The Drink of the Month - MEAD

The last couple of months we have talked about mixing up a drink. This month I want to go into more depth. In this article we will be discussing how to make mead - just a simple one to start with - and what a few of the possible variations on recipies are.

The first question you will ask, of course, is what you need to make mead.

You will need:
1. Slotted spoon - for removing large particles and foam
2. Paring knife - for peeling fruit and cutting spices
3. Stove - for heat
4. Honey - 1.5 to 3 pounds per gallon of mead
5. Spices - depending on the recipie
6. Pot - ceramic if possible - must hold 5L per gallon of mead
7. Fermentation vessel - glass or plastic bottle - large
8. Fermentation lock - allows gasses out but not in
9. Siphon
10. Bottles
11. Recipie
12. Yeast - a wine, beer, or mead yeast - NO OTHERS

A little bit of history to begin with. The mead most of you will be expecting to make will be a honey wine (12-15%), but historically mead came in several variations. The first is actually an ale mead made with hops and brewers yeast. There were other classes such as melomels - fruit meads such as pyment (grape juice and honey), and Cyser (apple juice and honey); hippocras - yes this is a variant on last month's recipie; metheglin - spiced mead; and of course there are many honey based winter drinks.

The next distinction that must be made is the difference between short or quick meads and long meads. A short mead will be drinkable in anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months depending on the recipie. A long mead, on the other hand, may take up to 9 YEARS to mature.

Another method of affecting the taste of the mead is through the honey. Each type of flower has a different taste which is imparted to the mead. Clover honey and heather honey are two of the most common types. (Yes Jamie heather honey is ONE of the tricks to making heather mead and NO I won't ever be releasing that recipie.) There will be quite the difference in taste between a cyser made with clover honey and one made with apple blossom honey. At this point I should note that the majority of the differences I am commenting on here will only be noticeable in the properly aged long meads as they can be quite subtle.

Enough history, on to the making. I will begin with a recipie from Cariadoc's Miscelleny (you might have noticed that this is a very useful book).

"Weak honey drink (more commonly called small mead) Digby p 107/147

Take nine pints of warm fountain water, and dissolve in it one pint of pure White- honey, by laving it therein, till it be disolved. Then boil it gently, skimming all the while, till all the scum be perfectly skimmed off; and after that boil it a little longer, peradventure a quarter of an hour. In all it will require two or three hours boiling, so that at least one third part may be consumed. About a quarter hour after you cease boiling, and take it from the fire, put to it a little spoonfull of cleansed and sliced ginger; and almost half as much of the thin yellow rind of Orange, when you are even ready to take it from the fire, so as the orange boil only one walm in it. Then pour it into a well-glased strong deep great Gally-pot, and let it stand so, till it be almost cold, that it be scarce luke-warm. Then put to it a little silver- spoonful of pure ale-yeast, and work it together with a ladle to make it ferment: as soon as it beginneth to do so, cover it close with a fit cover, and put a thick dubbled wollen cloth about it. Cast all things so that this may be done when you are going to bed. Next morning when you rise, you will find the barm all gathered in the middle; scum it clean off with a silver spoon and a feather, and bottle up the Liquor, stopping it very close. It will be ready to drink in two or three days; but it will keep well a month or two. It will be from the first very quick and pleasant.

11 pints water
1 pint honey = 1 1/2 pounds
1 T peeled, sliced fresh ginger
1/2 T orange peel
1/2 t yeast
Dissolve the honey in the water in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Let it boil down to 2/3 the original volume (8 pints), skimming periodically. This will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours; by the end it should be clear. About 15 minutes before it is done, add the ginger. At the end, add the orange peel, let it boil a minute or so, and remove from heat. The orange peel should be the yellow part only, not the white; a potatoe peeler works well to get off the peel. Let the mead cool to lukewarm, then add the yeast. The original recipie appears to use a top fermenting ale-yeast, but dried bread yeast works [ wine yeast still tastes better - Ragnar]. Cover and let sit 24- 36 hours. Bottle it, using sturdy bottles; the fermentation builds up considerable perssure. Refridgerate after three or four days. Beware of exploding bottle. The mead will be drinkable in a week, but better if you leave it longer.

This recipie is modified from the original by reducing the proportion of honey and lengthening the time of fermentation before bottling. Both changes are intended to reduce the incidence of broken bottles. Using 2 liter plastic soda bottles is unaesthetic, but they are safer than glass"

Of course you could try the original recipie yourself. Let me know how it turns out if you do so.

That is a good starting point for a new vintner as it allows you an almost instant result. The next recipie is for a much longer mead (my preference).

1.1 kg honey nutrients
10 g tartaric acid
champagne yeast
15 g malic acid
1.5 g tannin
water to 4.5 litres
Dissolve honey in 2 litres warm water together with the nutrients, acid and tannin. Make up the volume to 4.5 litres with cold water and add 100 ppm sulphite. After 24 hours add the yeast starter and allow to ferment to dryness. Rack within a week of fermentaton finishing, taking care to avoid too much aeration. Add 50 ppm sulphite (1 campden tablet per 4.5 litres). Rack a second time as soon as a heavy deposit forms or after 3 months whichever is soonest. Add 50 ppm sulphite. Rack again every 3-4 months sulphiting 50 ppm every second racking. Mature until the wine is at its peak (about 2 years) although it may be drunk much sooner (say 6 months).

You may have noticed a few differences between the two recipies. I will try and explain them now. The first recipie is dated to the mid 1600's I believe whereas the second recipie is a modern winemakers recipie. As with most modern recipies a LOT of fiddle work has been done to get the so-called "perfect" flavour. Hence two different types of acid are used in place of the orange peel (citric acid). For reference a must (the unfermented honey-water mix) that doesn't have enough acid will throw off a lot of by-products that will alter the taste. The nutrients are to allow the yeast to function as far as possible (up to 15% with some the of the modern yeasts as compared to the 8-10% you will get with the older recipie). The tannin provides a bit of a bite to the mead (historically added through hops or herbs). Each of the different yeasts (bakers, brewers, wine, mead, and champagne) provide a different taste. The further to the right you go in that list, the purer your mead will taste (less by-products). The water is a final adjustment. Water from different places carries a different set of additives which WILL affect the taste, so make sure you like the taste of your water before you brew with it. The sulphite is used to stop trace fermentation and solidify the dead yeast and nutrients.

Now some rules for the longer meads. The idea behind racking the mead is to remove any of the left-over deposits. Hence when you transfer the mead from one bottle to the next be careful not to disturb the sediment, you only want to transfer the liquid. Top up the maturing jar with tap water to remove large air spaces (which will sour the mead). Extra must may be used for this to prevent diluting the mixture. One final note the sulphite added to the must is used to sterilize the honey itself (which contains ALL kinds of interesting things).

Anyway this is MORE than enough for this month. Next month I will go into a few more recipies and perhaps talk a bit about the difference between historical and modern meads.