Meads, Metheglins, Sacks and other variations on a theme ...
Traditional mead is a natural ferment similar to a wine made with honey water and yeast. It is usually made using wild yeasts although it is possible to get cultured yeast from home brewing suppliers.
There are quite a few variations on this such as:
Braggot is mead made with malted grains
A Rhodomel is made with rose petals
A Pyment is made with grapes/grape juice
Cyser is made with apples
A melomel is made with fruit or berries
Casicumel is made with chillis and assorted peppers
Bochet is made with caramelized honey to give a deeper flavor
Hydromels are made with less honey
Sack is made with more honey
A metheglin is made with a spice or herb infusion rather than just plain water
And an acerglyn is made substituting maple syrup for the honey
Over a period of time the yeasts acclimatise to being fed with honey so if one varies the source of saccharides (from honey, to honey combined with fruit juice or to maple syrup) the yeast may need an adaptation period but then it gets into full swing again.
Mead is probably the oldest fermented alcoholic drink know to humans. It is not just a recreational drink though, it has been shown to have great health benefits which can be enhanced by including herbs, berries and spices.
Mead contains anti-oxidants and other compounds with health benfits from the honey used. Recent research has shown that chrysin, a flavonoid found in abundance in honey, has the ability to inhibit the proliferation of and induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells and also suppresses neuroinflammation.
Olofsson, a Swedish research scientist ...
has studied ‘“lactic acid bacteria,” or LABs—that live inside the honeybee’s crop, a special stomach devoted to nectar collection. These bacteria exude a mixture of antimicrobial compounds that target and kill pathogens. When honey is inoculated with LABs it can be used to treat chronic, antibiotic-resistant wounds in horses and has been shown to eliminate human pathogens, including the notoriously drug-resistant MSRA in vitro.
Unpasteurised wild honey mead contains all 13 LABs and wild yeasts that ferment mead spontaneously ( method below). Pasteurised and intensively produced honey does not contain all these bacteria. And commercial mead normally uses a strain of wine yeast rather than wild yeast and uses a sterilised honey and water mixture, eliminating the possibility of any of the wild yeast strains being present.
Well, we've seen in our research that the honey bees actually add great flora of lactic acid bacteria in honey so the mead, when produced, is actually fermented by these lactic acid bacteria together with wild yeasts and the lactic acid bacteria can really kill off all the dangerous pathogens that are even resistant against antibiotics. So our thinking is that the mead, when you consume the mead, these (antibacterial substances in) lactic acid bacteria in the drink can actually be transferred to your blood and help you when you are infected with dangerous bacteria or promote health, preventing infections. Olofsson
The Greeks called mead
“Nectar of the Gods”
Our starter mead recipe was adapted from Galloway Wild Foods website post:
Take a jar of unpasteurised honey (although we have used pasteurised local honey and organic honey to good effect too). A 454g jar of honey represents 22,700 bee trips (at 0.02g pollen per trip), so it is precious stuff indeed. Ideally use spring water or well water or mineral water. However, we have tended to use boiled and cooled tap water left to stand to evaporate the chlorine off.
Our tap water is fairly hard but the mead does not seem to mind. Mix the honey into about 5 times the volume of water (2.5 litres per jar)- easier to do if you warm the water to tepid. In a glass vessel. You can either use a larger Kilner jar or a pyrex bowl covered in a tea towel or muslin. At this dilution, you can expect a full fermentation cycle to yield a drink of 10-15% alcohol.
If you want a lower alcohol content you can stop the fermentation earlier and end up with an effervescent beverage. Stir or shake the mixture daily, preferably using a wooden spoon. After about 3 days a frothy head forms and a cloudy yeast deposit also forms.
I tend to cover in between stirring to keep things out and the yeasts still seem to colonise happily but you can leave the vessel open if you wish. If using a Kilner only cover with muslin since otherwise too much pressure builds up.
The fermentation process can take up to a week to establish at room temperature. A shorter fermentation yields a sweeter drink with more bubbles and less alcohol ( after a week or two) or you can leave it for 4-6 weeks for a drier and more alcoholic drink.
At that point, the mead can be syphoned into bottles for storage or racked off into a demijohn to clear before bottling.
Some people recommend ageing mead for up to 5 years but we have only managed to keep some for a year. When you syphon off the beverage you can retain the wild yeasts and use them to start new batches or to experiment with some of the related beverages such as metheglins, pyments and so forth. If you do not want to use it immediately it can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks.
If you are using the saved yeast culture make a solution of honey to fill a demijohn, or dissolve the honey and make up the volume with a herb tea or fruit juice. Add the yeast starter, put in an airlock and leave to ferment until completed (no more burps through the airlock). Rack off into a clean demijohn, leaving the yeast slug behind (which makes the new starter) and after a week or so bottle. For our first attempt at mead (or more properly metheglin, since mead is usually just made with honey whilst metheglins use herbal infusions and honey) we made a strong infusion of meadowsweet flowers and left it sitting overnight.
The next day we strained it off and added 1 part honey to 5 parts infusion in a large pyrex bowl. We covered the bowl with muslin and just stirred it every day. For the first 3 days it did not look too promising but on the 4th day, it started bubbling nicely. We decided just to leave it for 8 days as we were not interested in a high alcohol content. After 8 days we decanted it off into bottles which we put in the fridge maturing and found we had an excellent crop of starter yeast in the bottom of the bowl. Those who sampled it pronounced the flavour excellent. It has a nice effervescence and the taste is a lovely combination of meadowsweet and honey; a bit on the sweet side for me. It should be great medicine for the stomach and gut flora and be full of B vitamins as a live ferment.
Since the first experiment, we have made several more, including Lemon verbena and Elderberry and ginger using the yeast from the first batch. Our next run was with rosehips and for this one, we doubled the amount of honey which gave a sweeter batch and a higher alcohol content (about 15%) since we left it to ferment for about 6 weeks.
We have done a run of rose petal and cardamom combined, with the higher honey content; this was rather drier but the flavour has a nice balance to it. The resultant meads or metheglins are matured in the ‘cellar’, or rather a cool press in the lobby. For a metheglin, one can use either hot or cold infusion. I have only tried the hot method.
Hot and cold infusion methods explained:
The cold infusion method means just adding whatever herb you fancy to mead while it ferments. The hot infusion method requires making an infusion or decoction of your chosen plants. This is then left to cool, before mixing with the honey and fermenting as above. Always strain out any residual plant matter before bottling.
We have tried a wide range of plant infusions including meadowsweet, sweet cicely, angelica, rose petals and vanilla, rose petals alone, sour cherries, hibiscus leaves, bitter herb combination (burdock, dandelion root, gentian, elecampane, rosemary and cardamom), pine needles, elderberry, elderflower and hawthorn flowers, rosehips. And we have tried one with maple syrup rather than honey.
We have plans to try many more. We have found that the meads are wonderfully therapeutic- cherry mead for sleep, Angelica for digestion, bitter combo for toning the liver and gut-brain, rose for calming, rosehip or pine for coughs, elderberry for flu and we look forward to furthering explorations.
Some further information links: