Litha Harvest – Summer 2016

posted on 7 July 2016 by : Bottling, Harvest, Mead.

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:

From left: Luna Bochet, Mani Trad, Chaga Spruce

From left: Luna Bochet, Mani Trad, Chaga Spruce

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.

Elderberry Mead

posted on 30 June 2016 by : Mead, Recipes.

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).  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:

Thawed Elderberries. Freezing them helps break apart the skins and release the juice.

Thawed Elderberries. Freezing them helps break apart the skins and release the juice.

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:

Two half-gallon jars filled with fresh elderberry juice.

Two half-gallon jars filled with fresh elderberry juice.

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:

6 gallons of elderberry mead, or what will become so in due course

6 gallons of elderberry mead, or what will become so in due course

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!

NH Meadmaking Workshop

posted on 12 March 2016 by : Events, Mead.

flyer - 5 - Apr 2016

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!

Next Meadmaking Workshop: November 21, 2015

posted on 22 October 2015 by : Events, Mead.

flyer - 4

On Saturday, November 21, 2015 from 12:00-3:00pm, I will be teaching a “From Alcohol to Alchemy – the Lore and Craft of Mead” 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!

Litha Harvest

posted on 28 June 2015 by : Bottling, Harvest, Mead.

10 bottles each of Raspberry and Blackberry Harvest, and 4 extra bottles of Longest Night Blackberry Cyser.

10 bottles each of Raspberry and Blackberry Harvest, and 4 extra bottles of Longest Night Blackberry Cyser.

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.

Chaga Spruce Mead

posted on 15 June 2015 by : Herbalism, Mead, Recipes.

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:

SpruceChaga2015-1

Freshly harvested spruce tips, harvested a bit later this year so they are more opened up.

When I brought the tips in, I rinsed them off and dumped them in with the chaga, to make a delightful-smelling herbal tea:

Spruce tips in with the chaga decoction for the last few minutes.

Spruce tips in with the chaga decoction for the last few minutes.

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:

Two kinds of honey: New Jersey Pine Barren mixed with Maine Wildflower.

Two kinds of honey: New Jersey Pine Barren mixed with Maine Wildflower.

After some elbow grease and stirring, I had a beautiful must ready to go:

The honey all dissolved in the tea, to a 17% initial alcohol potential.

The honey all dissolved in the tea, to a 17% initial alcohol potential.

I have 6 gallons in their new mini-ecosystems for fermentation:

6 gallons of Spruce Mead ready for fermentation.

6 gallons of Spruce Mead ready 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.

Máni Trad Mead

posted on 4 March 2015 by : Herbalism, Mead, Recipes.

"The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani" by John Charles Dollman - Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas. London : Harrap. This illustration facing page 8. Digitized by the Internet Archive and available from http://www.archive.org/details/mythsofthenorsem00gueruoft Some simple image processing by User:Haukurth. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Wolves_Pursuing_Sol_and_Mani.jpg#mediaviewer/File:The_Wolves_Pursuing_Sol_and_Mani.jpg

“The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani” by John Charles Dollman (1909). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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 Máni, who is the Norse personification of the Moon.

I have been fascinated with Máni for some time, since I started studying the old Norse stories, mostly because Máni 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, Máni’s sister, Sól, 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:

Maine Wildflower honey liquifying under gentle heat.

Maine Wildflower honey liquifying under gentle heat.

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:

Honey, chaga/sumac tea, and water, mixed to a 17.5% initial alcohol potential.

Honey, chaga/sumac tea, and water, mixed to a 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:

Máni Trad Mead. This should be another great one!

Máni Trad Mead. This should be another great one!

Hail Máni on this night of the full moon!

Luna Bochet

posted on 4 March 2015 by : Health/Nutrition, Herbalism, Mead, Recipes.

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:

Chaga & Staghorn Sumac, decocted in Spring Water.

Chaga & Staghorn Sumac decoction in Spring Water.

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:

Honey melting in a 3 gallon stockpot. For bochet making, be sure the pot is less than 1/3 full to allow for the honey expansion.

Honey melting in a 3 gallon stockpot. For bochet making, be sure the pot is less than 1/3 full to allow for the honey expansion.

As the honey heated up under gentle heat with regular stirring, it would start to foam a bit at the top. Just keep stirring:

Melted honey. Just keep stirring, and watch it expand, like magic, to 3x its original size!

Melted honey. Just keep stirring, and watch it expand, like magic, to 3x its original size!

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.

Boiling honey, expanded to 3x its normal volume

Boiling honey, expanded to 3x its normal volume

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:

Honey samples taken every 20 minutes, starting with the honey just when it started boiling at the top, then clockwise every 20 minutes, with the bottom left after a full hour of caramelization.

Honey samples taken every 20 minutes, starting with the honey just when it started boiling at the top, then clockwise every 20 minutes, with the bottom left after a full hour of caramelization.

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:

Adding my hot tea to the honey that has started to cool a bit. Very important to poor slowly, and keep stirring, to avoid bubbling and splashing.

Adding my hot tea to the honey that has started to cool a bit. Very important to poor slowly, and keep stirring, to avoid bubbling and splashing.

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:

Living in Maine has its advantages when you need to cool off a must.

Living in Maine has its advantages when you need to cool off a must.

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:

Luna Bochet, at an 18% initial alcohol potential.

Luna Bochet, at an 18% initial alcohol potential.

Needless to say, I’m extremely excited to see how this one comes out in a few months! Hail!

Next Meadmaking Workshop: January 24, 2015

posted on 11 December 2014 by : Events, Mead.

The last meadmaking workshop at The Honey Exchange in Portland was a great success, and sadly we had to turn people away at the door! We have rescheduled another class to accommodate the great interest in meadmaking. Needless to say I’m very happy to help foster more meadmakers in the world!

On Saturday, January 24, 2015 from 1:30-4:30pm, I will be teaching a “From Alcohol to Alchemy – the Lore and Craft of Mead” 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!

Meadmaking Workshop was a Great Success!

posted on 15 November 2014 by : Events, Mead.

Today’s meadmaking workshop at The Honey Exchange in Portland was a great success. We rescheduled the date, and on the new date it sold out so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to publicize it here. There are six new meadmakers in the world as of today!

6 new meadmakers in the world, with your humble webmaster in the background.

6 new meadmakers in the world, with your humble webmaster in the background.

One of the nice things about working with the Honey Exchange is that they stock a large assortment of varietal honeys; you can tell by the different colors of each batch here. One gentlemen made a raspberry mead with some raspberries he brought, everyone else made a traditional mead…. but they all look different!

It was a full house today, with all 6 attendees making mead. Sadly we had to turn a few people away for lack of space…. which of course gives us some solid motivation to have another workshop soon. Watch this space, it could be as soon as January 2015.

Thanks to all the attendees!

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