Fall is the time for homemade hooch.

blackberry melomel

In some ways, fall is my favorite season.  The bounty of the harvest.  Canning shelves full of canned tomatoes and applesauce (I don’t have a pressure canner and prefer to freeze my vegetables anyway, mostly green beans.  Not very post apocalyptic of me, but more convenient and nutritious).  Freezer full of goat, salmon, this year some venison, and chicken.  (We will get the pig in January when we have eaten down some of the red meat).  Fall leaves, cool crisp mornings and sunny afternoons, the first of the fall rains.  This weekend it poured in true Oregon winter storm style, which drove me to finally finish my first quilt ever (in the mail to my second step grandchild today!  And he is only 2 months old!  Snap!).  And bottle the hard cider that has been fermenting in a carboy on our fridge for, well, a year. It is in bottles now and will be ready to drink in 10 days.  I added a little honey to assist carbonation, assuming there is any live yeast left.  It may be flat.  But homemade cider is pretty hard to mess up, so I am sure it will still be delicious.

The Cyser (mead made with cider) and Melomel (mead made with fruit juice, in this case blackberry) that we made last year should now be well aged and drinkable.  I like mead because it is even harder to mess up than hard cider.  This is why it is one of man’s oldest known fermented beverages…. it is so easy to make.  I gave up brewing beer, because I live in Oregon, where every grocery store carries 20 varieties of beer far more delicious than even my most successful efforts could ever produce. I can brew hard cider as tasty as any you can buy.  But try to find some nice dry well aged Mead at the grocery store.  Ha!  Even the specialty beer stores typically only carry mead that has been resweetened with honey after fermenting, so cloyingly sweet and Bleagh!  Ptah.

The best mead I ever drank, and very well possibly the best alcohol I ever drank, was a 25 yr old bottle of mead that some old boy neighbor in Florida had given my Mother In Law, which she had kept in her hoard and moved 5 or 6 times, before gifting it to us.  It had been capped with a recycled diet Pepsi cap at some point in the early 80s, so we opened it on New Year’s Eve with some trepidation.  It was light, airy, a little floral, bubbly like champagne, and must have had a pretty high alcohol content.  By the time our neighbor Mike came over for dinner we were both lit up like the Christmas tree in the front window.  It is a super clean and cheerful buzz, too.  I can see how mead would take the cranky edge off of the bloodiest Viking, and brighten up the darkest of Norse winters when they were all stuck at home with the wenches and rugrats and unable to pillage at will.  I fully intend to hide a couple of bottles of the mead we have been aging in some dusty dim lit corner where I won’t find them for a decade or so.  That is by far the hardest part about mead making, is having the fortitude to sit on your hands and not drink it for a year.  Well, we have shown restraint (very un-Viking like) so it’s time to crack some open and see how it tastes.  I bet it would go great with cream of chanterelle mushroom soup.  It will be fun to brew a couple of gallons using our backyard honey, this being the first year we had enough honey to do so.

The winter rains and grey clouds of Oregon loom off the coast, and sometimes move in as early as September, though they typically don’t really settle in until election day in early November.  The dogs, chickens, honeybees, and humans are all restricted in their activities by the rain.  Everything that was green and fruitful turns brown and soggy.  The back yard turns into mud, which then gets tracked into the house.  Once again I find I lack the funds to spend a month in Baja in February (damn damn damn!).  Cod liver oil becomes a major component of my diet.  But all that rain drives us to be introspective, and me to start labor intensive creative projects (a second quilt?  More beehives? oil painting? ) and read up on my latest research project, and plan my garden for the spring.  And if I am feeling a little blue, a little overwhelmed by the lack of light, a little S.A.D.D., I will curl up by my gas psuedo-woodstove with a good book and the dogs at my feet, and at my elbow, a sparkling glass of homemade hooch.  Because you see, I can love winter too.

furry winter footwarmers

Here is a super simple mead recipe that I found online that I am going to try this fall.  It sounds delicious, though I will probably substitute a champagne yeast for the Fleischmann’s.  This should cheer me up a year from now.

  • 1 gallon of Spring Water
  • Yeast: Fleischmanns (1 packet)
  • 25 Raisins
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 1 whole orange, sliced and peels included
  • 1 pinch of allspice
  • 1 pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 1/2 pounds of clover honey (A pint of honey is typically about 1.5-2 pounds, as honey’s specific gravity is heavier than water.  Or, even easier, 1 cup=3/4-1 pound).  I will call this 2 pints.
  • 1 whole clove

Mix all the ingredients together (vigorously, you want to mix in a bunch of oxygen at this point) and let ferment.  You don’t necessarily need to heat the water up if you are using spring water or filtered water.  Well water can have minerals that change the flavor of your mead, so avoid using that.  You can rack the mead off of the fruit (racking means siphoning the mead or beer off of the yeast and other goo that collects at the bottom of your fermenter into a clean fermenter.  This helps prevent any ‘off flavors’) once the fermentation slows, or leave it on if you are a lazy hooch brewer like me (I love mead. So Easy.)  Bottle once the fermentation seems to have halted and the orange slices have sunk to the bottom of your fermenter (usually about a month, but can be longer).  Then hide it from yourself for a long time.  6 months minimum.  A year is better.

Fun mead tips:  Honey doesn’t quite have all the nutrients yeast needs to fully ferment, so a yeast nutritional supplement is usually added (which I believe consists of dead yeast) when brewing a straight mead.  If you don’t have a brewing specialty store near you, you can substitute a stout handful of raisins.  The longer you age mead, the better it gets.  It can be a very slow fermentation, and will often continue to ferment in the bottle, so make sure you use stout bottles and larger corks.  If you plan to add more sugar at bottling to make it truly sparkle, use champagne bottles and corks with cages.  The last time I bottled mead in beer bottles with caps it exploded in my friend’s kitchen cabinet.  Luckily we have been friends a long time, and he forgave me.  I also recommend brewing mead in one gallon batches.  That way you don’t have to find and wash so many dang wine bottles at once, or drop a month’s rent on local unpasteurized honey.  If you are making Melomel, it is a great way to get rid of all the old frozen berries that have been knocking around your freezer for one year too many (I would pasteurize those berries in a pan on the stove first, and then strain or at least run through a fine food mill to get rid of most of the seeds, although you will eventually siphon your mead off of any chunky stuff before bottling).  And of course, as with all brewing, sterilize everything that will come into contact with your mead!  I use a no-rinse oxidizing cleaner from the brewer supply (I still rinse) but household bleach will work well too.  Use 1 tablespoon per gallon of water, let everything sit for a few minutes, then rinse and air dry.

Mead brewed with cider is called Cyser.  Mead brewed with fruit juice is called Melomel.  Mead brewed with grape juice is called Pyment.  Mead with spices is Metheglin…ah, so fabulously medieval.

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