One of my latest ventures since changing locales back to the old homebrewery has been the pursuit of other things seasonal. For quite a while I’ve been interested in delving into mead, or honey-wine, since it trades very little effort on the hot side (prep) for a lot of patience on the cold side (waiting for the mead to be ready). Like wines, meads need only a little bit more yeast-centric attention than beer for full attenuation and proper fermentation, and they will only get better with age, so it seems like the perfect weekend project to, as Ron Popeil says, “Set It and Forget It!”
Looking into the cost of the raw ingredients, it surprised me that bulk honey (in the tens of pounds range) is actually pretty unbelievably expensive. This being said, I admit that the source of my honey was a large cause of this problem: I wanted to acquire honey local to my area, not only for organic quality and the promise that it wouldn’t be over-processed sugar-added Chinese import honey, but also to grab a snapshot of the floral growth in the area and translate that to a wine. Whether that be those annoying springtime pollen pods that explode on your car when they soak up the rain, or cranberry bog honey – an awesome but probably not feasible idea – I’d just want my first mead to be locally-sourced.
Enter Matt and Emily. Two friends of friends who happen to be the youngest members of their local Massachusetts Apiary club. In fact, Emily was named the Worcester County Honey Queen.
Honestly. How awesome is my luck? Anyways, during a craft beer-fueled conversation around a bonfire to honor the return of our mutual friend from a 2-year stint abroad, it came up in conversation that they had some “extra” honey that they were having trouble getting rid of. How much you ask? 5 gallons, or roughly 75 pounds. 75 POUNDS. Talk about some busy bees. (I couldn’t resist)
So after I did some quick calculations and talked to the pair to see what kind of mead they’d like to make, we decided to make a dry (1.110 OG), un-adjuncted mead for our first go-round. I wanted them to get a taste for what their honey tasted like in a mead, raw. This way, in the future, providing that this mead goes well, we can use it as a foundation upon which we build the Most Awesomest Mead Ever. I submitted that to them as a name, but the jury’s still out there.
The steps we took:
- Clean and sanitize ALL THE THINGS.
- Fire up the turkey burner and heated 3.0 gallons of clean water to 110F, not to exceed 120F.
- Slowly mix in the honey to the water. This is now our “must” (the wine equivalent of wort).
- Sit at 110-115F for 30 minutes. Drink a few beers.
- Add to cold water in the glass carboy(s).*
- Rehydrate two packets of Redstar yeast, adding 1/2 Tbsp of each Fermax, Yeast Energizer.
- Ferment at 68F. On Day 2, spike with 1/2 Tsp of each Fermax, Yeast Energizer.
Yet to complete:
- Rack the mead, adding 1/4 tsp of each Fermax, Yeast Energizer.
- Let sit around 1 month, then rack to bottles.
- Let sit around 6 months, to around March or April.
- Drink and be merry!
*Some difficulties: I over-calculated the amount of water necessary at the cool-down, resulting in a bit of an overflow form the initial 5 gal carboy. Luckily I had a backup carboy on hand and we saved the rest of the must, but we ended up with 8 gallons of diluted mead. As a result, we added another bolus of honey to each fermenter at day 2, the quantity of which I still need to confirm and recalculate the gravities to find out how much alcohol we’ve actually made. IN the end, we’ll blend both batches together and create a singular batch of mead, but for now they’re separated into Mead and Mini-Mead. Heh.
Oh, and hey! I made cider again. Another super-simple process that only requires more patience than beer fermentation, as apple juice definitely benefits from an extended period of time in primary fermentation. This time, as opposed to my last batch of cider, I made sure to buy the cider from local places close to the brew day, as opposed to a month beforehand, to guard against the production of CO2 in storage. A.k.a. why ciders explode if they’re left out warm or too long, or why old cider tastes funny and sparkling. This also guarded against that HORRIBLE eggish sulfur smell that I experienced last time. OG was about 1.050 so we’ll get a nice dry cider. Hopefully the blend of 4 local ciders will be worth it.