A Crash Course in Making Wild Fermented Meads with Herbs and Fresh Fruit!
Mead is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from a base of honey and water. Sometimes referred to as honey wine, mead has been made and consumed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa for thousands of years. Mead can be made using strains of mead, beer or wine yeast or using wild yeasts. I have always made my mead with wild yeasts. Wild fermented mead is easy to make, yields great results and speaks to the purest in me – I can make a batch of mead using good water, raw local honey and herbs and plants from my garden and yard. Using wild yeasts, nothing was packaged, processed or shipped, a rare occasion in today’s culture – an occasion worth celebrating over a glass of mead!
Making mead is a simple, yet nuanced process. I have made mead many different ways over the years and this recipe is as simple as I could make it… a crash course, just to get you started and inspired!
4 cups raw honey
1 gallon water, well water or filtered water
4 cups of fresh fruit or herbs, unwashed
Large crock or food grade plastic bucket or other receptacle (2 or more gallons by volume)
1 – 2 gallon carboy or juice jug
Bottles for bottling (clean old beer bottles with bottle caps and caper, old sparkling wine bottles with corks and wire to wrap top with, old plastic or glass juice bottles with tight fitting lids)
Step 1: Combine water (must be untreated or filtered) and honey in a large crock or other receptacle and stir until honey is completely dissolved. Add fresh unwashed fruit or herbs. When using larger fruit like apples or stone fruit it is best to slice the fruit first before adding. Smaller berries can be added whole or smashed first. Most herbs to not need to be cut or chopped. It is important not to wash these ingredients, as they cary important wild yeasts that help initiate the fermentation process. Herbs and fruits are working here to both add flavor and introduce naturally occurring yeasts, so use herbs and fruits that are as fresh as possible, ideally just picked! Add herbs and fruit to the liquid and mix well. Plant or fruit material exposed to air may mold, so it can be helpful to put a plate or other weight on top of the mixture to submerge it beneath the liquid. Cover with a clean cloth over the container and tie a piece of twine over the cloth at the mouth of the container to keep fruit flies and other bugs out.
Step 2: Let this mixture sit at room temperature for 5 days. Each day, remove the cloth and weight and stir the mixture liquid. If any mold does form on top, remove it (and any fruit or herbs it has spoiled) with a clean spoon before stirring. Fermentation should begin within a day or two, this will cause the mixture to bubble!
Step 3: After 5 days, strain the fruit from the liquid and transfer the liquid to a carboy or old juice jug and put an air lock on top. An air lock will allow gas to escape from the carboy, without allowing any unwanted bacteria or yeasts into the mead. You can make your own airlock or purchase one from a local brewing store. If you do not have access to an airlock you can cover the opening of the container with a cloth and secure it with a piece of twine or a rubber band. The mead should sit in the carboy until the most active period of fermentation has ended, about 3 – 6 weeks depending on what wild yeast made it into your batch and the temperature, etc.
Step 4: After fermentation has subsided (less bubbles!) it is time to bottle your mead. It can be helpful to pour the liquid from the carboy gently, leaving any sediment behind at the bottom of the container (this is called racking). You can use fancy equipment to do this, or simply pour it gently from the carboy into another container. Pour mead into individual bottles with tight fitting lids and label with the date and contents. Store in a cool environment, open and drink as desired.
For more information on bottling mead, and other fermented beverages like beer and wine, see Northern Brewer.
The longer your bottled mead sits the clearer (less cloudy) the liquid will become. It will take a few weeks for carbonation to build up in the bottle. If you want a carbonated rather than a still mead you will need to use an air tight bottle. Bottle using old, clean and sterilized, beer bottles and cap the top with a bottle caper, this will keep carbonation inside the bottle. There are other good bottling options also, outside the scope of this crash course, see Northern Brewer link for more info.
If using a thin glass beer bottle, it is possible that carbonation inside the bottle can create enough pressure to break the bottle and cause a little explosion. To avoid this, store bottles in a cool place and open one after a week or two to test the carbonation level. If it fizzes like sparkling wine at a party, transfer the mead to the refrigerator to store (this will slow the fermentation process way down and drastically reduce carbonation build up) or drink right away! My experience has been that meads made without sugar added at bottling (a process called priming) do not explode, but I thought I should at least warn you of the possibility – I don’t actually want you to crash!
YOU CAN ALWAYS DRINK IT FRESH!
A.K.A. before bottling – if you want to drink the mead immediately you can enjoy it after straining the fruit out. Store it in bottles with tight fitting lids in the refrigerator. This can be great for special occasions!
My Favorite Meads
Tulsi (sometimes called holy or sacred basil)
Blueberry and Rose Geranium
Strawberry and Elderflower
Strawberry and Oregano
Persimmon and Apple
Elderberry and Ginger
The list goes on and on…be creative!