Tag Archives: honey

Blood-orange Melomel: serendipity in a glass

After I prepped my 6-gallon batch of metheglin last month, there was still plenty of honey stuck to the inside of the shipping container, a 1-gallon milk bottle. I inverted the bottle over a bowl and collected an additional 360 grams of honey. Good organic honey is at least $10/pound. Waste not, want not, nahmsaying.

I decided to brew a one-off. I filled a large stockpot halfway with water and brought it to a boil before adding:

  • 360 grams honey
  • 1 vanilla bean (scored lengthwise)
  • .5 g whole cloves
  • 3.5 g star anise pods
  • 5 g diced orange peel
  • 4 g cinnamon sticks
  • 30 g granulated sugar

I let it simmer for 15 minutes, then skimmed off the foam and let it cool before straining and pouring it into a sterilized 1/2 gallon bottle. (I set aside the vanilla bean, too.)

When the must was about body temp, I added:

  • 3 grams of Côte des Blancs yeast
  • 4 g cinnamon sticks
  • .5 g whole cloves
  • juice of three limes
  • soggy vanilla bean
  • 15 ml fresh grapefruit juice
  • .5 g pectic enzyme

I shook vigorously to combine the ingredients, topped it off with filtered water until there was an inch of headspace at the top, then topped it off with an airlock.

Eighteen days later, I used a hydrometer to measure the alcohol content: 9.4% ABV. To my palate, mead tastes best at 9-11%, so I racked the metheglin to remove the lees at the bottom and put the bottle in the fridge. (“They” say your houseplants love wine lees, but I already have a fruit-fly infestation from the ethanol fumes in my kitchen)

metheglin after racking

Lees left over after the metheglin’s first racking. I saved the vanilla bean.

My local natural foods store showcases the best produce by the front door, and when I walked in that morning to buy coffee, a gorgeous basket of blood oranges stopped me in my tracks. Back at home, I juiced three ripe ones and added:

  • 125 ml blood orange juice
  • 20 g granulated sugar
melomel after the first racking

Still a bit cloudy.

I let it sit for another day before removing the vanilla bean and racking again to remove sediment and fruit pulp.

First of all, the color’s beautiful, reminiscent of Ruby Red grapefruit. Thanks to the pectic enzyme, it’s relatively clear; in the bottle, it looks sort of like a rosé. I want to share this with friends, so I’m exercising great self-control. So far, I’ve only sipped two small glasses on its own; well-chilled, I get notes of honey, citrus, vanilla, and orange blossom with a little bit of anise and cinnamon on the finish.

blood orange melomel is the bomb

Blood-orange melomel; adding this specific juice was a flight of fancy that worked out extremely well.

blood orange melomel in a wine glass

Notes: honey, citrus, vanilla, apricot. I get a little bit of anise and cinnamon on the finish.

The revelation: I put 4 0z of melomel in a Stella Artois glass and topped it off with Session lager, creating the most flavorful shandy I’ve ever tasted. The crispness of the beer and the softness of the honey-botanical flavors are a sublime combination.

melomel shandy

Melomel and lager combine to create a shandy with honey and citrus notes.

Serendipity occurs when you find something you weren’t looking for; it’s one of my favorite words.

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Brewing Mead in Quantity: My New 6-gallon Fermenter

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 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% ABV. Since I got universally positive feedback, I decided to super-size this next batch and experiment with some new flavors.

Honey from Rose Garden Apiaries.

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 methergrin.” Now that I understand that mead is a global beverage, the potential flavor combinations are firing up my imagination.

The liquid 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 to make sparking mead!

Obviously, it all starts with the mead:

  • 4 liters water
  • 5.5 kg honey
  • 25 g Premier Premier Cuvée wine yeast
  • 1.6 g Fermaid K yeast nutrient
  • 400 g granulated sugar
  • a few gallons of room-temperature filtered water
  • an 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.

Twelve pounds of wild honey atop a 6.5 gallon fermenter.

Twelve pounds of Texas honey atop a 6.5 gallon fermenter.

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/pound for quality bee secretions. My last batch used honey from Mendocino, so we’ll see if I can discern a difference.

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 started:

First, add about 10 liters of filtered water to a very well-cleaned fermenter.

stirring honey into hot water for mead

Next, add about 4 liters of filtered water to each stock pot, bring the water to to a boil, then turn off the heat and divide the honey equally between both pots.

water and honey after boiling

After boiling the honey-water mixture for 5 minutes, turn off the heat, then 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 your pot in an ice bath to bring the temp down into the 80 – 90F range. Then, pour the concentrated wort into the fermenter with the filtered water and mix. Keep stirring and add all of the sugar to the fermenter.

When the sugar is dissolved, add six grams of Premier Cuvée and stir with a large slotted spoon to break up any clumps. Cover the container for 30 minutes and take a break. When you return, it should look something like this:

adding yeast to the mead wort in a fermenter

It should start foaming within several minutes.

Don’t freak out if it’s not a little frothy; it’ll get there. Add more filtered water, then add the rest of your honey wort to the container 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 methergrin, I added 450g of sugar. This jump-starts fermentation, but invest in a hydrometer before you start this project. 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 you how potent the end result should be. Add filtered water until the surface is an inch below the rim, then seal it up and put in your airlock.

This batch has a specific gravity of 1.084 and a Brix of 19.8, so the end result will be around 11.3% ABV. I may boost it to 12% by adding more sugar at the end.

Day one of the largest batch of mead I've taken on so far. Within hours, the yeast got to work, and the airlock started burbling.

I have high confidence that this batch will turn out favorably. My only concern is the noise; the airlock is bubbling loud enough for me to hear it in my bedroom at night. (It sounds like someone’s crouched in my hall closet, maniacally popping bubble wrap.)

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.

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