So its been a while since I’ve written on here, and I’m aware that a lot of the time its simple procrastination that keeps me from writing. Recently I went back to New Zealand for a trip and it was while I was away, that I realised how important it is for me to share the many things that are constantly fermenting in my head.
So while I was away on this trip, I started various cultures, as I do, and led a fermentation evening. It was there that I realised that the ferment people usually like best, is mead. Yes you heard right, mead! Honey wine, our most ancient fermented treasure.
Mead is really nothing more than water and honey left to do its thing. Very little hands on time and plenty of waiting time. Mead is a perfect ferment to start your fermenting journey with. Reject the cult of expertise and start experimenting, remembering that only two generations ago everybody knew how to do this stuff! Get all your senses involved, and start collecting a memory bank of skills to pass on to your kids. It’s also a great idea to do seasonal foraging for the herbs and fruit you’re wanting to add. Elderflower, rose, dandelion and nettle are seasonal just now, if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is!
There are many variations of this ferment and traditionally it was used as a medicinal carrier of herbs. In fact mead was our only source of alcohol for a very long time and it was revered as a sacred drink. Recent studies have found that mead, made from raw honey, has antibiotic properties, and because the honey has passed through the gastrointestinal system of bees, it contains yeast as well as beneficial bacteria from their system. There are so many health reasons to drink mead and it also tastes damn fine.
I like to flavour mine with herbs, and my current drinking brew contains rose, chamomile and lime flowers. You can make the mead strong by using a low dilution (1:4) or relatively light by diluting it more (1:16). I tend to use a dilution of 1 part honey and 5-6 parts water. I also add a quartered organic apple, core and all, as this imparts some more flavour and acidity. When I brew my mead, I usually only go for a short 7-10 day brew using an open top jar. This will ensure that the mead is still a bit sweet and only very low in alcohol, my kids love it that way. Once its finished brewing (you will have to taste it at this point to see if its ready) strain the mead through a cheese cloth and then bottle it in glass clip top bottles. You can drink it straight away or leave it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. This will slowly keep fermenting it, making it less sweet and more bubbly. If you want to properly fortify it, i.e. create more alcohol, you will have to put it into a glass demijohn for 2-4 weeks. Then bottle it and drink it straight away. If you want to bottle it and keep it for longer, like months or years, please ferment it for longer in the glass demijohn, otherwise the remaining sugar might build up too much pressure and explode your bottles.
So for some basic honey wine pleasure here is what you need
- 3 l open top glass vessel
- 300-500g raw honey
- 2.5 l filtered water
- any fruit or herbs ( I like to brew a strong tea from lavender, chamomile, linden flowers, rose )
Currently I am making a mead from rose, boysenberries and elderflower. All the flowers and fruit are immersed in the mead for 5 days or so, then I will strain them out and leave the ferment for another 5 days.
- In your glass jar mix the water and honey
- If your flavouring it with herbs make a strong tea and add as part of the water allowance (rose by itself is delicious as is a combination of lavender, linden flowers and chamomile) or add the fresh herbs straight to the ferment
- If you’re adding fruit, add them now (I always add a quartered apple but ripe summer berries or peaches etc are also delicious)
- With a spoon stir the ferment everyday, until it starts to bubble
- Keep monitoring and tasting it to see when its ready. It should have a much richer flavour profile than the original honey water, slightly acidic, less sweet and a little effervescent. You want to avoid a vinegar taste.
- After 5 days or so filter out the fruit and/or flowers if they were added and continue to brew the mead
- Once the brew is ready either continue fermentation in a glass demijohn (with an airlock) for another 2-4 weeks or drink green (green in this sense means a very young ferment with very little alcohol content, I expect less than 2%) as it is. I usually bottle my mead after the 10 day period in glass clip top bottles and leave it to mature in the fridge for another 1-2 weeks. This will make it more bubbly and less sweet as fermentation slowly continues.
So when it’s all said and done, mead is like the most beautiful girl at the party…everything about her is wonderful and intoxicating and you can’t take your eyes off her. Mead is the stuff of life, and as far as ferments go, mead is a wonderful mistress. It’s hard to let her go and she will have her way with you.
With love x