Monday, October 24, 2011
Guest Post by Sachiel: Mead
Mead is one of the oldest fermented beverages produced by man. It was made by ancient peoples all over the world, from South America, to Asia, Africa, and Europe. Mead is a fermented mixture of honey, water, and yeast. It can be that simple, or it can be complex. Mead can be super sweet, it can be dry, it can be flavored with berries, or fruit, or spices, flowers, or even herbs. The variety of meads are only limited by imagination.
Why is mead so prevalent in ancient times? Easy. Honey is antibacterial, antiseptic, and antifungal. Mother Nature's selection process has evolved particular yeasts that can survive and thrive in honey/water solutions. Finding and using these yeasts to turn honey into an alcoholic drink was easier than turning fruits, grapes, or grains into drinks. And the yield is much more likely to produce a quality beverage.
Modern mead making is assisted by our knowledge of sanitation practices and their importance in killing all unwanted bacteria and yeasts. Assuring that all surfaces and instruments that will touch the honey water solution are sterilized will assure that the mead turns out just as expected.
My first experience with mead was at a Beltane fest in 2011. It was wonderful, and delicious, and amazing. I had never tasted anything like it ever in my life. It was sweet, very sweet, with the smell and taste of the flowers of the high New Mexico desert. I sipped on my glass for an hour or more. I wanted the taste to last. It was the last bottle of that batch of mead, never to be duplicated again.
I have done a bit of research into mead and it's making, and all the wonderful flavors and varieties available or even possible. I did six months of looking into mead, trying out local made meads, finding what kinds of mead I like and what kinds I don't like. And at the beginning of October 2011, I finally felt confident enough in my knowledge to start my own batch of mead.
I decided to try a version of that first mead I ever had. I did not want to duplicate it, because that would not be possible. I would start out simple. I bought a 5 gallon glass carboy, a vapor lock, and a stopper and the yeast from my local wine making supply store in September. The honey I found was full of Rocky Mountain wildflower goodness – the best honey I have tasted. The water comes from my own well. The yeast was “Sweet Mead” from Vintner's Choice.
Ingredients: 20 pounds of honey
1 pack of Sweet Mead yeast by Vintner's Choice
2 organic vanilla beans, whole
water to fill
I started by sanitizing the carboy, funnel, spoon, deep enameled pot, the stopper, the vapor lock, and a one gallon plastic bottle. I used EZ Clense, and rinsed everything thoroughly.
I placed the honey in the sink, and filled it to ¾ of the way up the honey bottles with hot water. This makes the honey flow freely.
I then decided to start the yeast activation, as the directions on the pack say it will take 15 minutes.
Then in the deep enameled pot, I heated 1 gallon of water, and added all the heated honey. I let this heat up for a while longer ( I did not measure the temperature), but I did not let it boil.
As I stirred the honey and water, I spooned off the foam that rose to the surface and deposited it into a cup. The sink was too far to not make a mess. After about ten minutes of heating and stirring, I took the pot with the honey water and placed it in a sink full of cold water. This helps bring the temperature down rapidly, and makes it safer to pour the honey through the funnel and into the glass carboy.
If you get splashed by hot sticky honey syrup, it will stick and the burn produced will be more intense than if it were hot water alone.
After I poured all the honey water solution into the carboy, I added the yeast, and gave it a sloshing, and then filled with water to a few inches below where the neck starts – allowing for foam formation.
Then I added two organic vanilla beans, whole pods, no scraping, into the solution, capped with the stopper, and then inserted the vapor lock filled with rum.
I moved the carboy and contents to a closet where the sun will never enter, and once a week I stir up the solution slowly.
I do not remove the air lock, and I do not want to force the rum out of the air lock. When I am done with the stir, I add a tiny bit more rum to make sure the air lock does not go dry.
I stirred it for the second time yesterday, and am very pleased with the color progression. It has gone from the dark color that the honey originally was to a nice golden opaque color that will continue to lighted and clear over time. By Yule, I should be bottling the 5 gallons and beginning the long 2 year aging process. It will be ready for the harvest fests in 2014.
In the mean time, I will occupy myself by starting another mead – maybe 15 pounds of honey, with 5 cloves, two orange rinds, and a stick of cinnamon, to be ready for Yule, 2014. And maybe a mead with raspberries and raisins....