Making Mead with Wild Yeasts

I love experimenting with fermentation… and I especially love experimenting with using the wild yeasts already present in the air. Trying to ferment with wild yeasts really is an experiment every time because you never quite know how it is going to end up, even when using the same recipe over and over again. It is easy to go to a home brew store and buy a packet of champagne yeast, and have your mead turn our more or less the same every time… but there is something exciting to me about using wild yeasts, and I enjoy the slight variations I get in each batch of mead (it helps to keep the same old recipe from getting boring). I also think it is healthy for us to be consuming things that have been fermented with the yeasts present in our every day environment, instead of some foreign yeasts bought in an airtight packet in the refrigerator of your brew store.

The most common containers for brewing mead are either in a 5 gallon jug or a 1 gallon jug. Below are some general measurements that I use for those container sizes. Keep in mind that the “sit time” I have listed is variable depending on how long it takes for the yeast to set in and the temperature of the room– so I recommend keeping a close eye on your mead and test it every now and then to check the progress:

5 gallong jug= 12 lbs of honey (the containers that 12 lbs comes in looks to be about a gallon) + about 5 gallons of water + about a month and a half of sit time or until bubbling slows considerably

1 gallong jug=  3 cups of honey + about a gallon of water +  about a couple weeks of sit time or until bubbling slows considerably

Instructions: For both a 5 gallon recipe and a 1 gallon recipe, here is what you will want to do… First, put either 5 gallons or 1 gallon of water plus the proper amount of honey (listed above) in a pot on the stove. Heat up the water and the honey so that the honey can become fully dissolved in the water. Stirring will help this process. This is also the time to add any sort of flavor that you want to the mead– You can add all sorts of berries and chopped fruit to this mixture, whatever you want that you think might taste good. Don’t worry about putting chunks of fruit in the pot because you can always strain the mixture before putting it into your jug (that is what I do). You want to add the fruit at this stage because the heat in the pot will release the fruit flavor into your honey/water mixture. So I let this water/honey/fruit mixture heat up on the stove to a very low simmer, and I keep it on the brink of this low simmer for about 15 minutes (The person who I learned from never let it bubble too much, and I keep doing it that way because it always seems so work). If some white foamy stuff forms on top, don’t worry, just scrape it off to the best of your ability so it doesn’t expand and overflow the pot.

Now that you have your awesome mead mixture, let it cool for a little bit! I have heard from many people that the yeasts will die in a liquid that is too warm, so I let the mixture cool before I add it to my container (because it will cool faster in a big wide open pot than in a container with an opening the size of a quarter). I usually wait until the mixture is at room temperature, then I strain the liquid and add it to my containers.

 For the first week I keep a piece of cloth rubber-banded over the opening so that the yeasts can float in but debris will stay out. Old (but clean) tee-shirts work fine for this, as does cheese cloth— I cut one of my old tank-tops into a bunch of squares and have been using those squares to cover the openings of my mead jugs, kombucha jars, and other fermentation projects over and over again. I say “the first week,” but really the timing for this is variable– you will know the yeasts have taken to the liquid when you start to see a sort of “cloudy-ness” in the liquid, as well as bubbling. Once you know that the is yeast doing it’s magic in the liquid you have two options: either keep the cloth rubber banded over the opening, or put an airlock in the opening (which you can buy from a home brew stop for about a dollar). If you don’t know what an airlock is, it is a little contraption that you put in the opening of your jug that keeps air from entering, but allows the pressure building in the jar (from the bubbling) to release air out. I have airlocks but I don’t always use them. I enjoy the product both ways, and I recommend experimenting for yourself.

Note: I have heard that if you are not adding fruit to the mixture, and are just doing a honey-water mead, then you do not have to heat up the mixture– you can just mix the honey into room temperature water and add it to the jugs. I have always added a flavor to my mead, so I have not tried this! But I will give it a go someday…

Enjoy your mead-making! And if you have any questions, send us a comment/message…

-Vita

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