Mead Ginger Rogers

The Engineer has been crowned Mead Supervisor of the OH Honey Apiary, and today he declared it a good use of our beekeeping downtime to rack (bottle) our latest batch of mead. We made it in September 2021 and it’s clarified nicely as you can see from the back row bottles. I can also vouch for its flavor — pleasantly gingery, without being too strong.

Actually, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much ginger and would be happy with more fire, but others disagree. 😉

I can’t describe why I like sipping mead so much. I think it’s because the alcohol level (usually 16.8%) is neither high, nor low, and I always feel quite mellow after a small glass. It probably also has something to do with the fact that it’s 100% natural — basically honey, water, and yeast, along with whatever flavor we decide to use. In this case it was freshly grated ginger.

We have yet to decide on a flavor for the next batch, although The Engineer does have a growler on the go with hops and orange zest. Our backstock includes bottles of Cessna (just plane mead), Coffee Bee-n, Hot Mama, Cherry Baby, and Raspberries. And we’ve finished or shared all the bottles of Sourpuss (grapefruit).

Maybe we’ll try a cyser in the fall when the local cider comes in, but the Mead Supervisor wants to get another batch going before then.

What flavor should we try? It’s way too early for our raspberries to fruit (or even blossom). Maybe a strawberry basil in June? Or vanilla bean sooner? I keep finding recipes for vanilla bean and chamomile, but who has chamomile flowers at the ready? Not us, that’s for sure. I wonder if chamomile tea would work.

I kind of wish we’d added a vanilla bean to at least some of the Coffee Bee-n, but I guess we’ll save that for another time.

Hmmm … worth thinking about!

I also made a loaf of sourdough bread, but won’t share a picture of that because I cut into it immediately. It no longer looks pretty, but it tasted delicious slathered with butter!

The OH Honey Apiary Bottling Plant

So, we did the final bottling (we hope) of our first batch of flavored mead and re-racked the unflavored bottles of the same batch to get rid of the yeasty layer on the bottom. The idea is it will age more gracefully and clarify better without the scum. (The same could probably be said for all of us. 🙄)

Our labels – pretty basic, but then so are we. Since the mead is only for personal use and maybe gifts, it doesn’t need a fancy label.
Repurposing bottles: The big square ones are from Green River Humblebee Bourbon (their labels are impossible to remove!), the brown ones are old Grolsch beer bottles I got in an online estate sale, and the little ones I got a deal on at Queen Right Colonies. They didn’t work out for our honey, but are perfect “taster” bottles. I’m trusting you to ignore the dishes in the drainer on the counter.

Next up: Batch two, as soon as we find time to make it.

Adventures in the Mead-le

I know I already wrote one post today, and yet, here I am, writing one more about our adventures in mead.

We joined the legions of mead makers early this year, using equipment Santa (me) brought for Christmas. This endeavor was a natural development from our beekeeping and investment in Nashville’s Honeytree Meadery. And when we tasted the first batch Darling Daughter’s Boyfriend made and found it delicious, well, it was clear we needed to try making some ourselves.

After the initial “racking” (bottling) in February, the next step would be to taste the mead and re-bottle it with a siphon into smaller (or at least freshly cleaned) bottles. This process separates the liquid from any flavorings that have been added, and leaves the majority of the sediment of the yeast behind.

Unfortunately, COVID briefly interfered by causing me to lose my sense of taste and smell for several weeks.

By the time we got to the job today, I was concerned the chili peppers we’d added to one growler had been in too long and would cause the mead to be overly zesty. As for the grapefruit zest we’d put in another, well, I’d read tales of citrus flavorings gone horribly wrong, making the mead so bitter it couldn’t be consumed.

Thus, it was with some trepidation we racked the first bottle, starting with what we expected to be the gentlest of the flavors — our “OH Honey!” basic mead.

I should interject here to say something about The Engineer’s calculation of ABV (alcohol by volume). According to Storm the Castle and other sources, this measurement varies, from 3.5% up to 18%, with an average of 7.5%-14%. The Engineer pegged ours at 16.8%.

I didn’t believe him, thinking he’d somehow used the wrong scale. There are several on the hydrometer, and if left to me, we’d never know.

After tasting OH Honey!, I believe him. Our meads are strong. OH, Honey! is also — how can I put this? — in serious need of more aging.

That’s the brilliant thing about mead. The longer you age it, the better (and clearer) it gets.

In the case of OH Honey!, this is a very good thing.

Next up was “Ginger Rogers,” flavored with grated ginger root I had in the fridge from our CSA share last fall. It was surprisingly not horrible.

In fact, it wasn’t bad, although a little cloudy in appearance.

“Sourpuss,” with the grapefruit zest was even better and less cloudy too.

What a relief!

The big surprise was “Hot Mama,” our chili flavored mead. It was delicious and nearly transparent, though it’s difficult to see the difference in the picture below.

Since we have an abundance of OH, Honey!, we’ve decided to make another batch soon and make it all one flavor. Unfortunately, we’ve gone through our own honey from last year with this lot and won’t have any more from our hives for a few months so I’ll have to buy supplies from another local beekeeper.

And I need to source some smaller bottles so we can share without decimating our own supply.

We’ll probably stick to Hot Mama for the next batch because its flavor and clarity came together without a long aging process. Since we plan to make another five gallons, it would be best to repeat a process that has worked once, don’t you think?

Stuck in the Mead-le with You

In an effort to make our lives more complicated and possibly waste a lot of honey, we decided to try making mead. Well, I decided we would. After tasting the elixir made by Darling Daughter’s Partner, I bought the equipment as a Christmas present for The Engineer.

I bought two books on the subject as a present for myself.

It turns out there are almost as many recipes and methods for making mead as there are ideas on how to keep bees. So after reviewing the books (me) and watching the YouTube videos (both of us), we decided to follow the instructions provided by our local Vine N Hop Shop.

After all, our success would mean they gain two regular customers.

I bought the set-up for a five gallon batch, not realizing most people start with just one.

Go big or go home, right?

But making a lot of mead also meant we’d be able to experiment with a variety of flavors (quite possibly ruining several gallons of it in the process).

We decided to try hot peppers, ginger, and grapefruit (not all together, of course).*

These additions can be made at the start of the fermentation process, in the secondary part of the process, or even when bottling. Or so I’ve heard.

Having initially read that it was best done in the second stage, we missed the opportunity to add it at the start and so decided to add it when “racking.” This is when the mead maker moves the mix from its initial container to a second container, leaving the yeasty “lees” behind.

Today was Racking Day, and we were ready to go — plenty of airlocks (to let out the air from fermentation and keep bacteria from getting in), growlers to store the various mixtures (believe it or not, we had to buy some beer so we’d have enough), and bungs (to seal the growlers).

At least, we thought we were ready.

Unfortunately, we made a major miscalculation in thinking our big growlers held a gallon each when in fact they held a half.

The ensuing mad scramble resulted in a variety of containers (above). Although we weren’t desperate enough to use the vodka bottle and cup — they were for the airlocks and tasting, respectively — my canning jars and a whiskey decanter were fair game.

You’re probably wondering about the rubber gloves.

They’re because we didn’t have any balloons.

I’m not kidding. There are a plethora of mead making instructions that use balloons for airlocks. I suppose that’s in case you don’t want to spend $2 on a plastic one.

But we didn’t have any balloons. What we did have was sterile latex gloves, thankfully powder-free.

And that’s what we used.

When the airlocks stop bubbling, and the mead begins to clear, it will be time to bottle.

Meanwhile, we wait … and drink mead from Honeytree Meadery (Nashville) in the meantime.

*If you’re curious, for the ginger, we made a tinture by chopping ginger and soaking it in vodka for about a week. The pepper was a serrano, quartered and stuck in the bottom with half its seeds. There can be issues with acidity when you make mead with citrus. Supposedly, using only the zest can impart flavor without bitterness, so that’s what we did — used the zest of a single large red grapefruit. We added each of these to the bottom of a growler before siphoning in the still fermenting mead. Will these amounts be too zesty? Hot? Sour? We’ll let you know.