The Mead Hall: Episode 1

I’m very excited to be releasing this. It’s been in the works for quite a while. This is episode 1 of a new podcast called The Mead Hall. At present, I am envisioning 8 episodes per year. This site has the “brews” part of its name covered well, with many dozens of mead recipes up here now. However, the “bardic” part has been under-represented. This podcast will seek to put this back into balance.

My aim is to tell stories, as well as provide an outlet for some of my music — I am a musician and a recording engineer in addition to a mead enthusiast. So a podcast seemed a natural fit. With that, I introduce The Mead Hall: Episode 1.

The Origin of Mead

The first episode could be nothing but the story of of how Odin won mead for gods and men, from the Skáldskaparmál in the Prose Edda. There are several things that strike me about this story, one of which is that in Viking culture, a mere sip of the sacred mead is worth a season’s worth of work from nine laborers.

Thanks to Lorelei Greenwood-Jones for playing her harp while I had some microphones up. The rest of the music and the voiceover were me. Enjoy!

Imbolc 2013 Harvest

And another bountiful harvest:

Husk Cherry Mead (on left, the label is not very readable due to a printer malfunction), Elderberry Rosehip Mead, and Fox Pyment Single Mead
Husk Cherry Mead (on left, the label is not very readable due to a printer malfunction), Elderberry Rosehip Mead, and Fox Pyment Single Mead
30 bottles total
30 bottles total

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 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!

Chaibernation Mead

It’s been cold this week. Maine gets cold in the winter, but this past week has been like nothing I’ve seen in a long time, in terms of the number of cold days in a row. We haven’t seen 20 degrees Fahrenheit in nearly a week, and the lows have been in the negative double-digits.

Clearly it’s time to hibernate, and a hibernation mead is in order. This will be (for now) a plain mead, though I am definitely thinking about trying my first spiced mead. I began with basically the same recipe as Mad Trad D from the Mad Trad Trial: chaga and sumac with my basic mead recipe. This is a nice, rich decoction:

At the end of a 12-hour chaga decoction, I tossed a staghorn sumac drupe in for the last 15 minutes
At the end of a 12-hour chaga decoction, I tossed a staghorn sumac drupe in for the last 15 minutes

Once I cooled it down to blood temperature, I added enough honey to get to a 16% initial alcohol potential:

16% initial alcohol potential
16% initial alcohol potential

After I pitched the yeast, I was left with a beautiful brown must:

A plain mead.... for now.
A plain mead…. for now.

There will be more to this story…. spicing. Hmmm……

UPDATE: May 15, 2013

Much to my surprise, this mead has already mostly cleared. So I racked it today, as well as adding a spice packet to it. I thought a lot about what spices to add, and decided to emulate a chai spice (hence the modified name of Chaibernation Mead… heh heh). Specifically, I added a vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick, a few mace husks, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, and dried red peppercorns:

Clockwise from top left: vanilla bean, mace husk, cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, red peppercorns.
Clockwise from top left: vanilla bean, mace husk, cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, red peppercorns.

Then I chopped them all up:

spices chopped up with my Becker BK15
spices chopped up with my Becker BK15

And lastly, put them into a sealable teabag (sealed with an iron):

spice bag ironed shut.
spice bag ironed shut.

I also took a hydrometer reading after I racked it, it is presently 2.5% alcohol potential, which means this is a semisweet mead at 13.5% alcohol. With the spicing mixture it should be great:

Racked mead, with a spice packet floating at the top. Normally I rack into 1 gallon jugs, but all my jugs are full at the moment so I used a spare carboy.
Racked mead, with a spice packet floating at the top. Normally I rack into 1 gallon jugs, but all my jugs are full at the moment so I used a spare carboy.

Next step: check the flavor profile on this starting in a couple of days. I don’t want the spice to be overwhelming.

UPDATE: May 23

The spices have been steeping for a week, and wow! Delicious thus far, but I want to let it go another week to let the spice flavor grow a bit stronger and settle in. This is gonna be a good one!

UPDATE: May 31

Tasted it again tonight, and it is perfect! Ready for bottling, which I will hopefully accomplish this weekend. Wow, this is really good! Will get even better when it ages…..

Black & Cran Cyser

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:

Juice from 1qt of Cranberries and 1qt of Blackberries

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):

One batch (pictured) came in at 19% initial alcohol potential, for a sweet cyser. The other batch (not pictured) came in at 16%, which should yield a dry cyser.

Color on the two is quite similar, as you can see below. First is the dry Black & Cran cyser:

Dry Black & Cran Cyser!

And this is the sweet (mislabeled, it is 19% not 18%):

… and the sweet Black & Cran Mead (mislabeled, it is actually 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!

Samhain Harvest 2012

This season’s harvest is a beautiful one:

Cherry Chaga Ginseng, Blueberry Mullein, and Happy Strawberry Mead

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.

All 3 batches cleared nicely:

A bountiful harvest.

With a bonus closeup of the Blueberry Mead:

Blueberry Mead!

Fox Pyments: Two Are Better Than One

This year, my friends Arthur Haines and Nicole Leavitt from the Delta Institute of Natural History were kind enough to share their Fox Grapes with me and my wife. We split the grapes equally, Lisa Marie making jelly and me, of course, making grape mead, which is also called pyment. I thought about adding some herbs to this mead, but these grapes are so amazing I wanted to let them speak for themselves. Along the way, I had a bit of a mishap and had to readjust. Read on for details.

Fox Grapes (Vitis labrusca)

Fox grapes are native to North America’s east coast, and are one of the precursors to the famous Concord grape (which I used in last year’s Chaga Pyment). However, these Fox Grapes are larger than the feral Concord grapes we foraged last year:

wild Fox Grapes (Vitis labrusca)

After Lisa Marie made her grape jelly, I had about 3 pounds of stemmed grapes to work with:

about 3 pounds of stemmed, plucked Fox Grapes

Once they were stemmed and cleaned, we got out the juicer and I ended up with nearly a half gallon of grape juice:

3 pounds of grapes yielded nearly a half gallon of grape juice.

One thing to know when working with wild grapes is that they contain tartrate, which is a substance that is bitter and can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. If you eat more than a few wild grapes, you are likely to notice a slight burning or tingling sensation at the back of your tongue or the roof of your mouth; this is caused by the tartrate. The solution is to stick the grape juice in the refrigerator overnight, so the tartrate will tend to settle (in crystal form). Note that in mead, the tartrates will settle out during fermentation and end up as part of the sediment…. so I won’t use the sediment from this batch of mead for anything.

Oops! Too much honey!

I started with a strong chaga decoction, and poured the grape juice in with the chaga. However, when I added the honey, I had a mishap, and poured too much honey into the pot, giving me an off-the-chart alcohol potential of about 24%:

Oops! Too much honey, off the charts, nearly 24% alcohol potential.

So I had a decision to make. I could either have a VERY OBNOXIOUSLY sweet mead, or I could split this into 2 different batches. I had an open carboy so I chose the latter course, which of course will weaken the grape flavor a bit. Rather than make 2 more or less identical batches, I decided to make a Strong Fox Pyment with most of the grape juice, and a Weak Fox Pyment with about half of the grape juice. To accomplish this I poured off about a gallon of the oversweet must and set it aside:

About a gallon of the oversweet must poured off into another container, to be used for a 2nd batch of mead

Then, I used the remaining 2 gallons of oversweet must, added more water (and a bit more honey) to get me to a more reasonable alcohol potential of 17%:

Filled it back up to 3 gallons with spring water to get us to 17% alcohol potential. That’s more like it!

I pitched the yeast and poured it into the first carboy. Then I used the 1 gallon (or so) of the remaining oversweet must, put it into my stockpot, added more water and honey to get the Weak Fox Pyment to about 16% alcohol potential:

2nd batch, which will be weaker in grape flavor, up to 16% alcohol potential

I then pitched a second packet of yeast and added the must to another carboy, giving me to similar batches of pyment:

2 are better than one! The Strong Fox Pyment is on the left, with its deeper, richer color

When it’s all said and done, the Strong Fox Pyment should have a darker color and a stronger grape flavor than the Weak Fox Pyment, but they should be quite similar. Time will tell!

UPDATE, Jan 11

I racked the Weak Fox Pyment today, and it is a good dry-ish flavor at 2% remaining alcohol potential, which means it is 14% ABV. It is a lovely light color, crisp with a hint of grapes to it. Almost exactly what I was hoping for! The Strong Fox Pyment doesn’t seem quite ready to rack just yet.

UPDATE, March 31

Finally racked the Strong Fox Pyment. It too ended up at 2% remaining alcohol potential, making it 15% ABV. The color is much darker, and of course the grape flavor is stronger. Awesome!

Elderberry Rosehip Mead

Elderberries are one of my favorite berries to work with. 2010’s Elderberry Mead was one of my favorites that year (probably a close second behind the Wild Black Cherry Mead). Then in 2011 I made Elder Mead with Reishi and Rosehips accompanying the elderberries, and it was one of the most unique brews I’ve yet done — a serious power-pack for the immune system.

This year, I was able to get 2 quarts of beautiful elderberries from my friend David Homa, who runs Post Carbon Designs and is a Maine permaculture expert. I wanted to feature the Elderberries a bit more strongly this year, so I decided to use chaga rather than reishi due to reishi’s strong flavor profile. The rosehips went well with the elderberries, so I decided to dry a simpler Elderberry Rosehip mead.

I detailed many of the properties of both Elderberries and the Rosehips in the Elder Mead entry from 2011, so I won’t repeat that information here.

I started with a chaga decoction, this time made very strongly after simmering for about 20 hours. Then, I fished out the chunks of chaga so that I can re-use them for tea:

Strong chaga decoction

Then I turned off the heat, tossed in 2 handfuls of rose hips, let it steep for about 15 minutes, then put in the sink to cool off:

Chaga decoction with rosehip infusion cooling in the sink. Note the sunlight through the forest reflecting in the liquid…. :-)

Then, I juiced the 2 quarts of elderberries using our juicer. I was surprised at how much it yielded, about 1.25 quarts of juice:

This is a 1.7 quart container, so I figure this is at least 1.25 quarts of elderberry juice. Maybe 1.4 or so.

Mixed together with enough honey to get it up to 16% initial alcohol potential, it makes for a beautifully-colored wort, as usual with the elderberries:

Elderberries, rosehips, chaga, and honey make for a beautifully-colored must!

As always, I can’t wait to see how this turns out!

UPDATE: Nov 25

Just racked this mead to find a 2% remaining alcohol potential, which means it is 14% alcohol. It’s semisweet, and kind of young mead bitter, but should be excellent when it’s had a chance to age a bit.

Husk Cherry Mead

For a while now, I’ve been wondering what a tomato mead would be like. I’ve heard of basil being successful in mead also, so I’ve been imagining what some of these flavors might be in a mead. I haven’t quite had the guts to make a tomato mead though.

Until now.

Husk Cherry (Physalis pruinosa)

Husk Cherry (Physalis pruinosa) is a member of the Physalis family, so it is a nightshade and in the tomato family. P. pruinosa is also sometimes called “Strawberry Groundcherry,” “Cape Gooseberry,” and of course “Husk Cherries” (specifically the “Goldie variety” from the seed supplier). Physalis is most known for the husks that surround the fruit:

A single husk cherry with its husk partially removed. This is about the size of a small strawberry.

The husk cherries definitely have a tomato-ish vibe, but they aren’t nearly as tart or intense as a tomato. The flavor is sweeter and lighter, and the overtones are more like pineapple than tomato. Delicious!

Our CSA Farm (Deri Farm in North Yarmouth Maine) happened to have some extra husk cherries this year, so I grabbed up 2 quarts right away, and made sure the husks were all peeled away (thanks LM for the help!).

I begin this batch basically the same way as Mad Trad D, with a good, strong chaga decoction and a staghorn sumac drupe put it for the last 5 minutes of simmer:

Chaga & Staghorn Sumac tea

While the tea was cooling, I put the husk cherries into the high speed blender:

Husk cherries, peeled and about to be juiced

They were whizzed up and strained, and added to the cooled, strained tea:

Husk cherry juice mixed with chaga/sumac tea

Then, I added enough honey so that it would top off at about 16% alcohol (I’m envisioning a drier mead for this flavor):

16% initial alcohol potential.

The husk cherries didn’t color the final must too much, but it looks beautiful, a nice deep brown that will likely fade as we get into secondary fermentation:

Husk Cherry Mead!

I can’t wait to see how this comes out!

UPDATE: Nov 25

Just racked this mead, it’s beautifully gold in color, with 1% remaining alcohol potential, meaning this brew is 15% alcohol. Very nice flavor! It’s dry but you can definitely taste the husk cherries…..

Mead Day: Double Blueberry Mullein Mead

Today is Mead Day! Since 2002, the American Homebrewers Association has designated the first Saturday in August as such. There are many ways to celebrate Mead Day, but I decided to definitely do up a batch of mead. Blueberries are in season, so they are a natural choice.

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:

Chaga decoction, and black tea/mullein infusion


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:

Cooling the Tea

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:

Whizzing the last bit of blueberry goodness out of the VitaMix

I then added the tea, and enough honey to get us up to 19% initial alcohol potential, and mixed it up well:

Spring water, honey, blueberries, chaga, mullein, black tea mixed together. 19% alcohol potential

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:

Double Blueberry Mullein Mead-to-be. Happy Mead Day!

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….

In case of emergency….

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. :-)  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.


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….

Cherry Chaga Ginseng Mead

This past weekend was the Mead Workshop I hosted at my home. It went very well! However, I did do up a new batch of mead, and utterly forgot to take photographs of it until it was too late. Ah well. That said I’d like to document it here for posterity with as much info as I can provide.

I did a similar repeat to last year’s Cherry Red Ginseng Mead. I started with a chaga decoction, and added some more Red Ginseng Root (Panax ginseng) for the last hour of the decoction. I did not use any staghorn sumac this time, because I used a lot more chokecherries than I did last year, about a quart and a half. These are quite bitter so I didn’t worry about adding the tannins or the citric acid (the cherries also have some tartness to them).

With the decoction complete, I cooled the tea quickly in the sink, added enough honey to get to 18% alcohol potential, and put it up in the carboy. Let’s see how this one goes. :-)


I just racked the mead, and it is 6% residual alcohol potential. This means the mead is 12%ABV. It’s really good! Very similar to last year’s version, which I know will make some folks happy. :-)