Once you make one batch of mead you’ll be hooked. As you develop your base recipe, chances are the urge will strike to venture into other types of mead. There are a few different ways to do this. Like grape wine, mead ranges from dry to sweet. For a one-gallon batch like the starter recipe in this book, one and a half to two pounds of honey makes a light colored, dry mead; three pounds results in a semi-sweet mead; and three and a half to four pounds will produce a sweet mead. Pay attention to the strain of yeast you use. If you want a very dry mead, use Lalvin EC-1118 yeast. For semisweet and sweet meads, Lalvin 47 is your best choice. This yeast is user-friendly and imparts great flavor that complements the honey.
The type of honey used influences the flavor of mead. Traditional mead is best made using alfalfa, clover, acacia, or wildflower honey. Acacia honey will sweeten even the driest of meads and is a great option if you’re going crazy-dry. Just remember that crazy-dry means even more finicky yeast.
The Buzz About Honeybees
There’s been a lot of buzz about the honeybee population for years now. Why are people so interested, what are the facts, and why does it matter?
There are several types of bees—stinging and stingless—that make honey, but the one we’re most familiar with is the Western honeybee or apis mellifera (honey-bearing bee). It is the most common bee in the world, having originated in tropical eastern Africa, and present on every continent except Antarctica.
The bee population faces significant threats. In 2016 one third of the colonies in the US died. One major reason is the use of pesticides in large-scale commercial farming. This heralds risk to humans. One bite of every three we take is a result of bee pollination, which means, essentially, that one third of our food source is at risk right along with the bees. Despite this, humans continue to create significant threats to the bee population
Most mead takes a long time to make, which means that as you make batches throughout the year, you can play with the flavors through honey, yeast, and additions. Save your flavored meads for the right season and pair them to impress your friends. Mead is best after aging. Make batches throughout the year using fresh items that will pack the peak of flavor into each delicious gallon.
When it comes to types of mead, there are styles that are not flavored in the secondary, but from the start. I’ve broken down a few of the most popular here with seasonal suggestions.
Bochet is mead made with honey that is caramelized or burned before it is added to the water. The browned honey expresses several flavors including toffee, chocolate, and marshmallow. This is enjoyable on its own or flavored with spices and fruit. Try adding nutmeg, cinnamon, or orange peel for a delightful winter brew. One of the things I love most about making bochet is that the spices can be used multiple times. While you don’t need a cauldron to make it, the following recipe from the fourteenth century will give you a sense of the allure of this drink.
“BOUCHET. To make six sesters of bouchet, take six pints of fine sweet honey, and put it in a cauldron on the fire and boil it, and stir continually until it starts to grow, and you see that it is producing bubbles like small globules which burst, and as they burst emit a little smoke which is sort of dark: and then stir, and then add seven sixths of water and boil until it reduces to six sixths again, and keep stirring. And then put it in a tub to cool until it is just warm; and then strain it through a cloth bag, and then put it in a cask and add one chopine (half-litre) of beer-yeast, for it is this which makes it the most piquant, (and if you use bread yeast, however much you like the taste, the colour will be insipid), and cover it well and warmly to work. And if you want to make it very good, add an ounce of ginger, long pepper, grains of Paradise and cloves in equal amounts, except for the cloves of which there should be less, and put them in a cloth bag and throw in. And after two or three days, if the bouchet smells spicy enough and is strong enough, take out the spice-bag and squeeze it and put it in the next barrel you make. And thus you will be able to use these same spices three or four times.” —Le Menagier de Paris, France, 1393
Level: Intermediate to advanced
- Very large pot for boil (four- to five-gallon capacity)
- Primary and secondary fermentation vessels
- Plug with hole
- Plug with no hole
- Stirring spoon
- Goggles or other protective eyewear
- 1.4 gallons water
- 2–3 lbs honey (local, but cheap)
- 1 packet Lalvin EC-1118 or Lalvin D-47 yeast
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- 1/2 tsp yeast energizer
Flavor profile: toasted marshmallow, maple, slightly bitter, vanilla
Spices: allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla
- Pour one gallon of your brew water into the pot and mark where the water hits.
- Pour the water out.
- Pour the honey into the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Stir as the honey heats. It will bubble and expand considerably. Honey is extremely hot and volatile. Once the boil starts, turn down the heat so that it is boiling, but not splattering out of the pot.
- When the honey forms bubbles that spit steam when they burst, remove from heat. You can’t turn off the heat too early, so err on the side of caution as you start out.
- Put on gloves and goggles.
- Add water to the honey carefully—the mixture will splatter.
- Continue to boil until the must reduces to one gallon, as marked on your pot in Step 1.
- Pour into carboy, add yeast, and continue with base recipe
Entrée: Roasted duck with ginger glaze
Charcuterie Board: Brie, cheddar, apple, dried fruits, pancetta, prosciutto, pistachios
Dessert: Crème brûlée
More from The Joy of Brewing Cider, Mead, and Herbal Wine
Reprinted with permission from The Joy of Brewing Cider, Mead, and Herbal Wine: How to Craft Seasonal Fast-Brew Favorites at Home by Nancy Koziol and published by Skyhorse Publishing, 2018