Mead: The Honeymoon Brew
Mead. Most people have never heard of it. In its simplest definition, Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from yeast fermented honey water. Sounds appetizing, no?
Mead is as old as history itself. Because of the simplicity of ingredients, the stability of honey (honey never spoils), and mead’s mythical properties of being an aphrodisiac and increasing the likelihood of giving birth to boy children, mead has been around for thousands of years. Mead is found throughout history in cultures around the globe, from the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Aztecs and Incas, and from the Vikings to the Australian Aborigines.
Mead is thought to have been used, not only as an alcoholic beverage for celebration, but also for medicinal purposes. Honey has antiseptic properties and different cultures would add various medicinal herbs to the mead to treat disease or infections.
Ah, but mead is a romantic beverage. Mead has been touted throughout these ancient histories as a drink that promotes pregnancy resulting in a boy child being born. Boy children were very important for the carrying on of the legacy and lineage of one’s family in ancient times. Also, many of these ancient cultures, like the Vikings, Greeks and Romans, were warring cultures and they needed boy children to continue to be able to go “aViking!” which is what the Vikings called it when they went and attacked and raided other cultures.
Back to the romance; before a man could get the woman pregnant with that healthy boy to carry on the family lineage, there had to be a wedding! After the wedding, and for one lunar month, the father of the bride would throw a feast and serve mead to the groom so that 9 months later a baby boy would be born. This lunar month of mead drinking, celebrating and feasting, is the origin of the “honeymoon”. Mead is a honey beverage provided after a wedding for a “moon” or month. Ah, romance!
Now that you know some history, don’t be expecting to run off to the local convenience store, bottle shop, brew store or pub and pick up some Mead. It just won’t happen. Mead is simply not made for mass production. Most people that have ever tried mead have home brewed it themselves, or like us, tasted it from a friend who home brewed. And, upon tasting the sweet honey brew of the ancients, people are hooked and have to brew their own!
That is what happened to Chris. A good friend, and coworker, of his made some mead. Chris was hanging out and playing Rock Band one night, when his friend broke out some home brew mead. It was mead flavored with ginger. Wow! What a flavor! What a punch! Oh, did I forget to mention that mead is pretty stout when it comes to the overall alcohol content? Yeah, it packs a punch! Well, after that, Chris was hooked and started talking about making his own home brew.
First he had to get the book: “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing” by Charlie Papazian. Then he had to get the tools, which included a brew making kit, a big huge pot, like a turkey frying pot, the cooking stand and honey. Oh yes, don’t forget the honey. For the recipe Chris is making he ended up needing a lot of honey. More on that in a minute.
Before we get into our recipe, there is some terminology to know. Straight yeast fermented honey water is just called mead, but if you add fruit to it, it is called melomel. If you add grapes to your melomel it becomes pyment. Adding herbs and spices makes it a metheglin. Apple juice with your honey creates cyser. For our first attempt at mead making we decided to go with similar mead to the one Chris’ friend home brewed.
Lemon Ginger Mead – April 3, 2010
12 lbs alfalfa honey
3 lbs clover honey
6 lemon tea bags
1/3 lb fresh ginger
1 slap pack of champagne yeast
Yes, as you can see, 15 lbs of honey. That is a lot of honey.
First, Chris heated about 2 gallons of water and all 15 pounds of the honey until it came to a boil. This time, he boiled it for about ten minutes. There is some controversy whether boiling is necessary. Chris says next time he probably will skip this step.
Meanwhile, make a tea with the lemon tea bags and the grated ginger.
Add the boiled honey, the lemon-ginger tea, and enough additional water to a “carboy”, to equal 5 gallons of liquid. A carboy is a sealed container that is used for fermentation, aging and storage of the brew.
Then the liquid has to cool to about 70 degrees so the yeast can be added. The temperature cannot be too hot or the yeast, which is a living thing, will die. Once the yeast has been added, it becomes “wort”. The wort must be stirred for a couple of minutes to activate the yeast. Then the carboy is sealed and a vapor lock is installed. This ensures that no air or bacteria gets into the wort, but allows gasses to escape.
When the yeast starts eating the sugar, the wort starts off gassing. This can take about 24 hours to start. This particular mead, Chris did not add any additional nutrient to the mix. The nutrient assists the yeast in the fermentation process, which makes it happen more quickly. This particular mead will take longer to ferment because it does not have any nutrient added.
The wort stays in the carboy, preferably at a temperature of about 70 degrees, until fermentation is complete. This typically takes 2- 4 weeks.
This is the first stage in our mead making process! It has been exciting watching the vapor lock “blurp” little bubbles of gas as the fermentation occurs. It has steadily been “blurping” along at about 12-13 seconds per bubble, which is good consistent fermentation timing.
Check back for updates as our mead making journey continues!