Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wild Cranberry Mead Recipe

This blood red mead is perfect for the holidays... be it a spooky Halloween trick or treat, or a festive December red, this is by far one of my most favourite wild brews.  

I used wild yeast already in the honey and fresh fruit to get the fermentation going.  Unpasteurized (aka, the stuff the bees make before commercially processed) honey is just teaming with wild yeast, but it doesn't ferment because the moisture content in honey is too low, but once you add water... things get a little more lively.  There is also wild yeast living on the skins of the cranberries, that way if the honey yeast doesn't get going for some reason, the cranberry yeast can take over.  

Wild yeast is unpredictable compared to laboratory prepared strains that you can buy at your local brew shop.  But that's one of the things I like about it.  I celebrate the fact that every batch is different.  So long as the cranberry juice only contains cranberry juice and the honey isn't pasteurized, it's almost impossible to avoid fermentation.  Just be certain to stir it often otherwise it might get mouldy, especially at the start.

Wild Cranberry Mead

2 cups raw honey
1 cup pure cranberry juice (pasteurized is fine, but additives may inhibit fermentation.)
1/2 lb fresh or 1/4 lb dry cranberries
8 cups water (boiled and cooled to room temp)

  • Get a wide mouth bucket or crock (that will hold liquid), at least 2 gallons volume.  Clean it well.  Also get a large wooden (or plastic) spoon and clean that too.  Wash your measuring containers.  And...wash your hands, and... anything else you can think of.
  • Combine the honey with 2 cups lukewarm water, mix until honey is dissolved.  Add the honey water with all the other ingredients into the bucket, stir vigorously.
  • Cover the crock or bucket with a cotton or linen towel to keep the bugs away, but let the air in.
  • Stir vigorously at least twice a day.  More often is fine.  
  • It should start to change after about 4 days.  The smell will be a bit yeasty or tangy, it might start getting a slight fizzing sound when you stir it.  Eventually, there should be some froth on the top, a little or a lot depending on the kind of yeast you captured.  In about a week to 10 days, the fermentation will start to slow down.  
  • Strain out the berries (save the berries to eat on yoghurt later) and give the mead a taste. 
  • Now it's time to choose
    • You can bottle it now if you have some high pressure bottles (like beer bottles, or beer bottles with the flip top) for a less alcoholic, sweeter and fizzy drink.  It's a cross between a mead and a homemade alcoholic soda.  Very nice, but the alcohol does sneak up on you so make certain you have a designated driver appointed before you start on the mead.
      • Pour the liquid into the bottles.  Make certain they are bottles that can handle the pressure otherwise...a big boom and a bigger mess.
      • Place the cap on the bottles and leave in a room temperature (or slightly cooler) place for a few days.  Check after day 2 to see if they are getting fizzy yet.  It may take as long as a week, or you may get a huge soda fountain by day three.  When they are fizzy enough, move the bottles to the fridge until you are ready to drink.  Personally I like them best at room temp, but putting them in the fridge slows the fermentation.
    • If you would like a dry mead then rack the mead.  Pour the liquid into a half gallon jug with a small opening and an air lock.  Leave it for a few weeks or a few months before bottling.  The longer you leave it the (in my opinion) better it will taste.  Once it's finished fermenting (no more gas is escaping) then you can rack it again into a different jug to restart the fermentation, or bottle it.  If you feel the need to taste some at any step, just replace the same volume with honey water of a ratio of 1 part honey to 4 parts water.
If I remember right, this made a bit more than half a gallon, but some of it evaporated during the first stage of fermentation and the rest got drunk at some point.

In time, I hope to scale up the recipe for a 5 gallon batch, but since there is so little time left 'till the end of October, I thought I would share the smaller recipe now.  Brew it this week, and it will be ready for drinking by Halloween (or Guy Fawkes) night.  Or better yet, brew it now and rack it for bottling in late december just in time for Holiday giving.

Affordable cooking: $2 for the cranberry juice, another $1 for the cranberries, and about $2 for the honey. That's $5 for the equivalent of 3+ wine bottles worth of mead.  If I were to buy that much mead here (when I can find it) it would cost at least $75 plus tax... so yes, I think it's affordable.

Vegan Friendly?  No way!  Honey is from bees, bees have faces...Get a good old fashioned glass of wine for your vegan friend and save the mead for another time.

Possible allergies: Some people have sensitivity to yeast and honey. But not many other allergies here, non of the regular chemicals used in commercial alcohol.  

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