Oldest fermented drink in the world and all you need is alcohol yeast, honey, and patience! Actually, a lot of patience… waiting 6 agonizing weeks to uncork was the hardest part.
Mead is arguably the ancestor of all fermented drinks – the oldest evidence of mead was found in 6500 BC in China and our ancestors probably found out about mead when they came upon flooded beehives that had fermented with natural yeast in the air. Variations of mead were drank widely around the world, including Ethiopia, Mexico, and Asia. It was so important that they had mead halls in ancient Scandinavia and Germanic Europe. These were European longhouses with a large single room where people could gather and listen to the king. And also drink mead (because you don’t wanna do that drunk shit in your own hut!)
Unfortunately, mead faded out of popularity and it’s mostly associated with medieval or Viking period dramas now (most obvious ones that come to mind – Lord of the Rings or Beowulf). Mead has had a mild resurgence as the hobby child of microbreweries or Game of Throne enthusiasts, but is far from being served as your local beer. But now you can make your own, so you don’t have to wait for it to come to the gourmet section of your Trader Joe’s!
When I thought of mead while reading these historical drama books, I always imagined it would be in a beer stein and downed like water, but it’s actually a clear honey wine with 8% – 20% ABV (compared to the typical beer of 5% ABV), so don’t wash the front of your shirt with this stuff.
Honey, yeast, and water are all the ingredients you need. It’s important to get alcohol yeast – depending on how smooth you want your alcohol to taste, the type of yeast also matters. For mead, get Lalvin’s K1V-1116 or if you’re impatient, EC-1118 (which is what I have here because it’s faster, although it might give a brackish flavor to wine).
My friend has a beer making kit that he was kind enough to lend it in exchange for half of the alcohol. Make sure you properly sanitize everything with solution prior to brewing or it could interfere with the fermentation/flavor.
Boil water and honey. Add raisins for extra flavoring. Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite mead recipe actually had sweet briar, rosemary, bay leaves, and thyme (which sounds good in a Bath & Body Works lotion, but apparently tastes terrible in practice), so feel free to decide on what you’d want to add.
After the raisins are soft, press the juices of the swollen raisins into the boiling honey and water concoction. Strain the mixture into an airtight glass container.
As the yeast starts to ferment the liquid over the weeks, carbon dioxide will start to build up, so it’s important to have a way to let the gas out. This arrangement allows the gas to be pushed out through the tube into the water, but the water prevents oxygen from entering the container, which could ruin fermentation. Change the water once in a while to prevent dust from building up.
And now, you wait at least 6 weeks. Preferably 9 months, but ain’t nobody got time for that!
Verdict: I had some misgivings (like forgetting to submerge the gas tube for the whole 6 weeks and my friend’s history of having all his previous experiments explode in his beer making kit), but this was so good! Smooth and sweet like wine, but stronger and completely homemade.
I would rate this 5 flooded bee hives out of 5.
Time: 2 hours (fermentation time – at least 6 weeks)
Serves: 10 (or less, I don’t know – are you an alcoholic?)
Amount: 2 quarts
2 quarts of water
1 pint of honey
1/2 lb of white raisins
1 packet of Lalvin’s K1V-1116 or EC-1118 yeast
Let’s Make This!
- Pour 2 quarts of water in a pot and heat it. Mark the side of the pot at the water level as you’ll be boiling down to this.
- Add 1 pint of honey to the water and bring it gently to a boil. Skim off anything that rises to the surface.
- Put the raisins in a nylon straining bag or cheesecloth bag and add to the honey water. If you don’t have a bag, strain the raisins out later through a colander.
- When the raisins are swollen and soft, remove them from the boiling water and press the juices out of them. Add the juices into the boiling water.
- Continue to boil the batch down to the 2 quart level mark.
- Cool the liquid to room temperature and strain into the container.
- Let the mixture sit for at least six weeks. During this period, make sure there is a way to let out the carbon dioxide that forms in the container, by linking a tube to the container and submerging the other end of the tube in water.
- After 6 weeks or after the carbon dioxide has all been let out, remove the tube and replace with an airtight lid. AND THEN INSTAGRAM THAT SHIT #foodtimemachine
Sources: The Joy of Mead which adapts a 17th century recipe from a manuscript called “From the Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened” (which sounds like a line from “The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe”)
Pictures: The good ones – X.D.