I shared the last of my vanilla mead last month with friends who have educated palates, and they were all favorably impressed. Even though it was young, it wasn’t immature: tangible notes of vanilla, caramel, light floral and a taste of apricot.
Meads are notoriously slow to ferment, which is why I get the ball rolling by adding extra sugar. The last time I used this method, I ended up with a very drinkable beverage that was 12.3% Alcohol By Volume (ABV). Since I got universally positive feedback, I decided to super-size this next batch and experiment with some new flavors.
Research indicates that I’ve been using the wrong words this whole time. Vanilla mead isn’t technically mead, it’s methergin (mead, plus spices and flavorings). Also, adding sugar makes this short mead, or I suppose, short methergin. Now that I understand that mead is a global beverage, the potential flavor combinations are firing up my imagination.
The wort now burbling in my kitchen will make another batch of vanilla methergin, a ginger batch and a few bottles of melomel—mead made with fruit. My friend Peter Christy owns Far Leaves Tea, so I plan to infuse the melomel with his Blood Orange Tea to give a few bottles a very distinctive ruby color and flavor. I also have some champagne bottles I can use for the sparkling mead I’ll make!
OBVIOUSLY, IT ALL STARTS WITH THE MEAD
- 4 liters water
- 5.5 kg honey
- 25 g Premier Cuvée wine yeast
- 1.6 g Fermaid K yeast nutrient
- 400 g granulated sugar
- a few gallons of room-temperature filtered water
- 2 stock pots
- 1 airlock
For me, it’s easier to calculate Metric than Imperial; trying to remember the exact number of ounces in 3/4 of a gallon is a PITA.
GET REAL RAW HONEY
I obtained 12 pounds of honey via a friend who knows an apiarist outside Dallas. The beekeeper has no idea what we’re doing, so she should be surprised when she receives her bottles. Whatever you use, make sure it’s real raw honey that’s minimally processed. Expect to pay at least $10 per pound for quality bee secretions. My last batch used honey from Mendocino, so we’ll see if I can discern a difference with this batch.
The fermenter above is my primary; when the time comes to rack this batch, I’ll probably transfer it to individual bottles so I can start infusing with herbs and fruit.
LET’S GET IT STARTED
Add about 10 liters of filtered water to your fermenter.
Add about 4 liters of filtered water to each stock pot
Bring the stock pots to to a boil.
Turn off the heat and add all of the honey, dividing it evenly between both pots.
Boil the honey-water mixture for 5 minutes until the honey is dissolved, then turn off the heat.
Skim and discard the foam.
You don’t have to boil your honey, but the wild yeast will compete with the fancy French yeast you just paid for. Natural yeast can also leave a skunky note, so boiling is recommended.
Put one stock pot in an ice bath to bring the temp down into the 80 – 90°F range. Let the other stock pot cool on the stove.
Pour the honey wort from the stock pot in the ice bath into the fermenter with the filtered water. Mix.
Add all of the sugar to the fermenter and stir to dissolve.
Add six grams of Premier Cuvée yeast to the fermenter.
Stir with a large slotted spoon to break up any yeast clumps.
Cover the fermenter for 30 minutes and take a break.
JUMP START FERMENTATION
When you return, your fermenter should look something like this.
It should start foaming within several minutes. Don’t freak out if it’s not a little frothy; it’ll get there.
Add the other stock pot of honey wort that’s been cooling on the stove to the fermenter and stir some more. I like to add citric acid during this phase, so I added the juice of three limes.
Since I’m making short methegrin, I added 450g of sugar and stirred until dissolved. This jump-starts fermentation, but invest in a hydrometer. Before this goes into your wine cellar (or in a corner of the kitchen), you’ll need a hydrometer to tell you how much sugar is in solution; it tells how potent the end result should be.
This batch has a specific gravity of 1.084 and a Brix of 19.8, so the end result should be close to 11.3% ABV. I may boost it to 12% by adding more sugar at the end.
MY NOISY BREW
I have high confidence that this batch will turn out favorably. My only concern is the noise; the airlock on the fermenter is bubbling loud enough for me to hear it in my bedroom at night. It sounds like someone is in my hall closet popping bubble wrap maniacally.
I’ll keep testing hydrometer samples over the next several weeks. When the airlock gets quiet, that’s when I’ll add fruits, herbs and other seasonings. Watch this space for updates.
Walter Thompson lives in San Francisco, where he works as a marketing and community management consultant. When he’s not fermenting natural libations, he cooks, writes and takes instruction from a noisy tuxedo cat. He blogs at gaudypatter.wordpress.com and Tweets as @yourprotagonist; you can also follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/heywalterthompson)