How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Have Some Mead, Honey!

It has been well over a year since we wrote about mead in this space, when the original fermentable (predating coffee, beer, wine, and perhaps even tea) was paired with both dinner and dessert for Pam's birthday. A year prior to that, we had shared some over our 24th anniversary dinner.

Mead goes way back!
Cambria Griffith, edibleWESTSIDE
Many bees had contributed to that birthday dinner, which included honey in just about every bite and sip (since Pamela means honey). We had found a wonderful mead to accompany each of these meals, but toward the end of the latter one, we had pretty much decided we needed to make our own, and started the process shortly thereafter.

The process began, of course, with a little bit of reading. All of our zymurgy projects to date have involved kits -- from places such as Beer Wine Hobby in Walpole -- that required very little research. We have been the paint-by-numbers artists of the beer and wine world so far.

I was attracted to Ken Schramm's Compleat Meadmaker, whose title is a meme based on a classic VW hippie owner's manual, the original "idiot" book. If Muir and Gregg could get me through the rebuilding of a 1965 Vee-Dub, surely Schramm could get us through our first batch of this ancient, golden elixir. It was from Schramm that I learned just how long mead has been around -- predating most world religions -- and just how simple the ingredient list is.

All that is needed for mead is honey, water, yeast, and patience. A lot of each, except for the yeast! But where to get 15 pounds of honey? That's right, for a 30-bottle (5-gallon) batch, we would need almost enough honey to balance the family doglet on a scale. One approach would be to get several big jars at Costco, but that did not seem right at all. Why make mead at home without any local ingredients? So I turned to my friend Lori of Moonsong Farm, about two miles from our house. This allowed me to support a local business and would justify the commitment to the local community of pollinators through our modest efforts in the NWF Garden for Wildlife program.

Details are in the book, but the process essentially involves careful heating and cooling of a honey-water mixture in a sterilized vessel, the addition of a small amount of yeast, and closer with a water-locked lid. Following that, we simply waited, and waited, and waited before transferring the solution to bottles. For a small portion of the batch, we added priming sugar (adding sugar to honey sounds strange, but it was necessary), and using beer-bottling techniques instead of wine, to contain the resultant pressure. In this way, we created about two cases of "flat" mead and a half case of carbonated, "sparkling" mead.

After a lot more waiting -- a total of about ten months -- we slightly chilled and then opened a bottle of the wine-style mead. At first we both noticed a bit of astringency at first, but the flavor seemed to mellow and improve with each sip. We certainly look forward to the rest, and to sharing it with friends!

These very bees may have been involved!
I look forward to the advice Schramm offers on other fruits, as we recently enjoyed more the wines of more than a dozen fruits (small samples of each!) at the inimitable Kerrigan Brothers of Appleton. For future batches of straight mead or mead-fruit blends,, we may also use a pump-operated wine filter to reduce cloudiness and bring out the terrific colors of honey and fruit wines!

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