I love just about everything about mead, from the brewing of it, to the subtle alchemy that turns it into a delightfully alcoholic beverage, to the drink itself, best enjoyed at room temperature, in front of a fire, with good friends, or curled up with an excellent book. About the only part of the mead process that I don’t enjoy is the hangover afterwards, but the less said about that the better – mead gives a vicious hangover, be warned! I think one of the most wonderful things about mead is its ability to heal heart and soul wounds, and general battle weariness – I almost always find that if I’m going through a rough patch and have a couple of cups of mead to unwind with, I feel better for it the following day, unlike wine or cider (assuming of course that I haven’t become totally inebriated, in which case I feel better after the hangover has gone!). Honey is a profoundly healing food in its own right, and mead or metheglin seem to deepen that ability. One of my personal idiosyncracies is that I don’t like to drink mead out of glasses – clay or pottery goblets are my preferred drinking vessel! This is partly because clay or pottery hold warmth better, and mead is infinitely more tasty served either at room temperature or warm (put it in a jug next to the fire, that’s the best way to do it!)
Mead and metheglin (mead with herbs and spices added) are both quite easy to brew at home, and given the number of requests I have had recently for recipes, hints and tips, I thought it was probably high time that I wrote a post with exactly that in it! Here is a rough recipe for a basic mead:
You will need:
800g honey for a dry mead
1kg honey for a medium mead
1.5kg honey for a sweet mead
4 and a half litres of spring or filtered water (or thereabouts, anyway)
Wine yeast of your choice – I find white or dessert wine yeasts work best for mead, but experiment and find your own preference!
A couple of demi johns
A couple of air locks and bungs
Sterilising solution (optional)
A suitable sized pan to mix and brew stuff up in.
Plus of course the usual kitchen sundries – wooden spoons and whatnot.
Put the water in the pan (a jam making pan works well for this, I find, as well as adding a delightful aspect of ‘double, double, toil and trouble’ to the proceedings!) and bring to a gentle simmer, then stir in the honey until it all dissolves. Put to one side and allow to cool to room temperature, while you sterilise the demi johns. Now, this is down to personal preference – I don’t always bother with sterilising fluids, using instead very hot but not boiling temperature water. You can either mix a half teaspoon of sterilising solution into the water in the demi john, give it a good shake up and leave it to sterilise, or fill it with very hot water and leave for a few minutes. Purists will probably be aghast at my dislike for sterilising solution – but the bottom line is this is how I do it. It isn’t how everyone does it, but this is my preferred method, and as it has yielded some very nice mead indeed thus far, I see no reason to change things. Plus, I am old fashioned – I just don’t like to add any chemicals to the proceedings if at all possible.
Once your honey and water mixture has cooled to room temperature, add the yeast (which you may have to start first by mixing it into a small amount of warm sugar water and leaving it for 20 minutes – read the packet, as it should give you full instructions.) Pour the must (as the liquid before it brews is often known as) into the demi johns and insert the bung and air lock. Leave in a reasonably cool place to ferment to a finish – cool is better than warm, as you don’t want the mead to ferment too fast. If this happens, half the flavour has gone by the time it is drinkable! I find mead can take anything from four weeks to a year to finish fermenting, and don’t be put off if it doesn’t look like it is fermenting much at first – I very nearly threw away five gallons of metheglin because I was sure it hadn’t brewed, when in fact it had and I now had five gallons of rather wonderful metheglin to drink as it had been sitting in the barrel for three years! (Note the word ‘had’!) Mead usually needs at least 6 months after it finishes fermenting to become drinkable – some are more forgiving than this, but as a general rule, the longer you can leave it after it finishes fermenting, the better the end product will be.
To the best of my knowledge (and I am far from expert on the subject) metheglin used to be made by medieval monks, and is basically mead with herbs and spices added to the water during the heating stage. I’ve made a variety of different metheglins, including the following:
Lemon Balm, Tangerine Sage, Lemon and Orange
Lemon Verbena, Lime and Lemon Balm
Cinnamon, Clove, Cardamom and Ginger
Cinnamon, Clove, Rosemary, Tarragon and fresh Ginger
Rose and Rose Geranium
You can use any of the fragrant herbs that you choose – just toss them into the water and boil it up, though you might want to cover the pan while it does so all the volatile oils don’t evaporate off! Once you have a good, strong tea, mix in the honey and proceed as with the original mead recipe.
Pyments and Melomels (aka mead with fruit and stuff in)
The above are fancy names for meads that have been made with the addition of fruit (pyments use apples, melomels use other fruit). I still call them mead, personally, because if I call them the fancier names, I get blank looks from people! The latest batch I started was autumn plum, blackberry, cardamom, star anise, fresh root ginger and cinnamon, so a bit of a cross between a mead and a metheglin, really! (Ok, metheglin is another word that not many people understand when I mention it, but its such a cool word!) If you want to add fruit to your mead or metheglin, there are two ways of doing it. You can either add the fruit juice – either from a carton or if you can be bothered, juice the fruit yourself and add that – or you can chop the fruit, toss it into the pan with the water and boil the whole lot up with the spices. I chose the latter method, partly because I could get a better feel of what spices would work with the fruit that way. Once you’ve boiled up the fruit, just add the honey and once again, you’re back to following the original recipe.
With regards to honey, you can use pretty much any supermarket honey, but if at all possible why not use locally produced honey? I much prefer to support the local economy wherever possible, the only drawback being that local honey is often quite a bit more expensive than the supermarket ‘own brand’ variety stuff – however this is for a very good reason, as local honey has a much better flavour and will yield a much better mead in the long run. If you know any bee keepers who don’t already make mead, why not see if you can buy your honey off them instead? Or even part trade – a discount on the honey in exchange for several bottles of the finished mead! I love bartering – so delightfully clannish and community centred, and a great way to build friendships!
I hope you’ve all enjoyed this rather extended blog post about a passion of mine – I’m always happy to answer any questions, so if you are stuck, get in touch!