Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Give Mead a Break!

A number of years ago, I tried mead for the first time. I had remembered hearing about it in history classes -- mead being a honey-based alcoholic beverage much favored in ancient and medieval times -- and though I can generally take or leave beer or wine, this sounded pretty good to me.

The first bottle I enjoyed was shared with the fair Titania, an excellent culinary companion if ever there was one. We both agreed that a serving of mead, served warm in a pottery goblet, made for a sublime way to sit back and enjoy a chilly winter's evening. And following a later suggestion of hers, we discovered that pears simmered in mead (instead of wine) and spices and topped with a maple-yogurt sauce made an excellent dessert.

So it's no wonder that I appreciated mead from the get-go.

Last year I discovered that the next county harbors a meadery, a winery specializing in honey wines and mead, and I've tried repeatedly to find a time to get there with a friend and sample the meadery's finest. But since that hasn't yet occurred, it's a good thing I have a couple recipes for mead in my collection of cookbooks.

Once again, it's time for a kitchen experiment!

The recipe itself is fairly simple: combine honey and water (in about a 1:4 ratio) with spices, bring to a boil, and simmer. One of my recipes suggested adding crushed crabapples as the tannin in the apples reportedly enhances the flavor of the mead, and since I had a few on hand, I threw those in as well.

Once strained, the mead cools for a bit while you proof a bit of yeast in warm water. Add that yeast water to the mead and cover the container so that no air can enter but the gas produced in fermentation has some room to escape.

In serious winemaking, this part of the process would involve a carboy and airlock -- that is, a large glass jug and a curving glass cork-pipe contraption that allows fermentation gas to be released. I don't have these things, so I cobbled together a little fermentation set from what I had at hand: glass iced tea bottles (I always keep a stash at hand to reuse before recycling) and balloons. By not filling the bottles much more than half full and adding a balloon to cover the mouth of the bottle, I should have a pretty good setup for the fermentation process. And, according to the recipe, once the balloons deflate, it's a good sign that fermentation is done and I can strain and bottle the finished mead.

Yeah, it looks silly, I know. But for an experimental batch, I think it will work well.

The mead will take a little while to ferment, and I probably won't sample the brew until the holidays so that it has time to develop. (Yet another good reason to look forward to Christmas!)

And here's hoping I get my honey's worth from it!

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