In 2012, Chris and I had a small beehive in our back yard. I loved seeing the bees zoom off the platform and buzz around my garden. We were, at times, protective to a fault. We chased off wasps and carried a bee with a damaged wing onto the platform, only to realize that it was different from our bees and probably came from another hive. Our bees chased it away ruthlessly, poor little lady! Those tough little workers produced seven quarts of honey in the summer. It was lovely – creamy, spicy, and golden flecked with pollen and wax. I used it to sweeten espresso, in baked goods, smeared on toast, basically any way I could think of, but man, that was a lot of honey! Then, our friends gave us The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and I got a new idea of how to use it – mead!
Honey is an amazing substance. The honey you can buy in the store has been pasteurized to make it safe for human consumption. However, it kills off the delicate ecosystem within the honey. Unpasteurized honey is teaming with wild yeast, so much so that it seems like it should ferment and spoil in the hive. But, honey never spoils. Archeologists found 2000-year-old honey in Egyptian tombs and allegedly it still tasted good. This is because the water content of honey is too low to support fermentation. The yeast just sits dormant. To wake it up and allow it to do its thing, all you have to do is add water. Katz recommends mixing one part honey with four to six parts water, depending on how strong you want your mead. You can also add fruit, spices and other ingredients for flavors, which ferment right along with the honey. My favorite varieties that I’ve made so far are pomegranate and lemon with anise. As Sandor Katz suggests, we drank all of our mead young (unaged, sweet, very low alcohol content).
Recently, Chris and I received about a gallon and a half of raw honey from a Southern Alberta farm as a gift. Again, espresso, baked goods, toast and still so much honey. So, I threw together another batch of mead. Since mead ferments over time, it can be used as a start for a new batch, much like sourdough bread. I have three batches on the go, with a start from the previous batch in each. Yesterday, I sampled the oldest. It’s five weeks old and still bubbling vigorously. It’s also cloyingly sweet. I have to take my mead game up a notch – time to try aging! The initial phase of fermentation is vigorous enough as to choke out any other biological activity. However, once that phase is over, Acetobacter in the mead can begin producing acetic acid (vinegar! Yikes!). To control Acetobacter, the mead must be sealed in such a way that will allow for expansion – it sounds complicated, but basically it amounts topping the bottle with a balloon. The sealed mead can be aged for two to three months, at which point it should taste less like sugar-water and more like lite beer – effervescent, bready, lightly sweet and refreshing. It’s going to be the perfect drink for a summer barbecue. If you’re lucky, I might share!