Friday, August 10, 2012

Making Mead

Having a do-it-yourself attitude has served me well. I prefer to cook for myself, grow my own garden, work on my bicycle, fix things around the home and pretty much every other hobby-istic task that modern society is leaning towards forgetting how to do. I also enjoy drinking alcohol socially and with dinner. My particular poison of choice is Irish or Scotch whiskey with wine coming in close second. Unfortunately distilling hard alcohol is illegal in Southern California. However, we are allowed to make up to 200 gallons of beer or wine for personal consumption. Mead is a wine made with honey as its primary base. There might be other fruits and spices added to accent the flavors, but the main ingredient is honey. I started my latest batch about 4 weeks ago, and I suspect it will take another 4 weeks to finish fermenting, and then 4 more weeks of aging. I am having a hard time waiting. If you decide that you want to make some for yourself, or you already make your own, a great resource for all things mead is the forum I recently wrote a process analysis paper for my English 340 class. This is it:

How to Make Mead
In America, it is legal to make up to 200 gallons of wine or beer at home for personal use. It is a wide-spread hobby that people from all walks of life take part in. Whether one cannot find a wine or beer suiting their particular taste, or one just wants a hobby to occupy their free time, home-brewing of wine and beer can be a rewarding, fun, and tasty pursuit. One of my favorite drinks to make is honey wine, which is also known as mead. In this paper I will discuss the materials necessary, the proper steps to take, and what mistakes to watch out for when making mead in the home.
                One will need to gather some essential materials first before the process is started. The following items will yield 1 gallon of mead:  1 gallon of distilled water in a plastic jug (room temperature), 1 gallon glass jug, 3 pounds of preferred honey, 1 bag of balloons that are big enough to stretch over the mouth of the plastic jug, one small sewing needle, 1 package of baking yeast, 1 box of raisins and 1 whole orange peel. The yeast that I have found to work best that is readily available at most grocery stores is Fleishmann’s yeast. For those that are not familiar with what yeast is, it is a fungus that feeds on sugars and converts them to alcohol. Once all of the supplies have been gathered, the process is ready to begin.
                The number one consideration to take in to account from the beginning is cleanliness. Since this process involves the use of microorganisms (the yeast), an environment will be created in which other harmful microbes can flourish as well. First make sure to sanitize the working space by washing it with a non-toxic cleanser like Simple Green. It helps to place the honey bottles in a warm water bath so the honey will pour easily and mix readily with the water. While the honey is warming in the bath, this time can be used to activate your yeast. Since the yeast comes in a dormant form, introducing it to the distilled water and a tablespoon of honey will wake it up and activate it. To do this, warm up a cup of distilled water to about 98 degrees Fahrenheit and add a tablespoon of honey. Make sure the water is not too hot, or it will kill off the yeast. Once the optimum temperature is achieved, add one tablespoon of yeast. This should be done in a separate bowl or measuring cup.
                Now it is time to prepare the must (the mixture of honey, water and nutrients). Although the yeast will eat the sugar in the honey, it still needs some more nutrients to operate at full capacity. This is where the raisins and orange peel come in. Make sure to pour out about a quarter of the distilled water jug. After the honey in the warm water bath has equalized temperatures with the water, pour the 3 pounds of honey in to the water jug. Next add 1/8 cup of raisins to the jug. Make sure as much of the white part of the orange peel as possible is removed and add it to the jug as well. The must is now ready to accept the yeast.
                The yeast has been activated while the must was being prepared. The next step is to carefully add the yeast to the must. Yeast functions semi-aerobically, which means it needs a small amount of oxygen to digest the sugars in the must. This can be achieved by aeration of the yeast/must mixture by capping and shaking the jug. The final step is to seal the jug. As the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, the byproduct is a gas called carbon dioxide. The objective when sealing the jug is to allow the carbon dioxide to escape but not let any outside contaminants back in to the jug. Take a needle and poke a few holes in the top of one of the balloons. Then remove the cap and seal the jug by fitting the balloon over the opening. The tiny holes in the balloon will open to release the carbon dioxide and close enough after to keep contaminants out. Place the jug in a dark and dry place. Check on it daily and record your observations. After about 2 months, or when the gas is no longer being produced, it will be ready for consumption. Filter out the dead yeast and nutrients and place in the 1 gallon glass jug. A way to improve the taste is let the mead age for an additional month or so, but this is not necessary.
                Once all the steps have been completed correctly, the mead will look clear and smell like sweet alcohol. If the mead looks cloudy, or smells sour or moldy, it is possible that it has been contaminated with other microorganisms. This is a cheap way to produce a beverage that is hard to find in normal stores. Mead-making can be a fun hobby and is a tradition within many cultures. It is legal to produce as long as it is not sold without a license from the government. It is always important to remember to enjoy alcohol responsibly and never, under any circumstances, drink mead and drive.

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