead also has a long tradition of healing qualities.  I only know some of the cultural mythologies that surround this elixir, but I suspect there are some scientific studies out there for those who care to look.  Of course, like all alcoholic drinks, moderation is key.  A little everyday is said to help your health, however, too much... well, you've all seen the government warnings I'm sure.

Allergies:  Homebrewing something like mead is nice because you can avoid a lot of allergies like sulphites (or was that sulphates?), extra ingredients, and can brew it long enough so that all the yeast is exhausted.  Keep in mind, some people have negative reactions to honey and alcohol.

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