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Honey has a number of attractions for those who like a healthy alternative to refined sugar. It is filled to the brim with vitamins and minerals. Whether that factored into the use of honey to make one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world – mead – is debatable. Mead is, at its foundation, incredibly simple. It is just water and honey that is allowed to ferment.
However, that simplicity is no bar to the wonderful taste and enjoyment. The inhabitants of China, India, Greece and Egypt all enjoyed their mead. The question is can we make mead in the comfort of our own homes?
The answer is yes. However, there are other considerations to take into account. Mead is not one-dimensional; it can make use of various herbs and spices to provide a state experience that varies batch by batch. In actual fact, there are several varieties of Mead that are available on the shelf at your local liquor store, but making it at home is still your best bet when it comes to a quality product that matches your unique tastes.
Let’s go back to that popular image of Vikings drinking mead in their great halls in celebration of a marriage or an alliance or a religious holiday. The popular image is those Norse warriors drinking out of cups made of horn, and that appears to be true, but how did they make their mead?
The Vikings were, above all, traders. They may have raided other countries, but they were in search of scarce trade goods. However, during those travels, they came across herbs, spices and ingredients that would give their Mead that extra little bit of interest. The list of what they used to flavor drinks and foods is extensive. They would use raspberries, hawthorn berries, elderberries, cherries, cloudberries, crabapple, rose hips and rowan berries. Spices such as cumin, pepper and cardamom would have been used to flavor food and drink.
Just reviewing this extensive list gives one an idea of the sheer variety of diet and the flavors that could have been added to Mead.
Today, we are far luckier. Those spices and additives are freely available, usually in your local store or, perhaps more preferably, at your local farmers market where the fresh local ingredients can add some excitement to your home Mead brew experience.
Let’s get back to basics. How do you aim for your first batch of home-brewed Mead?
There are four ingredients that you are going to need: containers, water, yeast, and of course honey.
The containers are paramount. You’ll need a pot, a large plastic pail, and glass carboys. This next part is absolutely essential — you have to make sure that each piece of that equipment is free from any contamination. You can find specialized sanitizers meant for brewing at shops that will be perfect for home wine brewers. Failing that, go back to basics and use a mixture of bleach and water and make sure to rinse thoroughly. Any bacteria will ruin your batch.
Now the real stuff starts. Boil around 1.5 gallons of water in the pot, then add about 1.5 gallons of honey once the heat is off.
Here is where the magic of making your own Mead can happen! You can add citrus peels or herbs (some people love Juniper if you can get the berries fresh) or even fruit such as raspberries. The decision is entirely up to you. Sometimes pulp is wonderful – but strain before adding to the mixture. The alternative is to add your chosen ingredients to a muslin bag and suspend that in the cooling water.
Now, in that bucket, you need to add three gallons of water once it is cooled (make sure that you are using water with no chlorine). Then, when the mixtures reaches 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, add the yeast. Stir in until dissolved, then seal the top of that bucket.
Next, you simply have to wait. Make sure that you release that lid at regular intervals – you do not want semi-fermented Mead all over the place. Keep your Mead bucket in a cool, dark place. Mead is shy – and it will do better out of sight and out of mind seeing as the alcohol content will vary depending on the amount of time it is allowed to be by itself.
Your Mead should be ready in as little as two weeks but you can really up that alcohol content depending on how long you leave it alone. It is worth noting that you can add flavourants at any time during the brewing process.
The above (which was a rough guide) did not include equipment such as hosing and a carboy thermometer. These are essential to ensure that your first batch of Mead is perfect.
However, this process can be simplified by simply purchasing a Mead brewing kit. Companies like Hidden Legend Winery have long experience in making some of the best Mead in North America – and buying a mead brewing kit from them will give you everything you need to get started right away.
If you want perfect results and the perfect Mead to serve to friends and family, the best bet is to purchase a ready-made kit from experts in the production of Mead. However, it is a brewing process with a final product that will delight all those who make the effort to enjoy this history-laden libation.