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November 12, 2013

Project Meadosaurus: Learning to Brew My Own Mead

Barbarian Home, Krieg It Yourself

me and my mead making chums

I wrote and published this article in Feb 2010. Unfortunately, during my first site migration it got deleted, so here it is again, with an update on our mead brew from early last year, which also got deleted. In my next post, I’ll be sharing some of my experiments with mead and fruit wine from the last couple of years.

Last weekend I spent the day with some of my fellow wenches learning to make mead. I’ve wanted to learn how to brew my own alcohol for a couple of years now, but hadn’t got around to focusing on learning how to do it. Us ladies decided it was time we learnt, so we might as well learn together.

Dave, mead-maker extroadinaire, who I met at the Taupo Joust, invited us out to his place to learn the ropes. We brought along 12kgs of raw honey, a home brew kit Amyface owned, and some meat for a BBQ. We were met by this gorgeous face:

jamie at the mead workshop

Jamie is Dave’s beuatiful, kind-hearted Irish Wolfhound. He’s a doll.

After a bit of chinwagging, we got straight into it. First, we dumped all the honey into this huge 100L pot. We then added enough hot water (from a kettle) to soften the honey (maybe 3-5L) and put it on the stove. It took us 45 minutes to bring the pot to the boil, and it then needed to go on a rolling boil for about 40 minutes. We had to check on it and scrape the black sludgy gunk which forms on the top (this is mostly wax residue and bee’s legs from the honey).

stirring mead

While we were waiting we: had a BBQ, swung on some swings, met a superstar cat (he’s in commercials and everything) and <> the brewing bucket and tap.

After the rolling boil was finished, we added enough cold, purified water (we could use tap water since the water comes from a tank, but usually you would need distilled water) to make up 30 litres. Now all we had to do was wait for this to get down to room temperature (22-24 degrees) before we could put the yeast in. If the mixture is too hot when you add the yeast, the heat kills the yeast and you have some very sweet honey-flavored water.

waiting for the mead to cool.

So we waited. And waited. And it transpired that the best thing we could do was leave the mead overnight and add the years in the morning. Dave showed us how to calculate the  alcohol percentage (you take an SG reading with a hyrdrometer before and after the yeast takes affect, and you use a special formula to work out the difference, which gives you your alcohol content.)

In three weeks we go back to “rack off” the mead into large glass carboys (you do this because otherwise the mead has a bit of a plasticky aftertaste). A few weeks or months after that, the mead will be ready to drink!

So far, I’m really enjoying the process. Working with yeast in alcohol is similar to working with bread, which I make several times a week. It’s fascinating and surprisingly easy. Currently we’re all working together to share costs (12 litres of honey will set you back about $120) but I think I’ll be getting my own brew kit soon and starting my own. I’m keen to experiment with other combinations – berry-flavored meads, as well as possibly some cider.

testing the SG rating of our mead.

Three months later, we’re back to bottle our brew. We’d left it long enough that the yeasts have completely done their job. All the sugars have converted to alcohol, and we have a smooth, sweet tasting mead that is sitting at about 15% potency. Whew!

bottling homebrew mead

Now all that was left was to bottle our golden juice. We used recycled wine bottles which we washed and sterilized, as well as an oak barrel Chris had brought along.

Most of this batch will be drunk at NAARMA (the weekend getaway for all the local re-enactment groups) but I was able to take a couple of bottles home to enjoy. Sweet!

me and my mead making chums

Have you ever tried to make your own alcohol? Or accidentally made your own alcohol? (our tomato sauce container turned alcoholic the other week – that’s how hot it is in Auckland at the moment!)

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