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It’s the First Day of Spring — Eostar, Ostara, the Vernal Equinox — in Maine, and I’ve been interacting with trees in my ecosystem as of late. They are like old friends that I haven’t seen in a few months. I wanted to honor this part of the seasonal cycle with my next batch of mead. We still have some snow on the ground, but it’s melting fast and there’s as much mud as snow. The trees are waking up, and I knew it was time to make a Treequinox Mead.
In northern New England, spring also means maple tapping season. It takes 40-60 gallons of sap, boiled down to reduce to 1 gallon of maple syrup. A friend was kind enough to bring me 4 gallons of maple sap the other day (thanks Jason!), and I knew I wanted to use it in a mead. Another friend, Arthur Haines, just posted a video about maple season:
Arthur is a botanist, and has written the best field book for my ecosystem that I’ve yet seen. He explains the process of getting maple sap skillfully and sustainably.
I used 2 gallons of the sap for the Treequinox Mead as a base, rather than the spring water I normally use. The other two are presently reducing into syrup on our stove.
I also had to cut down two trees in my yard for mushroom cultivation. We live on 2 acres of forest, and get little sunlight. We haven’t had much luck trying to grow vegetables, but I’m hoping that mushrooms will fare better. I wanted to use plug spawn, which requires fresh logs, so I knew I would have to take down a tree. I wanted to grow chicken of the woods (Laetiporus conifericola) and Phoenix Fir Oyster (Pleurotus pulmonarius), both of which grow on the Eastern Hemlock tree. Hemlocks are plentiful on our property, so it was easy to find one that was ready to be taken down. We also had to take down a fir tree to get the hemlock down safely. Both trees have been cut into 4′ logs (thanks again Jason!), which will rest for a month or so. Live trees contain anti-fungal compounds that dissipate a few weeks after the tree is cut. Both mushrooms grow on both hemlock and fir, so I’ll plug some of each species of mushroom into both species of log.
This also meant I had an abundance of both hemlock and fir boughs, that are now going to dry out and decay. I wanted to use as much of the tree as possible, so I gathered about a gallon of the boughs, along with some additional spruce in my yard, and made a Fir, Hemlock, and Spruce tea in the maple sap. I rinsed the leaves and then decocted them for 15 minutes in 2+ gallons of maple sap, removed the heat and put the pot on the back porch to cool off.
Once the tea had cooled to blood temperature, I brought it in and strained it. It tasted delicious! The sap is already sweet and the evergreen flavor was really good. I then added about 3/4 of a gallon of honey, adjusting the amount until I got an alcohol potential reading of 17.5%:
The conifer leaves have some citric acid in them, but I did make 3 cups of organic black tea for the tannins. I then pitched the yeast as normal, and am left with a beautiful 3 gallon batch of Treequinox Mead:
Don’t worry, Spruce Mead fans, I still plan on making another batch of Spruce Mead this year….
UPDATE: I just racked this mead and it’s delicious! Very similar to the Spruce Mead I made last year, but not as cloyingly sweet. It is still quite sweet though, at 5% remaining alcohol potential, meaning this batch is 12.5% alcohol. This mead is already starting to clear, unlike the Spruce Mead from last year which is still not clear!
UPDATE: I haven’t been posting labels much recently (since they are all variations on the same theme), but this one turned out especially cool I thought, with the maple leaf in the background and the hemlock tree in the corner:
I’m really amused by this mead, on several levels. Obviously the name might have a familiar ring to some, but I’m actually referring to the generic ingredients: Coca leaves and Kola nuts. These ingredients were originally used in the more familiar iteration of these particular words.
In past decades, I drank a lot of modern cola industrial soft drinks, most of which were made with corn syrup and contained no coca at all. I’ve often wondered what the original formulations would have tasted like, so I decided to recreate it with a mead.
First, let’s take a closer look at these two ingredients.
In preparing for this mead, I wanted to thoroughly research coca for somewhat obvious reasons. Coca is very controversial because it contains the alkaloid cocaine, which is of course illegal and has become a problem with its use in its commercialized, concentrated form of white powder after having been extracted from the leaves. Regular Coca Leaves, in the United States, are also illegal, categorized as a Schedule II drug. What is not so widely known is that coca leaves can be “decocainized” in the same way that some coffee beans are decaffeinated. These sort of decocainized coca leaves are legal to import into the US, and are not scheduled in the same way regular coca or cocaine is:
Coca leaves (9040) and any salt, compound, derivative or preparation of coca leaves (including cocaine (9041) and ecgonine (9180) and their salts, isomers, derivatives and salts of isomers and derivatives), and any salt, compound, derivative, or preparation thereof which is chemically equivalent or identical with any of these substances, except that the substances shall not include decocainized coca leaves or extraction of coca leaves, which extractions do not contain cocaine or ecgonine. Source:
[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 21, Volume 9, Parts 1300 to end]
[Revised as of April 1, 2005]
From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access
[CITE: 21CFR1308.12] [Page 94-96]
Cocaine, however, is but one of several alkaloids in the coca plant. Coca tea, in South American circles where it has been used for thousands of years, produces effects very similar to coffee, another drink from that region that Americans have grown quite accustomed to. And since it was a common ingredient in old brews including the original colas, I wanted to use it in this mead.
The Kola Tree is an evergreen tree native to west Africa. The tree produces nuts as seeds to reproduce itself. The Kola Nut, in its native land, is valued for its stimulating, aphrodisiac and healing qualities, which to me seems similar to how people use cacao in South America. The trees are related.
Kola contains a significant amount of caffeine, and as such is sometimes used as a remedy for asthma.
The cola can be extracted by boiling or tincturing the Kola nuts. For this mead, I decided to tincture the kola, which will happen after primary fermentation, after I’ve racked it into jugs for clearing it will sit with the Kola nuts to extract their colors, flavors, and other properties.
I began this mead by making a coca tea. The coca I was using was powdered, which maximizes its absorptive surface area. I was concerned about being able to filter it after the tea was done, as the powder is too fine for my screens/sieve, so I used a new kind of DIY teabag designed for a teapot (as opposed to a cup). With this sort of bag, you fill it half full of your tea (coca powder in this case):
Then, once the bag is half full, you use a common iron to seal it shut:
This left me with two large teabags containing coca leaves:
I wanted a strong Coca tea, so I decided to decoct it. On the other hand, I didn’t want it to be too tannin-y, so I opted for a short 15 minute simmer:
After the simmer, I wanted to continue to let it infuse for a few minutes. I also added a sumac drupe for its acids to help the yeast:
I let the infusion sit for about an hour, then strained the teabags and the sumac drupe out. After it cooled for several hours I poured the tea through a strainer (to get the small bits of sumac out) and added it to the pot with just under a gallon of honey, dissolving until I brought it to 17.5% alcohol potential (I wanted a strong and sweet mead for this batch):
I was left with a relatively neutral color mead, with a slightly golden hue. The mead’s color will not shift much during primary fermentation, but I expect the Kola nuts that I will add after racking to darken it considerably:
This is a somewhat complex batch with many steps, there will be several updates along the way over the next few months.
UPDATE: June 28
I racked the mead tonight, tried a bit of it, and failed to take a hydrometer reading, since I dropped the hydrometer and it shattered on my floor. Ah well. I’ll pick up a new hydrometer soon and get a reading up here.
The mead tastes fantastic. It has a smooth, tangy effervescence to it (it’s not sparkling, but the tangy part of the flavor is not unlike 7up in a strange way).
I racked it into one-gallon jugs, into which I had stuffed 4 handfuls of Kola nuts and Coca leaves, so it will infuse/tincture over the coming weeks.
The mead that I racked into the waiting Kola nuts got darker very quickly, and the kola nuts caused a slight bubbling to form:
I will continue to update people as this mead develops! Very exciting, this could end up being one of the best batches yet.
UPDATE: June 29
I got a new hydrometer, so I took a reading today. It’s 4.5%, so it’s still quite sweet and about 13.5%. I’m not 100% sold on the accuracy of this reading since the “before” reading was taken with a different instrument. I don’t know how consistently calibrated these are. It does sound about right though; this mead is sweet but not cloyingly so.
Also, the bubbling has slowed down but is still happening….
UPDATE: July 27
I just tried the first bit of Coca Kola Mead. Wow! The Kola Nuts definitely add a layer of strong flavor. It’s a deep, rooty flavor, definitely reminiscent of cola, or perhaps even root beer. I need to bottle this soon so it can begin to age a bit. I imagine this will be extraordinary in a few months!