It’s been a quiet winter; I took much of it off on somewhat of a sabbatical from social media and blogging. But mead continues in the background, and it was a bit overdue for time to bottle. I had two delicious batches cleared up and ready to go: Chaga Spruce Mead and Blueberry Bite Mead.
I had run out of bottles, and a snafu at a bottle supplier delayed me a bit, but finally I had everything in hand. One difference is that these days I’m paying the $0.50 per page to get the labels laser printed, which makes a big difference in the quality of the label.
I’m grateful for this harvest, particularly in light of the bad year for honey in 2013. It’s not as available as it has been in the past, but I am hopeful 2014 will be a better year for the honeybees and those who care for them.
New bottles means empty jugs, which means racking some of the other batches I have going. Watch this space for updates.
I’m excited to announce that my next meadmaking workshop is set up and ready to go in Portland, Maine on Saturday, November 16 at The Honey Exchange. The Honey Exchange is a fabulous resource for meadmakers in the area, because they offer a very wide variety of honey to use in our meads! You can get a base honey for about $50/gallon (this is enough to do a 3 gallon batch of very sweet honey), and they have more exotic varietal honeys available at various prices.
Registration for the workshop is $50, and you will also have an optional opportunity to brew your own batch of mead and take it (and all the equipment) home with you. The brewing equipment kit is $75, and you can choose from the varietal honeys available at The Honey Exchange. To reserve your spot, call Phil at The Honey Exchange at 207-773-9333.
This is just a short log to acknowledge the bottling session I did today. I got 20 bottles of Mad Trad D2, and 10 bottles of Fox Pyment Double Mead from last fall. I unfortunately don’t have pictures because my digital camera is complaining and not working well.
I really love the Traditional Mead formula I’ve worked up, it produces what might by my favorite mead of all. So simple, so satisfying; it has a purity to it that is very appealing to me. The Fox Pyment this batch didn’t get as clear as my other batches do, despite the fact that it is nearly a year old and has been clearing since March. I believe it is probably a pectin haze from the wild fox grapes.
One technique that I tried in this bottling session, for the first time. With the Mad Trad D2, I had 4 jugs clearing, 2 jugs each from 2 different batches, done at the same time, that came out slightly differently. This time I filled each bottle halfway from one of the batches, then filled each bottle completely with the other batch, effectively combining the 2 batches into one mead. This technique is common in commercial meaderies used to dealing with larger batches; it has the benefit of averaging out all the flavors — including any off-flavors — thereby making a more consistent product.
All in all, yet another bountiful harvest! Gratitude!
Unfortunately, a printer mishap caused the labels to print a bit off in terms of color. Ah well. Close enough. :-)
The Husk Cherry Mead is very subtle; the husk cherries give a nice layer of richness to the dry mead, it smooths/mellows it out nicely.
The Elderberry Rosehip Mead is delightful — tart, dry, and a real immune system blast. I’m happy with it; I was envisioning last year’s Elder Mead minus the bitterness of the reishi, and that’s exactly what it is.
Finally, the Fox Pyment Single Mead is my favorite of the bunch in terms of flavor. A simple mead with just a touch of the most wonderful grape flavor with it. I can’t wait to try the double mead when it is ready…. it should be a bit sweeter with a much more intense grape flavor.
All three of these meads are dry, which is nice. Many recent meads have been sweeter.
With this bountiful harvest behind us, let this be the first teaser: there are a few changes on the horizon for BardicBrews.net. Thus far, most of this site’s content has been focused on “brews” which is great…. but moving forward, look for more content on the “bardic” side of things. Stay tuned!
Last year’s Blackberry Cyser (cyser means “apple mead” or mead made with apple cider rather than water) was really good, and I knew I’d be merging apples and blackberries most years moving forward. The apples here where I live in Maine are generally quite tart, in a good way, and the blackberries I pick in my yard give a nice earthy, smooth counterbalance to the tartness of the apples.
I also new that I wanted to use some cranberries we had in the freezer in a cyser this year, to play off the contrasts between 2 different “shades” of tart (apples and cranberries). Originally I thought I’d do them separately, but due to a similar situation as what happened during the Fox Pyment (basically I poured in too much honey), I had to split the batch into 2 smaller batches. There was also a slight mishap during the juicing process, but we were able to recover with some amount of grace.
This is a simple one, with no real herbal ingredients. I did add 3 cups of organic black tea to each batch to provide a bit of tannic acid, tweaking both the pH and the flavor.
It turns out that cranberry and blackberry juice mixed together are gorgeous:
I took this, mixed in some honey, and realized I way overshot the honey. I had forgotten that late-season cider is sweeter than normal, so I ended up with nearly 25% alcohol potential. So I split it into 2 batches and proceeded from there. Both batches have similar amounts of blackberry/cranberry juice, but one will likely be a sweet mead (19% initial alcohol potential) and one will likely be dry (16% initial alcohol potential):
Color on the two is quite similar, as you can see below. First is the dry Black & Cran cyser:
And this is the sweet (mislabeled, it is 19% not 18%):
I look forward to seeing how these come out!
UPDATE: March 31
Finally got a round to racking these. The Dry Cyser is now 2%, so it is 14% ABV. The Sweet Cyser is now 4%, so it is 15% ABV. Both different flavors of delicious!
Three fabulous berry meads from 2012. The Happy Strawberry (made with St Johns Wort) has a light and crisp flavor, perfect reflection of a summertime mead. The Blueberry Mullein, made with twice as many berries as I usually use, has an unbelievably rich, almost thick mouth feel and is just delightful. And the Cherry Chaga Ginseng has the most complex flavor of the three, with the bitterness from both the Ginseng and the chokecherries.
The wife picked up a bunch of wild blueberries at the farmer’s market today, and man are they gorgeous! I couldn’t decide what to add to it herbally, apart from chaga…. last year I did a Blueberry Nettle Mead and it was ok, but I wanted to experiment with something different. The wife suggested Mullein, saying she had a good feeling about it, and that was one of two herbs I was considering (along with a nettle repeat). So Mullein it was!
Mullein (Verbascum densiflorum) is a very striking plant. It has a tall stalk, and its leaves are incredibly big and soft (they make the supreme natural toilet paper when doing one’s bidness in the wild). Mullein has been used by humans for thousands of years:
The name mullein itself is derived from the Latin word “mollis” which means soft. It has its origins in the Mediterranean, but has been naturalized in North America. The flowering stem was dried by the Greeks and Romans and dipped in tallow, and then used as a lamp wick or as a torch.
The soothing mucilages of mullein coat sore throats and make coughing more productive. The German E Commission relates that mullein is good for catarrhs of the respiratory tract and as an expectorant.
So I began as I always do, with a chaga decoction, letting 2 gallons of water simmer overnight to make a thick, dark tea. When I turned the heat off, I added 3 black tea bags and a few handfuls of dried mullein leaf:
I let this steep for about 10-15 minutes and then began cooling it, using my new favorite cooling method of putting the stockpot into the sink and filling the sink around the stockpot with cold tap water. I drained the water and refilled it once, and it was down to blood temperature after about 20-30 minutes:
Once the tea was cool, I strained it and set it aside for a bit.
Next were the blueberries. In the past, I’ve used as little as a pint, and more often a quart, of berries in my meads. This time I wanted to try a higher concentration of berries, so I used 3 pounds (about 2 quarts) of fresh, wild blueberries. I blended them a quart at a time in my VitaMix high speed blender, poured them into the stockpot, and then added a bit of the tea in the blender, and whizzed that too to get as much of the blueberry goodness as possible:
I then added the tea, and enough honey to get us up to 19% initial alcohol potential, and mixed it up well:
Then I pitched the yeast, transferred everything to the carboy, shook it up, and labeled it, leaving a beautifully-colored carboy full of mead-to-be:
There are a lot of blueberry skins in tiny bits; between that and the double-blueberry load I expect a lot of sediment in this batch. Time will tell…..
Happy Mead Day to all of my readers!
UPDATE: 4 hours later….
Well, this hasn’t happened in a while. 4 hours in, it foamed up pretty vigorously, clogging the airlock. (I would have taken a pic of it, but my wife had already cleaned it by the time I got the camera. :-)Â I’m glad she caught it when she did!
To review for my readers, if I hadn’t have removed the airlock the pressure would have continued to build and eventually popped off, making a MUCH bigger mess. As it was, I set the carboy outside, just outside the visible door here — I usually start my ferments near the door for exactly this reason, I can aim the carboy outside if it really starts to shoot, which has only happened once so far.)
Then, stuff the opening in the rubber stopper where the airlock goes with your siphoning hose, and put the other end of the siphoning hose into a bucket of water, making sure the other end of the hose is always underwater. This duplicates the airlock, but gives the bubbles/foam space to blow off without making a mess or building pressure.
THOSE OF YOU MAKING MEAD WITH 2 QUARTS OF BERRIES, TAKE NOTE. THIS HOBBY CAN BE MESSY. :-D
UPDATE: Sept 20
I just racked this mead. It is 6% remaining alcohol potential, which means this brew is 13%ABV. The blueberry flavor really comes through strongly! Once this ages it will be fantastic. It’s a gorgeous dark color….
Thanks to all of you who have registered for the Beginning & Intermediate Lore And Craft Of Mead workshop coming up on July 28th. The workshop is over half-full as of now, so there are still a few spaces left! It is filling up quickly though so get your registration in as soon as possible.
The good folks at poppyswap.com recently asked for an interview on the intersection between fermentation and herbalism. I was only too happy to oblige. I really enjoyed doing this interview and I think it came out well. Head on over to check it out:
In modern herbalism, making tinctures with, say, 80 proof vodka is common, but we often forget that distilled alcohol has only been widely available for 400 or 500 years. Prior to this, herbalists had to make their own alcohol. Before distillation techniques became widely available, we had a â€œceilingâ€ in terms of alcohol content of about 18 to 20%, or about 40 proof. This is the percentage of alcohol we can get before there is too much alcohol present for the yeast to survive, which brings up an interesting point/metaphor â€” can you think of another organism besides yeast that gradually toxifies its environment with its waste products, until it can no longer survive?
. . .
I view mead as the highest alchemical expression of a given ecosystem. Honey is nearly ubiquitous to the planet, you have to go to the extreme latitudes before you can no longer find honey. I view honey as the lifeblood of an ecosystem, and when we use this precious substance as the sugar for fermentation we are creating beverages on the highest order of what the ecosystem has to offer.
. . .
If you havenâ€™t yet tried mead, I suggest you get some as soon as you can and share it with friends, preferably under the stars and around a fire, with a song or a poem. While there have been some very exciting developments in commercial meaderies over the past decade (meadmaking is undergoing a similar renaissance to what microbrewed beers underwent 2 decades ago), all of the best meads Iâ€™ve tried have been homebrewed, either by me or my tribe. Try to find a meadmaker near you, chances are they will be thrilled to share their mead and their enthusiasm with you.
The above are just three excerpts from the interview. I’m so excited to have been introduced to this very cool community of herbalists!