19 May 2016

Mead - *hic* - yep, it's alcoholic and good for you!

Yes, Mead!  That apparently old style alcoholic drink that used to be sold by Merrydown in this country, but appears to have fallen off the map.  That elixir of life for Norsemen down the ages, who by all accounts had a great liking for the stuff (and who wouldn't!).  I gather, also, that it is a stalwart of many a Renaissance Fayre over the pond in the U.S. and perhaps even Canada.

I can remember my parents, way back in the seventies and one Christmas, producing a bottle of Merrydown Mead and being cock-a-hoop that they'd found some.  As I was knee-high to a grasshopper at the time, I didn't get to taste any but their happiness at having found it was testament to its popularity (at the time).

As time went on, it seems to have fallen by the wayside as so many good things often do. However, there does seem to be something of a resurgence going on - and in home brewing terms.  Now my hubby is a bit keen on dallying about with demijohns and hydrometers, but it was the news that Mead contains a significant number (by which I mean SHEDLOADS) of probiotics, that tipped the balance for us.  We're all into probiotics in this house as my use of Kefir (a fermented milk drink) and liking for Kombucha (have yet to try fermenting this one), along with the use of goat milk (unfermented, this time) seem to have made a significant difference to my irritable bowel syndrome.  Have a read of this piece here, for more information on that happy side of Mead.

Chicken in a Mead and mustard cream sauce
This being, primarily, a food blog, I think it is important to underline the very good work that our Mead has been doing in the cooking department.  My pork with parsnips and Mead was unbelievably good, the chicken in a Mead and mustard cream sauce was just out of this world and hubby has mounted an armed perimeter guard around the freezer since I made my rhubarb & mead semifreddo, with rhubarb & mead compote.  So, you see, Mead is not just for warming your cockles on a chilly night!

So as hubby is the Master Brewer in our house, I shall turn the remainder of this blog post - and the recipe of course - over to him.

There really is no magic involved in Mead, it is quite simply a combination of good quality honey, brewer's yeast and water, left to ferment.  The better the honey you use, the better the mead will be, so take care not to get any of the honey blends, as some will contain a sugar syrup.

You can flavour your Mead by adding raisins, spices such as cinnamon and cloves, or any number of other botanicals such as elderflowers, juniper berries and sweet herbs into the first demijohn. It is also possible to make a fruit Mead (called a melomel) by adding fruit (peaches, pineapple, oranges, rhubarb or whatever you want) into the second demijohn. (We haven't tried this one yet!).

As regards the yeast required, baking yeast just won't do, so put that back in the fridge before we go any further.  Brewers yeast (or wine making yeast) is what you want - as it is better at converting sugar to alcohol.  Champagne yeast is the very best and I found mine on Amazon.  Generally, one sachet of yeast is 5g although they can differ.  However 5g of yeast is the amount I use in this recipe.

You might be wondering what use the lemon juice is put to, but apparently it helps to wake the yeast up and kickstarts the fermentation process.  Sounds likely!

Yes, you do need some specialised equipment for the task, but really, not much of it!  Two 5 litre demijohns are a must, together with a length of silicone tubing, an airlock and bung, a large bottle brush for cleaning everything and a good selection of glass bottles to carry the final product.  I've found that Grolsch bottles - being swing-topped - are great.  It is an easy matter to obtain corks with which to seal wine bottles and these are great when storing the Mead for any length of time.  A hydrometer is useful if you want to check the alcohol content by any other means than "have I got a headache" when you wake up in the morning.

There are lots of ways to sterilise glass, the easiest of which is to use a sterilising solution. I use one called "Bruclense" which is easy to use and leaves no chemical residue once rinsed. There are other solutions which are sold to sterilise babies' bottles that do the same job. If you hate the idea of chemicals though, just wash the glass well, rinse thoroughly and then put into an oven at 110 degrees celcius for ten minutes.

Having assembled your small collection of equipment, you'll be raring to go - so here's the recipe.

MEAD   (makes approx. 4.5 litres)

Ingredients :

1,200 - 1,500g of runny honey (depending on how sweet you want the finished mead)
1 sachet (5g approx.) of brewing or wine yeast (I use champagne yeast)
1 lemon, juice only
5 litres of water.

Method :

In a saucepan, add the honey to 1 litre of the water and warm it up so that the honey dissolves.  Make sure not to let the mixture boil, just get it warm enough to be pourable.

Once dissolved, cover and leave to cool to room temperature before pouring it into a clean, sterilised 5 litre demijohn along with the lemon juice, the brewing yeast and then top the demijohn up with the remaining water, leaving a 5 cm air gap at the top.  An initial hydrometer reading can be taken at this stage if you're into that kind of thing.

Seal the demijohn with an airlock and bung and leave in a dark place for around 30 days to ferment.

Fermentation should, initially, be quite vigorous (more than one bloop per second) but after 30 days or so, the airlock should be bubbling only very slowly (a bloop every ten seconds or so).  This is time to carefully rack the mead into another clean sterilised demijohn, taking care to leave the sediment behind in the original one.  (Racking = decanting).  Racking can be a tricky procedure and I suggest that you visit YouTube to get a good sense of how it is done.   You can take the opportunity to top up with water to the full 5 litres, if you wish. Now is also the time to take a second hydrometer reading, which will give you an idea of the alcohol content at that moment.  Mine was 13.5%.

This is also the stage at which any botanicals or fruits can be added.  For my second batch of mead, I've used half a cinnamon stick and a few juniper berries but there are all manner of extra flavours that would work very well too.  Replace the airlock and bung and leave the whole thing for another 30 days to clear before racking into clean, sterilised bottles.

The mead can be drunk at this stage but the longer it is left in the bottles, the better it becomes. Six months is a good time to wait but it should keep for much longer than that if all of your equipment was sterilised and scrupulously clean.


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