Adventures in Homebrewing
This summer and autumn have been full of brewing for me: brewing with friends, liqueur experiments, mead parties, and mead-making. My motto when it comes to alcohol has always been “drink to enjoy the taste, not to get drunk.” With many of my friends being beekeepers and home brewers, alcohol is a big part of my social life. Between me and Thicket, we’ve taught just about every mead maker in our local pagan community minus those who taught us.
Bitten by the mead bug from her first batch of pomegranate-blackberry mead this spring, my friend Nikiah had me back over after Midsummer and we started a batch of strawberry-vanilla mead made with local over-ripe strawberries, three fresh vanilla beans, and local wildflower honey. When it comes to fresh fruit, there’s no such thing as too many pounds per gallon – bring it on! It smelled so good in the primary fermentation – this one screams aphrodisiac. She had me back over to her century-old house a week later and we strained and racked it into a carboy and there is sits, getting fed more honey now and then.
FRUIT-INFUSED VODKA LIQUEURS
I ran out of bottled mead after the festivals this spring. This is sacrilege! No mead to drink and the eighteen gallons brewing in my kitchen were only teasing me, still bubbling away and not ready to be bottled and aged. It was time to remedy the situation with homemade liqueurs made from fresh fruit infused in vodka. For the raspberry and strawberry vodkas I infused 2 pints of berries per 1 litre of vodka and after 2 weeks strained them and added another 2 pints of fruit to infuse for another two weeks. For the lemon I used only the rinds of about 5 lemons. Double-infusion equals “oh my fucking god!” liqueur rather than “meh, it’s flavoured vodka”.
You can use rum or tequila instead of vodka or even brandy or whiskey if they’re your thing. I added about 2 tbsp of local fireweed honey per litre – other friends of mine make a simple syrup with sugar or use agave syrup to sweeten them. I put them in big 1 litre canning jars and shook them every day while they were infusing.
The second strain through a finer sieve and more cheesecloth into the bottle gets out any particulates which gives the liqueur a longer shelf life. Despite the alcohol content, these are better stored in the fridge due to using fresh fruit and will last up to a year. Left at room temperature they may last a few months before tasting a bit off.
Tasting was my favourite part. The double-infused raspberry and strawberry vodkas were incredible and didn’t last long when I brought them to Freyfest and to dinners at friends’ homes. The lemon wasn’t anything special as I needed to add more and more zest and a simple syrup to make it more like limoncello and I was too lazy. It’s good for mixing drinks though. I admit I put it back in a canning jar and added a couple pints of fresh local strawberries to it…
MUCH MEADY GOODNESS
My newly racked 18 gallons of mead. The blackcurrant and wild rose look ready to bottle. Clockwise from top left: kitchen sink fruit n’ berry mead, 15 herb and spice metheglin, blackcurrant melomel, wild rose petal rhodomel, rhodomel and metheglin loki, and four-mead loki. The wild rose I made last summer tastes beyond amazing – I think it’s been dead for a few months and has just been aging in the little one gallon carboy. I’m going to put it in small recycled ginger beer bottles and save it for special occasions and, of course, Beltuinn.
As a mead brewer it’s important to always have new batches going so when you finish drinking your previous batch you have one aging and another ready to bottle and more started to keep the cycle going. I didn’t do this last year which is why I’m out of ready-to-drink mead. With some of my meads ready to bottle soon, it was time to start new ones. Figs are in season and I can’t think of a more divine blending than figs and honey. I picked up a pound of black mission figs and a pound of brown Turkey figs to make one gallon of fig mead.
One gallon of fresh fig mead – primary fermentation with 2 lbs of fresh figs, a meyer lemon (zested and sliced), vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, brown sugar, and fireweed honey. Figs are a fairly mild flavour on their own hence the spices and brown sugar to replicate the dark, sticky-sugar taste of dried figs. I’m toying with adding another pound of fresh figs to the secondary fermentation to try to hold onto some of the aromatics which can be destroyed in the primary.
But I wasn’t done yet… I still had an empty three gallon carboy and a huge bag full of fragrant dried Douglas Fir tips I’d harvested from the mountain forest last winter.
Three gallons of Douglas Fir tip mead – primary fermentation with dried tips, a meyer lemon, a sliced knob of ginger, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, cloves, peppercorns, brown sugar, and fireweed honey. I’ll add more lemon into the secondary fermentation. Douglas fir tips smell/taste like herbal lemon-pepper – add spices and sweetness to that and you have a perfect midwinter delight of a mead. If I’m lucky, maybe it will be ready to drink in time for midwinter 2013.
I add the yeast packet to a mug of the mead mixture so the yeast is used to its fated environment right off the bat. This is where you find out if you have bad yeast or your recipe is too sweet or too acidic for the yeast to survive. The best yeast to use is mead or champagne yeast to get the preferred alcohol content of 15-20%.
Happy yeast colonies! Once happy, and the meads cooled to lukewarm, the yeast mixtures were dumped into the buckets of meady goodness. After a good stir to bring in oxygen, I cover the buckets with linen towels to keep out dust and fruit flies and then I dragged them into my bedroom since it’s the warmest room in my home which will keep the yeast happy. They bubble, talking to me while I dream. I will stir them when I wake up and go to bed for a week and then I will strain them and rack them into sterilized carboys to start the secondary fermentation.
If you want to make your own batch of mead find an additive-free recipe online and then follow the instructions in my Basic Mead Making PDF.
Interested in the magical applications and ritual crafting of alcohol? Check out my article: Drinking the Divine with Sabbat Wine