Last Friday I led a workshop on making mead for our Friday beekeeping group. Mead-making has a long and rich history, mead widely considered to be one of the first alcoholic beverage that humans made and consumed. It remains a delicious and delightful use of the honey our bees will soon be producing, and one of the easiest fermented foods to make.
I introduced the group to the equipment I tend to use for making mead: glass jars and cut up t shirts for catching yeast, gallon jugs and airlocks for fermenting, clear plastic tubing for siphoning, and used wine bottles for storage and distribution. We peaked through a couple of my favorite mead-related books, The Art of Fermentation by Sandy Katz and The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart. I then explained the basic process by which mead is made:
- Yeast is “caught” either by attracting airborne yeast to glucose-rich mixture, pulling yeast from fresh fruit, adding and activating cultivated yeast, or obtaining raw honey with some live yeast in it already.
- With honey sufficiently diluted, yeast ferments some of the glucose in the honey, producing ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide.
- Alcohol levels in the mead-to-be rise to the point that the conditions are no longer suitable for the yeast to thrive, and fermentation ceases.
- Mead is consumed.
Because we had access to some but not much raw honey, we started a small batch of mead by mixing the honey with water and placing it in a used wine bottle. We then put a balloon on top of the wine bottle to keep out unwanted pests and such. It was important not to put on a typical cap, as the pressure produced from the yeast’s releasing of carbon dioxide could cause the bottle to explode. And now, we play the waiting game!
As a treat, here’s my mead-making recipe. I tend to use processed not raw honey because it is much cheaper than raw honey.
- Obtain honey and fruit. The best fruit to obtain is wild, as it will have much lovely yeast on and in it, but when that’s not available, I recommend dumpster-diving or sharp-lifting.
- Mix the honey with water, creating a mixture of 1 part honey, 4 parts water. Cut up fruit.
- Mix honey-water and fruit in wide-mouth jars or some other container where a large surface area of honey-water can be exposed. Cover containers with thin cloth (cut-up old t shirts work spectacularly). These are your mead starts.
- Stir your starts a couple of times a day till they become bubbly and fragrant (~ 1 week).
- Once start is bubbly and fragrant, pour into container for fermenting. I tend to funnel out the fruit at this point. Make sure to put an airlock or balloon on the fermenting container so that carbon dioxide will be released but no yucky bugs or mold make their way into your mead.
- Keep vessel for fermenting in warm area; yeast like heat! Monitor activity some; once yeast have slowed down and fewer bubbles are forming at the surface of the mixture, start to taste mead.
- Consume and/or bottle once to taste!