Just in case you had any doubts I would like to officially announce my return to the art of brewing home fermented ales and meads after a short hiatus. Having been occupied last year with growing market vegetables over at Heart’s Content Organic Farm I have decided to make it more of a priority this year to no longer suppress my habitual urge to produce the sorts of herbal medicinal beverages that you ought to expect from an amateur botanist and forager.
Even though I will once again be interning at the farm this coming season, I have decided to dedicate some leisure time every so often to crafting what I hope to be a wide assortment of different seasonal herb and fruit infused meads (honey wine). Herbal or spiced meads are known as Metheglin, which is a word that has very likely not passed through many lips since the Middle Ages. I vote to bring this word back into circulation, even though we definitely have enough words for things already.
For my first brew of 2016 I made a very basic mead which features dried yarrow blossoms (from the herbaceous perennial Achillea millefolium) to add flavour, aroma and bitterness. I collected this yarrow last summer and dried it specifically with the purpose of fermentation in mind. The plant that bore these blossoms is 2 years old and was grown from seed collected from a plant that was growing out of the gravel on the shoulder of a road.
A. millefolium is probably one of my favourite herbaceous plants of all. In addition to being highly ornamental, characteristic and widely adaptable, yarrow has perhaps one of the most extensive traditions of medicinal use among any north temperate plant. This herb possesses potent anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to being a wonderful digestive aid and helps dispel coughs, colds, headaches and control high blood pressure among many other benefits.
Mead is a relatively simple ferment and is also highly adaptable. Typically honey is added to water at a ratio of 1 pound per gallon at the very least (which will result in a 5% mead) all the way up to 2 or 3 pounds per gallon (10-15%). The higher the concentration of honey to water the stronger and sweeter your resulting mead will be. With this in mind I have also seen recipes that call for ‘1 quart of honey to 3 quarts of water’ which would probably produce a very strong and sweet mead.
1 Gallon Recipe:
– 1 gallon of water (divided into 2 1/2 gallon portions)
– 2 pounds wildflower honey
– 1 handful of dried yarrow blossoms
– 2.5 grams Champagne yeast
– 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient (encourages a vigorous and thorough fermentation)
– 1 pinch of Irish moss (allows sedimentation of particles in suspension)
1) bring 1/2 gallon of water to a boil.
2) In the mean time combine 2.5 grams of Champagne yeast and 1/2 tsp. yeast nutrient into 2 ounces of water. Stir until mixture dissolves and set aside.
3) Measure out all other ingredients.
4) Once the water is boiling, add yarrow blossoms. Promptly remove from heat and allow the herb to steep in the water for 15 minutes.
5) Add 2 pounds of wildflower honey to the 1/2 gallon of yarrow blossom tea once it is 160°F or less (so as not to kill the living microbes in the honey) and stir until completely dissolved.
6) Add the remaining 1/2 gallon of water to your ‘must’ (honey, herb and water mixture), stir to combine and then pour into your fermenter.
7) Once the must has reached 90°F add your Champagne yeast and yeast nutrient mixture as well as your Irish moss into your fermenter, cap and shake vigorously several times or for about 10-20 seconds.
8) Remove cap and replace with fitted airlock. Ferment until complete, approximately 16-26 days or as long as 4-6 weeks depending on the warmth of the room or until there is no action in the airlock.
9) Clean and prime (if carbonated metheglin is desired) your bottles and rack finished mead into them. Cap tightly. Age at least 2 weeks or for up to a year. The longer the better.