Along with creating mustard and kraut-chi, making mead is the other fermenting that I have continued to do with gusto. Simply put, mead is water, honey, and yeast fermented into wine.
There are several apple trees in our garden, including one that gives me more apples than I can ever use each season. Because of this, most of my meads are cysers. A cyser is mead where the water is substituted with apple juice. I often add another fruit or fruits during the second fermentation that results in further shifting of the name to a cysermel. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…
My first exposure to mead was on a blessed little piece of heaven on earth in Pennsylvania. This sanctuary combines a spiritual home and an ecological greenscape. On this land, they make lovely meads. To find out more, visit Four Quarters Farm.
I loved what I tasted at the Farm, though I definitely preferred the semi-sweet to sweeter varieties. My friend John Vetromile shared just a hint of his knowledge about mead-making with me, but it settled deeply within the gotta-try-this-someday folds of my brain. I also remembered him noting that his all-time favorite creation included pluots (a cross between plums and apricots).
My adventures in brewing became more urgent as I reclaimed my garden and returned to using the fruits I had at hand. My first attempt was a hard cider. I researched on the internet, though not thoroughly enough, and started some cider. Mistakenly figuring it would take care of itself and get better with age, I left it to its own fermenting. A year later, at the urging of a new online brewing friend, I ventured down to take a peek. Much to my surprise, I’d created a marvelous apple cider vinegar with perfectly beautiful clarity.
My new friend, Barry Pruett, gently took my hand and guided me through my erroneous assumptions while fielding the thousand-and-one questions so that I could land where I actually wanted to be—in the land of mead. I have since successfully made a hopped pear-apple cider that I will repeat in the future. But I much prefer meads for their relaxed, mosey-along the pathway to perfection wandering quality. Ciders are much more time-sensitive animals… not a great fit for my live-in-the-present, don’t over-plan lifestyle.
Barry created a recipe for me (see the revised version below) by using a great tool called ibrewmaster. If you really get into the scientific aspects of brewing, you’ll truly appreciate all the specs they supply in their recipes.
I’ve streamlined the original recipe as passed along from Barry. For those interested in delving more deeply into the fantastic arena of mead making, you’ll likely want to acquaint yourself with measuring Original Gravity and Final Gravity to find your alcohol content. When creating fermented brews, sanitization is a key component. For the mead below, you will want either glass or food-grade plastic containers, airlocks, and siphoning equipment (at least). You will want to sanitize all of these pieces before you use them each time.
I’ve replicated this recipe more times that I can count, substituting many different fruits during the second fermentation. I absolutely adore playing and experimenting. It’s great fun to share the fruits of my labor with friends and relatives, and to figure out what meals go best with which brews. Here’s your shove to give it a try.
14 days @ 70.0 degrees Fahrenheit
60 days @ 68.0 degrees
• Honey 3.00 lbs (4 cups)
• 1 package Yeast (D47, 71S, or Cote des Blancs)
• 1.00 gal Apple Juice
• 1.00 oz Raisins, Golden
• 2.00 lb Blueberries
• 1.00 pt Peaches
Making the base Cyser
1. In a glass container, combine the honey with enough apple juice to bring the volume to one gallon.
2. Add the raisins, shake or stir vigorously to oxygenate and then add the yeast. Attach airlock, set in a dark place, and let it ferment completely.
3. Barry allows 14 days for first fermentation, but it might take longer… just keep an eye on it. You can informally do this by watching the bubbling. To actually know, you’ll need to check the specific gravity for cessation of fermentation.
Once primary fermentation is finished, we're going to age it on the fruit.
1. Thaw the blueberries and peaches, then give them a good smash. 2. Add the fruit to a new (sanitized) vessel and siphon your Cyser off the yeast and onto the fruit.
3. Don't stir or shake.
4. Attach the airlock and store protected from light for a minimum of 60 days. Over time the juice and essence of the fruit will transfer to the Cyser. You might get a second ferment from the fruit juice… that is ok. You should also get some color from the blueberry skins and tannins, which is awesome!
Meads take a long time to age out, and cysers take even longer because of the natural sulfurous compounds in apple juice. Be patient and taste test now and again to see how your Cyser is coming along. Take notes and even photos if you wish. Barry does. He loves having visual cues about his brews.
There is a chance that your finished product will be hazy due to pectin from the fruit. This is absolutely a cosmetic issue. If you want a crystal clear mead, you will need to add some pectic enzyme during the secondary to remove it — or patience and reracking.
The ABV (alcohol by volume) will be higher than a more usual 8.25 percent (for a mead) because of sugars present in the apple juice, so keep that in mind.
If you decide to bottle, I would recommend flip-top beer bottles. They are easy and bomb proof should your mead decide to carbonate in the bottle.
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