Making a BHP mead

Home Forums General Discussion Making a BHP mead

This topic contains 28 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  JamesS 4 years, 3 months ago.

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  • #15978

    JamesS
    Participant

    After listening to the “drinks” podcast, I had the urge to make a mead as close to how the Anglo-Saxons did it.  As for my background, I've been a home brewer for six-seven years and have also made a few mead batches.  I think I can take the production from start to finish and make a good mead using old methods, with the exception of keeping it in a carboy (fermenter) and using a modern yeast out of the tube (instead of on a stick).My father keeps bees, so I can even start from the very beginning.That being said, is this interesting enough for any of you for me to keep a log and post it as I go, including pictures when I can?  And if so, I'm trying to decide between a sack mead (heavy and sweet, and higher in ABV than the standard dry mead) or a braggot (mead with grains).  I've made the first, but am nearly out and need more, but have also wanted to try the second.  (I've also previously made a melomel -- fruit mead -- with black and blue berries, a holiday mead with nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, and a Halloween mead made with pumpkin flavors.Let me know if any of you are interested in the process, and if so, which of the above you'd like to see made!

  • #19364

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    I'd be interested!  And either one suits me. :)

  • #19365

    anonymous
    Participant

    sounds like a good idea to me  :D :D

  • #19366

    Kiwwy
    Participant

    Great initiative. My vote would be on the sack mead!

  • #19367

    anonymous
    Participant

    Make all the meads!  ;D  I think it's a fun idea and I'd like to see the process in pictures (video from when you sample the final product, of course). 

  • #19368

    Blackwidow
    Participant

    Great idea!  Sack for me too, although they all sound excellent.  Thank you. 

  • #19369

    PaulOrton
    Participant

    A blackberry or other melomel sounds good, or a dry mead. I would be interested to follow whatever you plump for.

  • #19370

    Pat Holscher
    Participant

    Probably just me, but a dry mean or a braggot sounds by far the best.  The sack mead doesn't sound to appealing to me, but that might be because I'd generally prefer beer and the one time I've had mead (that some outfit was selling at the liquor store) it was way too sweet for my tastes. Which, of course, given that its made out of honey, makes sense.

  • #19371

    JamesS
    Participant

    Quick update: my father has been a bee keeper/apiarist for over three decades, so I went to visit yesterday and suited up to get fresh honey straight from the bees.  I have several pictures, so in the next few days I'll post them along with text describing what we did.So far the votes seem fairly close as to the style, so unless an overwhelming winner comes through soon, I'm going to probably go with a sack mead, as it's much easier than the braggot and melomel, so it'll be easy for anyone to try it at home.  If this was generally interesting, I'll be happy to post my other recipes and methods (if Jamie is okay with it, since after this initial time around it really won't be history anymore; it'll be home brewing).

  • #19372

    JamesS
    Participant

    Picture Time!  Here are a few of my father and me before getting into the hives.  Fun story — I used to help him out when I was a young man, too.  We had two suits and the large bee helmets with the brims.  One of them had a couple of small holes, which I always got to wear.  The cool part is that I got so used to bees getting into the helmet that there is almost nothing about a swarm that bothers me anymore.  These new generation suits are really nice, but I feel more like a spaceman than a beekeeper in them.As we were getting on the suits, my dad went over some of the other gadgets that are used.  They include locks to keep all bees out of areas and screens that will keep queen bees out, but the worker bees in.  This allows honey to be made without getting eggs laid in it by the much larger queen (the screen keeps her bulk out).Although the material is quite a bit nicer, similar thick clothing and netted hats have been worn for centuries.  Although from what I understand, the true bee master doesn't need anything.  I'll keep trusting my jumpsuit, though.

  • #19373

    JamesS
    Participant

    Here we are getting into the hives.  At different points in time, my father has had up to six hives, but he is down to two right now.  Part of it is just age, but another part is that he's lost a couple recently because of the colony collapses that are occurring.  Each of the hives has four supers (the boxes), of which he lets the bottom two fill up for the colonies and allows queen access, and puts the queen screen in the middle so he can take the egg-free honey out of the top two.Since I always got to smoke the bees as a young man, I offered to smoke them this time, too.  My dad says it relaxes them.  I asked if "relaxes"  equals "disorients" and he finally admitted that was probably the case.  I'm not entirely sure he knows how the smoke helps get the honey out, just that he knows it works.  Flaming burlap had a distinct odor, too, that brought back many memories of being stung.  I made my daughter (who took the pictures) take a whiff just to share the scent with her.  I'm not sure she enjoyed it, but I figured it build character.After "relaxing" the bees by smoking them, we got into the top two supers and took out a few frames to see how much honey there was.  Many of the frames were not full, and out of the ones that were, most of those were not capped.  So we didn't get much honey, but I did get enough to do a batch of mead.For those of you expecting the old fasioned hives that look like circles built on top of one another, getting smaller towards the top, I'm sorry.  This way is more modern, but much easier to deal with!

  • #19374

    JamesS
    Participant

    And here's the honey.  The one on the left is honey with comb.  We use a crank machine to get the honey out of the comb, so some of it is still left in the frame to help the bees.  We kept a bit of the comb, though, this time, so I could “squish it down” like Jamie says in the podcast.  Usually I would only use straight honey (like the three pounds in the right hand bottle), but I wanted to make it as authentic to the podcast as possible while not being too rough on the bees and also while making a good product.There are no pictures of the "honey centrifuge" as it's a horribly sticky process and I didn't want my camera (aka phone) getting gummed up.I'll try to make the mead tomorrow, but with a family and all, I can't make any promises. Now all this talk of mead has made me very thirsty, so I'm going to take a visit to my beer cellar (also known as a closet) and grab a small bottle of mead.  Slainte!

  • #19375

    JamesS
    Participant

    I'm going to must up the mead today.  Any suggestions on how to present the process?  Is what I did above good enough or would anyone here prefer something else?

  • #19376

    JamesS
    Participant

    Okay!  Since I didn't see any responses regarding formatting, I'll just keep with the same style as I did the honey gathering portion.  There will be one difference: since I'm trying to keep this as close to Jamie's podcast about Dark Ages Drinks, I'm going to copy and paste bits of his rough transcript sections as I go.  So first up is:But lets imagine you can’t afford Beer but you still want to get your drink on.  What else was there?  Well, the next rung down was Mead.  And oh boy is this drink old.  In fact, the word for Mead appears to be derivative from the sanskrit word for honey.  It's that old.  It was also something of a heroic drink.  Mead was the drink used to repay warriors and it was also the drink of choice for many royal feasts.Very true, as Jamie has pointed out in several podcasts.  I mostly wanted to add this part in, because one of my very favorite authors uses it.  In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the main character agrees to work for Mr. Wednesday (any guesses whom that may be?) and they seal the deal with mead.  One of my favorite books.Next is:So what is mead?  Well, it’s fermented honey and you didn't need a lot of equipment to make it, especially when compared with ale or cider.  And because it was so easy to make, it was the common drink of the masses.This is, from a personal stand point, even more true.  From someone who has home brewed beer (dozens), mead (several), cider (a few), and wine (once), I can state that mead is by far the easiest to make.  All you need is water, honey, and yeast.  Like all brewing, each one of them can affect the flavor.If you're wondering why different regions of Britian produced different types of ale a few hundred years ago, it was because of the water.  Certain salts did better with pale ales and other regions with different salts and such made better porters.  This is a huge topic, so rather then soapbox it to death, I'll leave it at that.Yeast also can change the flavor profile.  Yeasts can give butterscotch, apple/pear, peppery, and oh so many other flavors.  Yeasts are now made to handle specific types of drinks (beer, wine, mead), so I did choose a nice sweet mead yeast.  (You can also get dry mead yeast, but as Jamie points out, the Anglo Saxons loved their sweet drinks, so I went with the heavier and sweeter sack mead.  Later on, I'll explain how to make a dry mead.)  Also, I chose to not use a branch from outside.  Just like Jamie's beer experiment, I did not want to waste my time making some nasty undrinkable mead.  In consideration, though, I did take some of the yeast and dipped my wooden stirring spoon in to it for a bit at the end, just for the historical sake of it.Different types of honey can produce different flavors.  For example, I've always wanted to make a mead using orange tree honey, but since I live in the US Midwest, I can't find it easily.  So I've always made my meads with clover honey.  White clover specifically.  My dad is planting some buckwheat and yellow clover this fall for his hives' winter crops, so I'm going to see if I can finagle some of that.And that's it for the main ingredients!  As Jamie points out:Was it easy?  Yes.But also:Was it sanitary?  No.Here, too, I diverged from history.  I refuse to spend the time and money on something that will end up tasting like rabid monkey sweat because I didn't disinfect it.  So I did use some sanitizing agent to make sure everything was clean and would not produce off flavors.  Honestly, making a sweet/heavy/sack mead would help cover some off flavors in any case, and even back in the day (fifteen hundred years ago), the fermentation process would've killed off "creeping things," but again, I want it to taste as good as possible.Another modern bit is to use some yeast energizing agent (pictured below with the sanitizing agent).  For those who want to make their own mead, I highly recommend it.  It helps the yeast get the most out of the honey's sugars as it can.  This time, though, I did NOT use it, as I am trying to be a bit more historically accurate.  I know... woohoo, one modern bit you're not using!  The thing is, besides the stove and stainless steal, the materials and methods really aren't that much different.  I was just too lazy and stressed about taste to do this out back in my campfire area.  ;DSince I can only upload four pictures at a time, I'll leave it here where the text matches the pictures.  I'll work on the rest later this afternoon once I get back from my daughter's physical (so she can play volleyball this fall).The pictures show the basic ingredients, the two modern bits (one I'm using and one I'm not), and the equipment.  Although the siphon is relatively modern, I could've poured the mead straight into the carboy (big glass jut that it'll ferment in).  However, I need to strain the comb out of the honey so I'm using it as my strainer.  So ha!  Rather than buy a strainer for this one thing, I decided to use stuff I already had, just like they would've in the olden times.  ;)

  • #19377

    JamesS
    Participant

    Jamie's description of mead is just about done.Next is:According to Tickner Edwardes, to make Mead the people would crush honeycombs and steep them in water. This was a pain!  I typically use only honey and not honeycomb, but I wanted to make it more historically accurate, so about a third of my honey material was from the comb.  It's not hard to crush, but it does get everywhere!  Even taking a couple of simple pictures got honey all over my phone, from my hands and just from being all over.  I very much recommend that, unless you're having an Anglo Saxon mead making party, you just get honey without the comb.(Note: I'll give a more recipe oriented set of directions later.)While I was smashing the comb, I had the water on the stove heating up.  Once the water came to a nice roiling boil, I took it off the burner and added the smashed up honey comb and the honey.  All you have to do is stir in the honey until it's combined nicely with the hot water.  Since we're using modern plastic or glass containers, a way to get all of the honey out is to ladle a bit of the hot honey water into the container, close it up, and shake, then pour back into the pot.  Be careful to only use a little hot water, though, and don't close the container completely, as the heat will cause a bit of a vacuum, and when you open the bottle, you'll get a rush of air and a pop that can cause hot honey water to splash over you and the stove if you aren't careful.  I was told glass can also explode; I haven't seen it, but I don't want to,either.Modern addition: stir in the yeast energizer as soon as the water is taken off the burner before you add the honey.Then strain the liquid and let it stand. Not entirely accurate.  You have to let the must cool down before adding the yeast.  (Must is to mead as wort is to beer.)  Let the honey-water mixture cool down to around 75 degrees (F) before adding the yeast.  If it's too hot, it'll mess it up and if it's too cool you won't get any activity.  But yes, once it cools, you can strain, add the yeast (by pouring it in or using a nearby branch; I liked my compromise of using an appropriate modern yeast, where I soaked a sanitized wooden spoon for a bit, and then pitched the yeast and stirred with said spoon), and then let it stand.Straining the comb out was also a pain in the backside.  I probably should have bought a strainer, as getting the comb out of my syphon took a bit of time.  Hot water works wonders, but again, using the comb made it much more difficult.The longer they left it, the stronger it got.  True to the point that as long as there is yeast activity, it will get stronger.  Once the yeast is done consuming the sugars, it won't get any more stronger.  That's the nice thing about a sweet mead yeast strain -- it will handle the additional sugars.  However, I always use a little more volume than the yeast can handle, so it doesn't convert all the sugars and my sweet mead is even a little sweeter.I will say, though, that the longer is sits the better it gets.  My first batch of mead was made four years ago and I'm down to my last few bottles of it.  It's gotten nothing but more outstanding as time has went on.  I tried it first at six months and it was only decent.  At one year it was good.  At year two and on, it is fantastic.  Now sometimes pure honey would be used, or herbs such as sweet gale would be added for flavor, but in general that’s all they had to do to make Mead.Wonderfully true.  A good spiced mead (officially known as a metheglin) adds some nice complexities.  I love my sweet mead without any extras, but also adore my holiday mead.  I used some cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peal to make a Saturnalia mead and have had rave reviews.  Last Halloween (my favorite holiday), I decided to make a Hallowme'ad, which is a medium mead with pumpkin spices, much like they use to make pumpkin beers, along with some actual pumpkin.  I haven't opened it yet, waiting for Halloween to give it a year.  You can add these spices at the same time you add the honey, to the water, but you can also let it seep in the fermentation container (carboy) for a period of time, with longer times giving more of that flavor to the mead.By the way, sweet gale wasn't just used as a flavor.  They considered it medicinal.Below, the pictures are for the honey comb, the boiling water, and the mixture after adding the honey (and honey comb).

  • #19378

    JamesS
    Participant

    So the process is nearly done!After adding the honey to the boiling water, we let it cool and then add the yeast.Here, you can just move it over to whatever container you want to ferment it in.  You could let it open ferment, which can lead to some nice wild yeasts getting in and giving you a nice sour mead, but more than likely you'll get crud and miscellaneous creeping things in it.  You can put cheese clothe or burlap over it (the smaller the holes, the less gunk you'll get in), also.  I'm using my glass carboy with an airlock (another nod to modern techniques) because I had it and didn't want to spend money on additional equipment that doesn't work.(Brewer's note:  I did use my grandfather's prohibition beer recipe, both exactly as he give it using cheese clothe, and with my better equipment, to see the differences.  The cheese clothe beer had some very odd flavors after being outside on the back deck with the cheese cloth on it -- it wasn't allowed inside as my wife couldn't handle the smell.  So either way will work, but the cheese clothe not as well.)Before syphoning (racking) into the carboy, I took a hydrometer reading.  This wouldn't have been done back in the 400s, but it has been done for centuries.  Since it doesn't affect the outcome, I'm calling it a wash as far as historical vs. modern.  Using the hydrometer will give you the sugar content (original gravity) before fermentation.  You can then take the reading after fermentation (final gravity), and there is an easy formula that will give you the alcohol by volume amount.  My original gravity was 1.081.  That's actually a little low, as my best case ABV will be around 11% (my first sack/sweet mead was at 14%), but I'm not shocked, since I've never used comb before and that may have thrown off my honey weights.  Also, not using a nutrient may not help.  Once I bottle the mead, I'll take the FG and let you know what it's ABV is. Once I've taken the hydrometer reading, I racked/syphoned the must over the carboy (see previous post) and added the air lock.  Now all we have to do is wait!  I will let it sit a few weeks and then rack it over to a secondary fermentation container, to get rid of some of the flocculation (the stuff that settles to the bottom).  I'll let it sit in secondary for a few more weeks, and then bottle!  I'll keep the thread up to date as it continues.So the pictures below?  The one that says "Final Product?"It's one of the last bottles of my original sack mead that I drank while making this mead.  See it's wonderfully tawny color?  And if you're wondering where to find a glass like that, I can only tell you I got that from the Troegs Brewing Company out of Pennsylvania (it has their Mad Elf beer logo on the other side -- great winter warmer!)

  • #19379

    JamesS
    Participant

    The recipe!  Using modern ingredients — take out whatever you want to make it more historical.Makes 5 gallonsIngredients:18 pounds of honey4 gallons of water2 tsp yeast energizer 2 tsp yeast nutrient (I'll use if I have on hand from other brewing, but rarely use it)1 packet sweet mead yeastSanitize everything!Heat all water to boiling, then remove from heatAdd yeast energizer and stir inAdd honey and stir inChill to 75 degrees FPut must into fermenterPitch yeastSit 2-4 weeksRack to secondary (after sanitizing everything!)Sit another 2-4 weeksBottleExtras:You can make a dry or medium mead, instead of a sweet mead, simply by adjusting the amount of honey used.For a dry mead, the honey to water ratio should be around 2.5 pounds per gallon.For a medium mead, the honey to water ratio should be around 3 pounds per gallon.The sweet mead has a ratio of around 4 pounds per gallon.All of these can be adjusted.  I use a standard max of 18 pounds instead of 16 because I like it very sweet.  Over all, the more honey, the sweeter it is, but you have to make sure your yeast can handle it.  If you make a dry mead, there is also a dry mead yeast that will handle the sugar content and give a more dry profile.If you want to add spices, you can do it during the honey addition or let it sit in the carboy.  For my holiday mead, I added the cinnamon and orange peal to the water with the honey, but let the vanilla beans sit in the carboy during the primary fermentation and then took them out as I racked to secondary fermentation.  For my holiday mead, I added the spices at boil with the honey.I've also made a melomel (fruited mead) using black and blue berries (at the same time).  I used the same weight of berries as I did honey, but it came out very wine like.  I personally didn't like it that thick with berries, but most of my home brewer friends did.  If I make another melomel, I'll add about half the amount in weight as honey.  The berries I slightly crushed and then put in a grain bag and let sit in the mead during primary fermentation and removed them when I racked over to secondary.  I mushed them a bit by sitting them in boiling water for a few minutes, which also sanitized them.When you bottle, you can just bottle straight, or you can make a sparkling mead by adding a little sugar or extra honey to the mixture to the mead.  This will let the yeast work a little bit in the bottle and give it extra carbonation.  The same process is how they bottle condition beer.Please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions!  Happy to help out anyone who is wanting to try a mead or beer.  BTW, I love a good cider, too, but there is so much material in there, I had to rack it back and forth a half dozen times to get the apple bits out, and even then it was a bit "thick."  It's just easier to buy it at the store, for me.

  • #19380

    JamesS
    Participant

    Note: I made the mead yesterday while my daughter was recuperating from getting her wisdom teeth extracted, but had time to write up the process today.Over night, the mead started to bubble away as the fermentation process has started!  I'm attaching two pictures.  The first shows the flocculation (floc), which is the stuff that floats to the bottom and is an outcome from the fermentation process.  The second shows the air lock bubbling away as CO2 escapes (which is a result of the yeast converting the sugars into alcohol).  I'm not sure if you can see the bubbling very well, but it's hard to capture that on my iPhone.  :)

  • #19381

    JamesS
    Participant

    And I swear all the pictures were facing the right way before I uploaded them! Oops. ;)

  • #19382

    JamesS
    Participant

    Some references…Books:The Compleat Meadmaker by Ken Schramm (that's not a misspelling)Brewing Mead: Wassail! in Mazers of Mead by Robert Gayre and Charles PapazianWebsite:http://www.gotmead.com

  • #19383

    JamesS
    Participant

    Racking Day!In the old days, from what I've gathered in my research, the mead would've gone straight into a cask and conditioned there.  The floc would've settled on the bottom, about the spigot, and would've been cleaned out once the cask was tapped (finished). I wish I had a cask to let my mead age in, but they can be quite expensive.  So, instead I racked my mead over from one carboy (fermenter) into another, to leave the floc behind.  It will settle a little more, and that will be taken care of during bottling, but racking again into a bottling bucket, where I'll let it settle for a bit before using the spigot above the floc line to fill the bottles.Here you can see the floc (yeast output sediment) at the bottom; the racking process; and a wee dram to taste to see how it's doing.  FYI: it's doing great.  It still has some fermentation to undergo.  During the racking process, the movement oxygenated the mead, allowing the yeast to start up again a bit.  Nonetheless, it tasted wonderful, and gave a good idea of what it might taste like if it was just a non-alcohol honey drink. Next, I'll post a few pictures of the bottling process.  Jamie, would it be okay to use the BHP Union Jack logo as a bottle label?  It's not as though I'll be selling this anywhere and making a profit off your hard work, but I completely understand if you'd prefer to keep it all for your own use.  (On a side note, I can't sell it, but I'll happily give some away if any of you happen to be in the Indianapolis area.)

  • #19384

    JamesS
    Participant

    And it's done!  I've bottled the mead.  I just racked it over to my ale pail, which is a plastic bucket with a spigot, allowing me to tap the mead directly into bottles.  Attached are some pictures of the final bits.  I almost forgot to take any pics, but at least remembered when there were still a few bottles left.  Again, to be historically correct, I would've put it right into a cask and drank straight from it, but those are costly.  So instead I put it into my bottling bucket, allowed it to sit for an hour to get the last of the floc out, and then bottled and capped it.  From the final gravity reading, it looks like it's going to have an ABV of around 10.75%.  ;DLet me know if you have any questions!

  • #19385

    anonymous
    Participant

    Looks good!Love the shot of the residue at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. I will be bottling my White Wine tomorrow and starting the last step prior to bottling on my cider.

  • #19386

    anonymous
    Participant

    And will there be a tasting party with reviews?  :)  Looks nice, though, and now I'm thinking that I ought to go to the meadery (mead house?) again soon!

  • #19387

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    James, I think putting the logo on the bottles is a great idea.  :)

  • #19388

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    Oh, and James, I'm not familiar with the laws regarding transporting mead but once it's fermented and ready to go, it might be fun to do a tasting/interview for the member's feed discussing how you made it, what it tastes like, etc.

  • #19389

    anonymous
    Participant

    looking good, I do love a good mead. Shame there is an international boundary between us as I'd love to taste it

  • #19390

    JamesS
    Participant

    And will there be a tasting party with reviews?  :)  Looks nice, though, and now I'm thinking that I ought to go to the meadery (mead house?) again soon!

    You're all welcome to come visit!  And there is a meadery close by, so I'm guessing that's the correct term, but I actually like mead house better!

  • #19391

    JamesS
    Participant

    Oh, and James, I'm not familiar with the laws regarding transporting mead but once it's fermented and ready to go, it might be fun to do a tasting/interview for the member's feed discussing how you made it, what it tastes like, etc.

    I will be happy to do so.The laws regarding shipping of alcohol by non-businesses are fairly strict.  However, I have shipped homemade "soda pop" to friends in other states, so I'm sure the same could be done for this "non alcoholic honey drink."  ;)

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