What do honey mead and Margaret Mead have in common?
They’re both interesting, but nothing you’d let near your lips.
Or so I thought until I honeyed up to a home-mead batch that I did after getting sick of passing out free honey to fair-weather friends at the end of every bee season. I have raised bees for years, and I’ve made wine and beer for even longer, but it never occurred to me to combine hobbies and cop a buzz from the buzz.
‘Mead In China’…
Turns out the stuff has a long history, too. Longer than wine, longer than beer, longer than dungarees: According to Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908 – 2009), another anthropologist who did not, as it happens, invent blue jeans but based on his age probably invented mead, considers the drink to be ‘the marker of the passage from nature to culture.’
Based on some vessels found in Northern China, Lévi-Strauss dates mead’s origin to around 7000 BC, but it may be even older than that—anyway, mead pops up with regularity in the Rigveda, Pliny’s Naturalis Historia, Beowulf and plenty of other books during which you fell asleep in high school.*
* Nonsequitur: Lévi-Strauss’s most important book (during which you also fell asleep), is called La Pensée Sauvage, translated into English either as ‘The Savage Mind’ or ‘Wild Pansies’.
…Back To Mead
Essentially, mead is fermented honey, with various flavorings like black currants, cinnamon, apples—even chili peppers—lending various names to the final product
There’s ‘braggot’ which contains hops, ‘morat’ made with mulberries, ‘mulsum’ which Muslims should no doubt avoid, lemony ‘sima’ from Finland and of course, there’s ‘iQhilika’ made by those cwazy click-language Xhosia from South Africa.
For mine, I mixed three parts water to one part honey, which gave me a starting Brix of of about 25° (I’m not sure how calibrated my brewing refractometer is, but it tasted right), then tossed in some yeast starter and tartaric acid to give it some bite . And BTW, if this ‘shop talk’ bores you, you probably should have stayed awake during How To Make Your Own Alcohol Out Of Things You Can Find Laying Around The House class. It was right after Honors French, and you can go back to sleep now.
To that, I added a pack of brewer’s yeast, poured it into a carboy, and let it rock. Rock indeed. So, while I spent a month trying to get through the first chapter of BEE-owulf , it mellowed and aged, and wound up being a lovely tipple.
Chris’s Mead spec sheet: Aged in stainless glass for 2 months – no oak, no malolactic, Bee pieces in the final product = 11 %. Aged in stainless steel tanksfor 2 months – no oak, no malolactic. Shows wonderful honey notes intermixed with traces of honey; palate shows honey and honey. The wine reveals nice a backbone of honey, followed by honey, honey and honey. Tastes like honey.
Okay, so it’s fermented honey.