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MAKING MEAD

By on October 28, 2019 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
Jeff Hampton checks out an experimental Blueberry-Cherry mead wine — quite crisp on the palate — given to him by a brewing mentor. It’s a melomel (a fruit mead) and is an example of the one of many dozens of forms of mead out there. A typical show mead (straight honey) is typically light amber, similar to the color/clarity of apple cider vinegar.

One of mankind’s earliest alcoholic beverages is still popular with industrious beekeepers today

By Jeff Hampton

One of the perks of keeping bees (or having a local source of honey) is the opportunity to try new things with the honey and beeswax that might otherwise be cost prohibitive.

My father and I keep four hives and have found many uses for the honey we extract since we started in 2012. 

We’ve given wax to a relative for her skin creams, made lip balm, and melted it to “paint” on new frames for the beehives. The latter encourages the bees to make use of the new sections, as they are attracted to beeswax and will harvest it for re-use.

It is also said a half-teaspoon per day of local honey taken year-round will help reduce seasonal allergies, due to the tiny doses of local pollen found in the honey.

Another use for the honey is making mead — it is considered one of the oldest known intentionally alcoholic beverages in human history.

Our interest in mead was piqued when a friend named Chuck brought us samples of homemade mead in a variety of flavors. It was smooth, interesting, flavorful and intriguing. 

We accepted his challenge to try making some of our own. After a bit of research, the first two batches I attempted were a basic “show” mead — a simple traditional recipe — and a Bochet (burnt honey) variety. 

Be forewarned, this is not a hobby for those who need instant gratification. Honey takes a long time to ferment, and the entire process took about a year. 

The wait was worthwhile. They turned out so well, we were hooked.

A gallon batch is brewing, with the airlock allowing excess gasses to exit.

In their basic form, all meads are made from honey, water and yeast. They can be light and crisp or very sweet, and can include different strains of yeast, as well as spices, fruit or berries. 

Of the commercially available products, common varieties have specific names: Fruit yields Melomel, spices make Metheglin, grape juice or wine results in Pyment, apple cider produces Cyser, and Braggot contains malt or grain. 

Mead making can be traced as far back as 7,000 years on multiple continents. The ancient Greeks called it Ambrosia, or Nectar of the Gods. Like wine, mead can be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling, and dry, semi-sweet or sweet.

Part of the fun is experimenting with flavor combinations to suit your own palate. 

Chuck adds fascinating items such as red currant, jalapeno and chocolate. Our latest batch is lemon-pineapple. We’ll have to get back to you on how that turns out, but it shows great promise. 

If you sample a batch when it’s still “young” and don’t like it, we recommend putting it aside rather than throwing it out. 

Some varieties need extra time to develop great flavor, and in most cases, the longer it ages, the better it gets. You may love it in another six months to a year. 

Mead sampling can also serve as a fun social event. Friends can each bring a bottle or two to share (responsibly, of course) for sampling with appetizers or as a blind taste test. 

Making mead is a natural option for beekeepers with a steady supply of honey. 

One year, our local bee club was looking for fall season activities for its members, and they heard about our adventures. They asked me to share the information in a workshop-style presentation. 

That was the beginning of what has become an annual class available through the NCW Beekeepers Association. Instructional materials are provided for the class, and an optional kit is available so that attendees are able to make a gallon of their own mead at home.

Equipment, yeast and bottles or other containers are available anywhere brewing supplies are sold, such as Stan’s Merry Mart in Wenatchee. It takes about three pounds (roughly a quart) of honey to yield a gallon of mead. Flavor ingredients are limited only by your imagination. 

Recipes are a good idea when you’re starting out. 

We’ve only had one “failure,” an ancient orange standard mead that I did not follow exactly. I left out the allspice. Some people loved it, but I believe it definitely needed the allspice to balance the bitterness of the cloves. 

Beyond that, I’ve been very lucky and have not had any undrinkable meads, and no infection or spoilage to ruin the batch. 

If you’re not quite ready to try brewing at home, mead can be found in many places where wine is sold. It is becoming more and more popular, even appearing among the grocery store beverage selections. 

McGregor Farms Meadery in Wenatchee produces several carbonated varieties, and can often be found at local farmers’ markets. 

In case you’re interested, we use local Wenatchee Valley wildflower honey. Our first show mead was light and sweet, well-balanced and smooth. 

The honey for the Bochet was cooked over an open fire until it was hot enough to smoke. The flavor of the finished mead was bold and slightly smoky, with strong flavors of toasted marshmallow and caramel. It was very complex, with different levels of flavor that were revealed as you held it on your tongue. 

Whether you’re enjoying a 5th Century first cycle of the moon (honeymoon) with your new spouse, ready to try a new hobby, or simply looking for a fun new beverage to explore, give mead a try. 

Jeff Hampton is a lifelong East Wenatchee resident. In addition to beekeeping, he enjoys fishing, hunting and rock collecting. Jeff works in the Internet Technology industry, and has volunteered with Greater Wenatchee Arbor Day since he was 10, and as the Poultry Superintendent at the Chelan County Fair for many years. 

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