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Make Mine a Mead

Apparently, it's the American Homebrewer's Association Mead Day. And as it's sweltering summertime out there, I can't think of a better day to highlight the pleasures of DIY beverages, not to mention the plight of the threatened honeybee.

Home-brewed mead
Brett's homebrew. Great tiled countertop, right? I helped install that. :)

Though oft dismissed as the stuff of Ren Fairs and the creative anachronism crowd, mead is actually not that difficult to do at home. And (bonus!) being a generous homebrewer is guaranteed to make you immediately popular in your neighborhood and totally valuable after the apocalypse.

My college buddy Brett, a talented photographer and writer, brews all kinds of delights in his enviably large basement in Susquehanna, PA.

And just what does he have down there? Rich molasses-y porters. Dark stouts. Light, spicy Belgian ales. And some new batches of crisp, effervescent mead.

A cold glass beside the sandbox
Nothin' like a cold glass of mead while you play in the sandbox...

While I was out there on a recent visit, he confessed that he's been lazy. Truthfully, he's really only interested in making mead as of late. Why? It's simple. Who wants to fuss with a lot in the summertime?

So here's to simplicity. And here's to the bees that make mead possible. Unfortunately, North America's bee populations are threatened by mysterious, deadly troubles that science is referring to as Colony Collapse Disorder.

A number of honey-loving businesses, from cosmetics company Burt's Bees to ice cream maker Häagen Daz have recently joined forces highlight this issue and throw some money at CCD research.

When honeybees die, we lose more than honey, beeswax products and mead. Bees are essential to agriculture and maintaining our food supply.

Meanwhile, I submit to you a spiced mead you can do at home, if you have the patience, the space and/or your housemates are forgiving. This mead is technically a methyglyn, which is a mead with spices, while a melomel is a mead with fruit.

Before starting, you'll need about 25-30 clean 12oz bottles, the same number of corks or caps and a capper, and primary and secondary fermentation buckets or a carboy that you've sanitized (bleach works well for this).
Double-Fermented Citrus Mead Makes about 2 1/2 gallons, (about 26 12oz bottles)

6 to 9 lb good quality honey
2 1/2 gallons water
1/8 oz freeze-dried wine, champagne or mead yeast
Peels from 4 oranges or lemons (no whites)
2" piece ginger, sliced
2 Tbsp coriander seeds

1. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat and mix in the honey, sliced ginger, citrus peel and coriander.

2. Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup of lukewarm water in a clean bowl with the yeast.

3. When the pot is cool, skim out the peel, spices and ginger and stir in the yeast mixture. Transfer the mixture to a clean, sterile fermentation bucket or a carboy.

4. Cap the bucket/carboy and let the mixture ferment for two to four weeks. The number of carbon dioxide bubbles emitted from the air lock should drop to one bubble every minute, indicating the first fermentation is almost complete.

5. When the bubbling activity subsides the yeast is dead. Carefully siphon the mead the secondary fermentation bucket and cap it (try not to get the lees at the bottom of the bucket). Age for one to four months.

6. Once the mead has cleared and matured, you can siphon it into sterilized bottles and cap them. Let the bottles sit for at least another week or two, then chill and serve.

Brett is quick to remind homebrewers that, like most alcoholic brews, mead improves with age. Even if you're not crazy about the first bottle you sample, you might really love the same brew a few months (or years!) later.

The Beer for Dummies guys offer this additional advice:
Note on equipment: Making mead requires essentially the same basic kit necessary to brew beer at home: primary and secondary plastic-bucket fermenters with air locks and spigots, transfer hosing, a bottle-filler tube, heavy bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, and a bottle brush and washer. You should be able to find these items for approximately $70 total (excluding the bottles) through a home-brewing supplier, such as The Home Brewery. Bottles cost from $6 to $20 per dozen, depending on style. You might instead buy a couple of cases of beer in returnable bottles, drink the beer, and — after sanitizing them! — reuse those bottles, for the cost of the deposit.


Cheers!

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8.02.2008

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