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Honey Wine or My Foray into Mead

Honey BeesWay back when, I made mead. I think it was back with Leif Erickson or some guy by that name. Of course, back then we had rotary phones, the Internet existed as ARPANET (look it up), and I was on the cutting edge when it came to computer development. I also stumbled across a USENET post for how to make mead.

Mead-Making: The Early Days

Being the total geek that I am, I got involved in brewing mead and made an amazing 6 bottles of it. I seem to recall that I made a methglyn, that is, a spiced mead, from honey and a bunch of spices – the combination lost for eternity. I think cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger root. Possibly cloves and anise, but I really don’t remember. Sadly, I never continued on and my mead making equipment disappeared over the moves.

I love mead, so it was no surprise when people at cons found out, they started having me try their own brews. One fellow, I kid you not, made jalapeño mead. It was weird. Sweet and tasted of jalapeño without the heat. Not a favorite mead, but definitely interesting.

When I moved to Montana, the first thing I got to try was our honey out here. Seems we have premium honey because of the knapweed – an invasive species that beekeepers brought into Alberta for their hives. The damn stuff is everywhere in Western Montana, but it makes yummy honey.

What clinched it was that I joined a mead group on Facebook and asked questions. The folks were kind enough to recommend that I visit a local supplier and see if I could purchase my equipment without spending a lot.

A Learning Adventure

The equipment you need to make mead is pretty straightforward. You need a food grade plastic bucket for the primary fermentation, a secondary fermentation container (often a 1 gallon glass jug or a 5 gallon carboy), stoppers with airlocks, thermometer, hydrometer, and that’s it. For the mead, you need the right type of wine yeast, yeast nutrient, and maybe Camden tablets (which work to sterilize everything).

I was able to get my food grade buckets for $1 each at a bakery (some places just give them away). I had my glass thermometer from making cheese. I then trekked down to the local wine making shop. There, I was greeted by the shop owner.

Making a Mead Friend

In the past, way back when (cue the "when I was your age..." track), when I first made mead, very few people were doing that where I lived. Almost everyone made wine or beer, if they did make wine or beer at all. I was kind of embarrassed about telling her I was going to make mead. I think it's because most people looked at me funny because nobody heard of it, even in wine making stores.

Well, evidently mead is popular enough in Montana to talk about without feeling like a total geek. (Yes, I'm a geek, but when around muggles, I need to behave like one.) Anyway, the store's owner was delighted to get me started on my project. I now have a one-gallon secondary fermenter (glass jug), a gasket to put into my food grade bucket, a package of yeast for sweet mead, yeast nutrient, a stopper and airlock, a hydrometer, and Campden tablets. (She said I didn't need the Campden tablets or the hydrometer, but I got them anyway). I already have a thermometer that I use for cheesemaking. The cost for that came to about $20. The most expensive things were the hydrometer and the glass jug.

No Knapweed?

Anyway, she and I talked and I received some rather startling news. Unless I want to age my mead for 2-3 years, I shouldn’t use the honey here in Western Montana. See, we have knapweed, and while it makes for delicious eating honey, it imparts a really sharp taste to mead which won’t mellow out for two to three years. So, she actually recommended that I pick up honey at a cheap retailer and use that honey.

Damn, I was so hoping to use local honey. I still can, but alas, not for this first batch.

So I picked up five pounds of who-knows-where clover honey and started to work.

Visiting the Farmer’s Market

I still didn’t give up on the idea of making mead from local honey. Yes, I would have to wait for the mead to settle down, but if I have mead that works in the meantime, I figure I’m good. But for the mead maker in me, I knew having an apiary was out. As much as I would like an apiary, there are some things I feel is probably best left to the people who know what they are doing. The reason is simple. I’ve swelled up with different bug bites in the past and I really don’t want to deal with bee stings in case I actually have a reaction to them. So, courting bee stings is out. But it doesn’t mean I can’t have honey. So, I went to the farmers market to talk to some beekeepers.

What I found was that most beekeepers in the area sell their honey at premium prices. The one place that sells local honey at a sane price isn’t a farmer’s market, but a local natural grocery. I can get local honey there at a decent price.

Next Up: Mead Making!

Stay tune for my insane adventures into mead making.

Maggie Bonham is an award-winning author and publisher. Visit her blog Eating Wild Montana, and her website at Sky Warrior Books. You can visit her Facebook page at Sky Warrior Books and her Twitter page at MH_Bonham.

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