My longtime readers will note that BardicBrews.net has a new look to it. There is a shiny new WordPress install with a new theme. And the more astute among you will notice the site works again, and there aren’t any unwanted viagra ads popping up for you to be revulsed by! :-)
Now that the site has been de-hacked, this is as good a time as any to also tell you about the changes to this site. My longtime readers will also know that my meadmaking production — and therefore also the posts to this site — have slowed way down in the past couple of years. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of them personal, others not…. but the bottom line is that I have decided that once my current batches in production have been bottled, I am going to take an extended break from meadmaking. I don’t want to commit to retiring, but for now activity on this site will slow down even more. I am more focused on audio engineering these days, and it occupies more and more of my time and attention. I find myself not complaining about this. While I still love mead and hold it in extremely high regard, it’s time for me to move on to a new chapter in my life.
As a result, there are no longer products available for purchase here, namely my meadmaking eBook, The Lore And Craft Of Mead. If anyone out there is reading this and wants a copy, contact me and we will work something out.
It’s been a hell of a run; I’ve learned so much about mead, honey, bees, alcohol, herbalism, ecosystem health, and community, all as a direct result of my meadmaking practice. I am so grateful! I still hope to see you around a fireside soon!
It’s been a while since I’ve made mead, and I had all 4 carboys available to me. So I decided to make 2 batches each of my current favorite flavors of mead: traditional and a bochet. The bochet is a traditional but with caramelized honey. And this time, thanks to a new smartphone, I took some footage and made a simple video:
The traditionals were made with my standard chaga sumac tea. I was low on sumac after that, so for the bochet I made a chaga decoction as usual, then steeped sumac and hibiscus in it.
Both batches were mixed up to about an 18% initial alcohol potential. But because I ran out of honey at the end, the 2 bochet batches are a bit smaller than usual. They came out nice!
The 2 on the left are the bochets, with the darker color. This will be a good harvest!
As I’ve said many times, the past couple of years have slowed down dramatically in terms of how much mead I’ve made. This is my first bottling session in over a year, and represents most of my meadmaking from 2015. That said, all 3 batches shown here came out amazingly well, among the best I’ve ever made:
The Luna Bochet and Mani Trad are basically the exact same recipe, just that the bochet was made with caramelized honey, and also had a vanilla bean tossed in during secondary fermentation. And wow! What a flavor. The contrast between the two is intense, and both are utterly delightful. I can definitely see sharing the bochet around a Yule fireside during the winter…. it tastes almost like whiskey, but obviously without the kick of distilled alcohol. And I’ve had more people tell me my Chaga Spruce Mead is the best mead they’ve ever had than anything else I’ve done.
All three of these batches are stellar. I’m very happy to have them bottled, ready to share at a fireside near you.
I haven’t made an Elderberry Mead in a long time. They are enigmatic to me; I love them, and use elderberries medicinally all the time, but their flavor is really bitter. The last time I worked with elderberries was to make an Elderberry Rosehip Mead which turned out quite nicely. And, five years ago I made the Elder Mead, which is powerful and complex (it also had Reishi in it which has a hugely bitter flavor).Â Last fall, someone near me was giving some away; they had a huge bush and more yield than they knew what to do with. So we picked up a few gallons and stored them in the freezer, where they sat for several months until I was finally ready to make them into a mead.
I put a chaga decoction on the stove and let it simmer overnight. The next morning I strained it and let it cool. As I usually do with berry meads, I decided to juice them:
I had about 2 gallons of berries, most of which were still attached to stems. No problem, the juicer separates everything away from the juice. 2 gallons of berries yielded just under a gallon of juice when run through our juicer:
Then, it was a simple matter of mixing up the juice, the chaga tea, and enough honey & water to give me 3 gallons of mead at 18% initial alcohol potential. I did a double batch, as always each batch is 3 gallons. So the first batch filled both carboys halfway, and the second batch filled them both up completely. I pitched a packet of Red Star Montrachet yeast rehydrated in a bit of chaga tea, and included 3 cups of strong black PG Tips tea in the second batch. The result was two 3 gallon carboys filled with beautiful that-which-will-become-mead:
It’s been nearly a year since I’ve made mead, so needless to say I’m excited to be back at it. I look forward to drinking this mead around a fire this winter!
I’m pleased to announce that my next meadmaking workshop will be in Ossipee, New Hampshire at the Wonalancet Honey Bee Company. The workshop is already at least half full, so call today to reserve your spot. Space is limited!
On Saturday, November 21, 2015 from 12:00-3:00pm, I will be teaching a â€œFrom Alcohol to Alchemy â€“ the Lore and Craft of Meadâ€ workshop. Class registration is $50. Complete meadmaking kits are on sale for $75, and a variety of bulk honey is available starting at $50 per gallon (enough to start your first 3 gallon batch of mead.
This workshop will include:
A talk on the Lore, history, cultural, and nutritional aspects of mead
A copy of The Lore And Craft of Mead eBook
A demonstration as I brew up a batch of mead
An (optional) opportunity to acquire your brewing gear and make your first batch of mead under expert supervision, keeping both the gear and the mead you make! I will provide 2-3 gallons of freshly gathered spring water for everyone making mead at no additional charge.
To register or for more information, call Phil or Meghan at The Honey Exchange, 207-773-9333.
This class is limited to 6 people for space, so register quickly before this one fills up too!
I had my first bottling session in a while today. That’s kind of what happens when your production rates slow down as they have the past couple of years. Only 24 bottles, but boy are they purty. I got 10 bottles each of Blackberry & Raspberry Harvest, and another 4 bottles of Longest Night Blackberry Cyser. Yum. Used up the last of my clear bottle stash also.
In addition, I racked the Mani Trad and Luna Bochet. Wow, there is a taste difference. The Bochet is …. different. Better? I’m not sure. Both are really good though.
It’s been a few years since I’ve made spruce mead, and it’s one of the more popular brews I do. I knew I’d do another batch this year, and when I tasted the Pine Barren honey from Fruitwood Orchard in New Jersey at The Honey Exchange, I knew I’d found the honey I’d use for the next Spruce Mead.
As I did last time, I began with a chaga decoction using some fresh spring water after a trip to the spring where I was enchanted by fireflies, the most I’d ever seen in Maine. Last time the chaga went beautifully with the spruce, so it’s worth repeating the recipe. After the chaga had been simmering for about 12 hours, I went out and harvested some new spruce growth, a bit beyond the “tips” stage, as they were last year:
When I brought the tips in, I rinsed them off and dumped them in with the chaga, to make a delightful-smelling herbal tea:
After the tips sat in the tea for about 30 minutes I strained it and let the tea cool down overnight.
The next day, I went to mix up the mead, starting with the pine barren honey and a little extra Maine wildflower honey. The Maine wildflower honey had crystallized, so I let them mingle together for a bit before adding the tea and dissolving:
After some elbow grease and stirring, I had a beautiful must ready to go:
I have 6 gallons in their new mini-ecosystems for fermentation:
I expect this batch of spruce to be as good as previous ones. It’s not my favorite tasting one (probably the traditionals or maybe some berries are), but this might be the most potent brew I do, since so much of the flavor comes right out of my immediate ecosystem — the spruce trees in my yard.
After finishing up the Luna Bochet yesterday, I still had some honey (not caramelized) and some chaga/sumac tea left over, so I thought I’d make up a quick traditional mead. Since today is the full moon, I thought I would name this batch after Mani, who is the Norse personification of the Moon.
I have been fascinated with Mani for some time, since I started studying the old Norse stories, mostly because Mani is male. Most other traditions depict the moon as female, which has become so familiar to me over the years that the idea of a male moon seemed strange. Interestingly, Mani’s sister, Sol, is the personification of the Sun, again going against what I had gotten used to in most other traditions with a male sun and a female moon.
The last of my honey bucket was quite crystalized, so I began by melting the honey a bit under some gentle heat, so that it would dissolve more quickly:
Once it was liquefied, I added the remaining chaga/sumac tea, then added a bit more water and honey, to get myself up to an 17.5% initial alcohol potential:
As I stirred, I could see symbols and shapes coalescing and dissolving in the thin layer of foam on top of the must. These swirls look almost like animations, and there are stories hidden within them.
Once the mixture was complete, I pitched the yeast, poured it into the carboy, shook it up, and now I have a batch of wonderful traditional mead, which has become my favorite kind of mead over the past few years:
For several years now, I’ve had my eye on doing a bochet, which is a mead made with cooked, caramelized honey. Note that this contradicts my meadmaking methodology for the most part — I am not an advocate of heating honey. There are too many wonderful things in honey that I don’t want to kill with heat, but the allure of the rich tones of flavor with a bochet was too much temptation. I had to try it.
Of course, I began with a chaga decoction in spring water that I let go for about 18 hours, tossing in a couple of staghorn sumac drupes for the final 15 minutes or so:
When the decoction was finished I strained it into an empty carboy, and cleaned out the stockpot for the process of cooking the honey.
Caramelizing the Honey
This is a tricky process. Honey, when it cooks, expands to nearly 3x its volume, so I had to make sure my 3 gallon stockpot had less than a gallon of honey inside. It is also essential to stir the honey constantly so it doesn’t burn. It’s a long process; I decided to cook the honey for about an hour. A small ordeal offering was in the works, during the cooking process a small amount of boiling honey splashed onto my hand and stuck to the skin, leaving a blister. Ah well; a gift for a gift.
I began with solid, crystalized honey, getting it into the pot to heat up and start melting:
As the honey heated up under gentle heat with regular stirring, it would start to foam a bit at the top. Just keep stirring:
Once the honey hits its boiling point, things start to happen very quickly. This is where it is most important to keep stirring, so as not to scorch the sugars, and the honey expands 3x to fill the pot within a matter of a few seconds. Do NOT leave this unattended! You could have a huge mess on your hands.
Once the honey is at this point, the real work begins. It’s important to CAREFULLY monitor the temperature of the flame and keep stirring. For an hour. Don’t let it stick or boil over. The sugars in the honey will begin to caramelize. Every 20 minutes, I took a sample of the honey:
It was interesting to follow the flavor development as the honey caramelized. In some ways, the first sample taken 20 minutes in had the most intense flavor; it seemed to mellow out and get richer as it aged, finally the bottom left, fully caramelized honey was wonderful.
At the end of an hour, I turned off the heat. The honey then contracts pretty quickly, within a few minutes. Very important — if you let it cool completely, you will end up with extremely thick honey many compare to roofing tar. Therefore it is important to add your liquid before you get to this stage. In my case I added the chaga/sumac tea, which was still warm. Adding hot water helps the mixture to not splash as much when you are adding the liquid:
I added 1 gallon of the warm tea (I’m saving the rest to finish off this batch, and to do another batch of plain traditional mead in the next day or two). Then, I VERY SLOWLY added some cool spring water, to get me up to close to 3 gallons.
Normally at this stage I would take a hydrometer reading to see where I am in terms of alcohol potential, but the mixture is still far too hot. Therefore, it went outside under the snow (with a lid on), and under the full moon behind the clouds. Within a couple of hours, it had cooled to blood temperature:
Finally I brought it back inside, adjusted the final levels to get me to an 18% initial alcohol potential, pitched the yeast, poured it into the carboy, and was left with this utter thing of deep brown loveliness:
Needless to say, I’m extremely excited to see how this one comes out in a few months! Hail!