I’ve been experimenting with home fermentation lately. I made fermented Ginger Beer, some homemade kimchi, and even some traditional Kvass (recipe to follow). I even made bread, which is apparently also fermented! But nothing had yet been of my favourite stripe of fermented foods: adult beverages.
With winter solstice drawing on and the days getting short, we decided to make a short mead. Mead is a traditional drink made from fermenting honey and water. It was an integral part of Valhalla (heaven) to Vikings, plays a role in the ancient Hindu Vedas, and has been known to humans for as many as 40,000 years. Claude Levi-Strauss famously argued that mead is the boundary between humans as natural and humans with civilisation. Only a little bit of human heritage to live up to!
We looked at a couple of recipes online and decided on a short mead with a three-week fermentation time. Most traditional meads take a few months to be ready for drinking, and can take many years to mature. We are not so picky.
Winter Solstice Short Mead
- 5 litres distilled water in plastic bottle
- 1.3 kg wild honey (we got ours delivered from Golden Honey Limited)
- 2.5 tablespoons of yeast (we used Allinson Dried Active Baking Yeast)
- 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1 party balloon
- 1 needle
- Place the honey in a sink filled with hot water for at least 15 minutes. This should help it soften. Alternatively, put it in the microwave for 30 intervals, stirring between. Be very careful when heating honey! It could result in a bad burn.
- Pour the water in the bottle into a pot for later. Pour the heated honey into the empty bottle a little at a time. We eventually resorted to a spoon and our fingers.
- Pour half the water back into the bottle. Now it’s time to aerate! Cap the bottle and shake it really hard for at least five minutes. The honey should dissolve and the mixture should be cloudy. Just for fun, do a giggly dance in the kitchen to make sure the bottle gets shaken up enough! This makes the pre-mead, known as ‘must.’
- Once the honey is dissolved pour more water back into the bottle, leaving a fair amount of headroom. Drink the rest or use it for cooking. Shake it up a little bit again, and add the nutmeg.
- Now it’s time to add the yeast. Put the dry yeast directly into the must. Cap it again and shake it up well. Now it’s time to set up the fermentation detector. Poke a small hole in the balloon so that it will not explode. Put it over the mouth of the bottle. Once fermentation begins the balloon will stand at attention!
- Put your mead into a dark, warmish place that is unlikely to be disturbed. Check on it every couple of days to make sure it hasn’t exploded, turned purple, or grown a yeast civilisation with advanced scientific research.
- In 7-10 days, the fermentation process will slow down. The balloon will sag and maybe even lay down. This is okay. Just let the yeasties do their business until it’s been at least three weeks.
- At this point, you can drink the mead! It will be cloudy and relatively low in alcohol percentage (ABV). Alternatively, you can ‘rack’ the mead into another bottle for secondary fermentation (which will make stronger) for unto a few months. You can put the mead into bottles and store it, and it will strengthen and get clearer with time.
- Congrats! You are a part of human alcoholic heritage!
Our mead is really sweet, not very effervescent, and fairly alcoholic. We have no fancy means of establishing it’s ABV, but it’s probably just a little bit stronger than beer (8-9%). The nutmeg doesn’t really come through, but it could be flavoured with other spices to make it even more Christmas-y.
Everything to make the mead cost less than £20 to buy. It’s cheap, easy, delicious, and alcoholic. Our next batch will be properly racked and double-fermented for summer, but it’s good to have a homemade brew to share for the holidays.