A Home Brewer’s Personal Journey through His Craft – Part 31
It has been much too long since we finished our journey through my first 100 home brews. It is long past time to continue this journey for we all know I did not stop there. I have brewed many more beers and other adventures such as wine, cider, and…Mead.
What is this mythical drink of the Gods called Mead? It is the predecessor of all other fermented beverages and predates all recorded history. But what is it? The answer to that is simply… fermented honey and water.
The earliest archaeological evidence of mead dates back to around 7000 BC and written historical references to 1700 BC. By comparison, archaeological evidence of beer only dates back to around 3500 BC.
As it is with beer, there are also many different styles of mead. It seems every time you add a different ingredient to mead it gets a new name. After only minimal research, I found nearly 40 different names for mead. The following are the most common. Acerglyn is mead brewed with maple syrup. Braggot is mead brewed with hops and/or malt. Bochet is mead brewed with partially caramelized or burned honey. Melomel is brewed with any kind of fruit. Some specific varieties of melomel are: Cyser, brewed with apples or apple juice; Morat, brewed with mulberries; Pyment, brewed with grapes or grape juice; Midus or Myod, brewed with berry juices. Metheglin is mead brewed with herbs and or spices. Sack is strong mead, typically anything over 14% ABV. All other varieties seem to be just regional variations on these basic themes.
What kind of yeast should be used to ferment mead? The truth is, any yeast can be used; wine, champagne, ale, lager, even baker’s yeast, although it is not recommended. There are specific strains available for either sweet meads or dry meads. I am sure, as with beer, different yeasts will produce different flavor profiles. I have not experimented much with this and with one exception have only used champagne yeast. This produces dry, higher ABV mead by more fully fermenting the sugars.
One important thing to note; and this is probably what led to all the different varieties; honey alone does not contain all the necessary nutrients for yeast to complete its life cycle. These nutrients come from the vast variety of adjuncts such as fruit, herbs, and malts. To make straight unflavored mead it is highly recommended to add yeast nutrient or yeast energizer blends.
Mead is actually more akin to wine than beer; although the process is more like beer than wine, is not exactly the same as either.
I have brewed several meads over the years and we will start with my first mead which I called simply:
1.75 lb Orange Blossom honey .75 lb Wildflower Honey 1 oz Homegrown Brewers Gold whole cone hops (45 min) .25 oz Homegrown Brewers Gold whole cone hops (5 min) Juice of 1 whole orange Juice of 1 whole lemon 1 cinnamon stick 2 tablespoons yeast nutrient WLP715 White Labs Champagne Wine Yeast Priming: 1 Tbsp Wildflower honey
As you can see, this could be called Braggot, Melomel, or Metheglin as it has hops, fruit, and spice. I formulated this original recipe from several one gallon recipes found on Cat’s Meow. Just in case you are wondering, this was actually brew #66. I skipped any non-beer recipes when going through the first 100 brews.
Add honey to 1 gallon of hot water and bring to boil. Skim off white foam/scum with a strainer several times. Add cinnamon stick and 1 oz. hops in a hop bag and boil for 40 minutes continuing to skim off foam. Add juice and ¼ oz. hops loose. Boil 5 minutes. Remove from heat and remove hops and cinnamon stick. Add yeast nutrient and stir until dissolved. Cool and pour into 4 liter brown glass apothecary bottle and top to 1 gallon with cold water. Pitch yeast and attach fermentation lock.
The only reason for the blend of honey was I had the Orange Blossom left over from a previous brew, Orange Blossom Amber I believe, and it had begun to crystallize. I heated the jar in a pot of boiling water to dissolve and added the Wildflower to bring honey to desired volume. The reason for skimming the foam is it contains proteins from the honey which can leave the finished product cloudy. The apothecary bottle seemed the perfect size for this experimental brew.
Slow steady fermentation continued for 9 days. Champagne yeast and honey never do kick up much of a head, more like a slow steady fizz. I let it clear in the primary fermenter about 3 weeks before priming and bottling, dissolving priming honey in 1 cup water.
I waited about 8 weeks before trying one. It tasted like honey but was bitter, kind of a combination of hops and the citrus fruit. The carbonation was very light and it was a bit cloudy. I have no idea what ABV level was other than I know it was high.
Mead can age almost indefinitely and time is definitely its best friend. I tried one of these every month or two and by the time I tried the last bottle it was 9 months old, and quite good. The honey sweetness and hop bitterness had come into balance, the carbonation level had improved to a champagne effervescence, and it had cleared nicely. However, I decided I do not like hops in mead.
My second attempt at mead I again called simply:
4 lbs Wildflower Honey Juice of 1 whole orange Juice of 1 whole lemon 1 cinnamon stick ¼ tsp Irish Moss 2 tablespoons yeast nutrient 10g Pasteur Champagne Yeast (2 5g pkgs) Priming: ¼ cup Wildflower honey
This is a remake of First Mead with a few changes. I increased the honey and left out the hops and added the Irish Moss. Also, I used different champagne yeast. The brew method was identical, decreasing the boil time to 25 minutes and adding the Irish Moss in the last 5 minutes.
I left it in the primary for a little over 5 weeks before priming and bottling. I dissolved the priming honey in .5 liter water.
Waited about 3 months to try this one and it was worth the wait. The mead was very light and clear with a champagne effervescence and sparkle which continued to the bottom of the glass. It was very sweet but not syrupy and had an immediate alcohol presence. I do not know the ABV but do know it was very strong and very good.
My third mead, which I am no longer calling an “attempt” I called Sticky Bun Mead because of the maple syrup and brown sugar I added to this one and because of the wonderful cinnamon roll aroma while it was fermenting. I also bumped this up to a full 5 gallon batch. I now know it is an Acerglyn, because of the maple syrup.
Sticky Bun Mead
1 gal (12 lbs) Wildflower Honey 1 pint Maple syrup 17.5 oz Demerara sugar cubes 5 cinnamon sticks Juice from 5 whole oranges Juice from 5 whole lemons 1 tsp Irish Moss 2 tablespoons yeast nutrient 2 pkg Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast, 10 g total Priming: ¾ cup corn sugar
Add honey and maple syrup to 4 gallons cold water and heat to boiling, skimming of the thick meringue like foam. Add Demerara sugar cubes. This kicked up even thicker foam which I also skimmed off. Add fresh squeezed juices, about 1 liter total, straining out most of the pulp. Add cinnamon sticks and return to boil. Boil 15 minutes. Add Irish Moss. Boil 15 minutes.
Cool wort and pitch yeast which has been rehydrated along with yeast nutrient in 3 cups warm water. Pour into fermenter and attach fermentation lock.
Volume came to right at 5 ½ gallons. I meant to remove cinnamon sticks before pouring into fermenter but forgot and they just poured on in with the wort.
This gave off a wondrous variety of fragrances, starting with honey, changing to citrus, then to cinnamon, and then back to honey. A taste of some of the liquid skimmed off after adding the Demerara and juice was marvelous with each ingredient making itself apparent, honey, maple, brown sugar, and citrus.
Fermentation began quickly and continued for about 3 weeks, initially working up about 3 inches of foam and then settling to a thin fizzy champagne like layer of bubbles. This produced a cacophony of aromas from the aforementioned unbaked cinnamon roll to citrus to yeast to finally honey.
I did not rack to a secondary but went straight to priming and bottling.
After about 3 ½ months aging it was crystal clear, at least until sediment got stirred up. There was no carbonation, indicating the yeast was played out and did not consume the priming sugars. It was very dry and strong, at least mid-teens ABV. It had a hint of citrus along with hint of honey maple sweetness. Although I did not make many notes on this one, I remember it to be quite good and continued to mellow with age, as all good mead should.
My next two meads were both brewed on the same day are identical with the exception of using different fruit juices. However, an unintentional and minor difference in the brew method made them seem very different.
Black Currant Mead
16.25 lb honey (<12 lb Wildflower and >4 lb clover) 500 ml (1pt 1oz) Austrian d’arbo Black Currant Fruit Syrup (80% juice, sugar, citric acid) 10 g Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast
As you can see, this is a very simple recipe. I ran across the rather exotic bottle of fruit syrup in a thrift store and just knew I had to make mead with it.
Bring 4 gallons cold water to boil and add honey, stirring constantly, and continue heating for 30 min. Remove from heat and stir in black currant syrup. Cover and steep for 30 min. Cool wort and pour into fermenter. Pitch re-hydrated yeast. OG: 1.122
Fermentation began slowly but continued with a thin layer of fizzy bubbles for 5 – 6 weeks before racking to secondary. I bottled after another 5 – 6 weeks without any priming. It was still quite sweet indicating the yeast was done. The mead was very clear, looking like White Zinfandel in the glass. The taste was sweet and fruity with the alcohol making itself apparent but not the primary flavor. FG: 1.024, 13% ABV
This aged very well, maintaining the sweet fruitiness and staying very clear, never developing any chill haze. A subtle alcohol tingle provided a false hint of carbonation.
Sour Cherry Mead
16.25 lb honey (<12 lb Wildflower and >4 lb clover) 500 ml (1pt 1oz) Austrian d’arbo Sour Cherry Fruit Syrup (80% juice, sugar, citric acid) 10 g Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast
As you can see, this is identical to the previous recipe with the exception of the fruit syrup, both bottles were found at the same time. The brew method was also identical with the exception that it began to boil in the last 10 minutes of the continued heating and also was steeped for two hours instead of 30 minutes due to an interruption. Both unintentional differences had a profound effect on the final product. OG: 1.106
The Sour Cherry was racked to secondary the same day as the Black Currant but took 4 weeks longer to clear to the point I bottled it, again without priming. It still was not as clear as the Black Currant. FG: 1.026, 10.25% ABV.
This eventually did clear very well in the bottle, although with a heavier, looser layer of sediment. It was also very good, sweet and fruity with a dry finish coming more from the sourness of the cherry than from the alcohol which was lower than the Black Currant.
So, why was the Sour Cherry Mead so different from the Black Currant? I believe it was due to the slight boil it received and the longer steep time which both contributed to setting the pectin in the fruit syrup. I also wonder if maybe cherry contains more pectin than black currant.
OK, there you have my first five meads. I will return shortly with five more meads and then maybe some beer, or maybe wine, or maybe cider…Damn! I love mixing my drinks!
Keep on Brewin… To be continued…