Mabon Mini-Harvest

Had a small bottling session tonight, just to get me through the weekend:

The big bottle in the middle is for a medieval party I’m attending this weekend. In addition, my band has a gig this weekend, so I’m sure I’ll bring a few up there. I love the clear bottle, 3rd from the left. It has raspberry mead, which turned out great and beautifully clear.

These are also the first labels with the new logo…. I think I need to brighten it up just a tad but I love it!

Mabon Moonlight Mugwort Mead

A shaman friend of mine, who also has the most infectious laugh I know (I do not think this is a coincidence), swears by mugwort. I remember him bringing a huge, 6′ tall smudge stick he had made out of mugwort to a large gathering a few years back and speaking with great respect, almost awe, of its herbal properties. Indeed, that was one of the best gatherings I remember.

When I was visiting him one day, I mentioned that I was using herbs other than hops to brew with. He told me I had to try a mugwort brew, and he gave me a couple ounces of dried mugwort he’d harvested in the wild.

I was waiting for the right time to brew with it, because I wanted to treat it with the respect a directive from a shaman deserves. Tonight is Mabon, the fall equinox, and is very near a full moon. Seems like as good a time as any.

There are many interesting things about Artemisia vulgaris, or Mugwort:

  • Mugwort is one of the nine herbs invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century in the Lacnunga.
  • Much used in witchcraft, mugwort is said to be useful in inducing lucid dreaming and astral travel/astral projection. Consumption of the plant prior to sleeping is said to increase the intensity of dreams, the level of control, and to aid in the recall of dreams upon waking.
  • Mugwort is called chornobylnik in Ukrainian, and has given its name to the abandoned city of Chernobyl.
  • Mugwort has been used as a digestive aid and stimulant for ages.

I began by boiling 2 gallons of water, and I added about 2 ounces of the mugwort, continuing to simmer for about 15 minutes. I then turned off the heat, and added a sumac drupe. I stirred the infusion well, and let it sit for several hours until it cooled off to about 90 degrees. I did NOT use chaga in this mead, which is the first time in a while I have not done so.

From there, I used this tea as the base for my mead, using my standard mead recipe with 13 cups of honey (which somehow seemed appropriate). I’ve been wanting a bit drier meads as of late, and this should fit the bill.

Also, for the first time in a long time I took a hydrometer reading, and got 17% alcohol potential.

It has a rich, yellow-brown color:

Perhaps in a few months, I’ll be more active in dreamspace….

UPDATE: The autumnal equinox was about 90 minutes ago. The carboy spent the moment of the equinox (and still is) outside, bathing in the full moon light, the harvest moon.

UPDATE 12/12: Just racked it. This took a long time to ferment, probably because of the reduced temperatures. WOW! It’s delicious, a wonderful herbal mead. Potent, too. The final hydrometer reading is 3%, which means this mead is 14% alcohol.

As you can see, the mead is already somewhat clear:

Here’s the label for this batch:

Dry Vanilla Peach Mead

A friend of a friend hooked me up with some beautiful local peaches that were extremely ripe. I thought a Dry Vanilla Peach mead would be fantastic.

I wasn’t quite ready to brew with them when I got the peaches a few weeks ago, so we chopped them up (just enough to get the pits out) and froze them.

I used my standard mead recipe, with a few modifications:

  • I only used 3/4 gallon of honey (12 cups). This should result in the dryest mead I’ve yet made; I think the vanilla and peach flavors will offset the dryness nicely. At the very least, this will give me a new benchmark.
  • My liquid base was a chaga decoction, as usual made with mountain spring water I gathered myself, and wild-harvested chaga. I also used a Sumac infusion but I only used 1 drupe, and I let it steep for only a few hours. I’ve tasted the first 2 batches of mead made with sumac and while they are excellent, the tannin flavor of the sumac might be a bit too strong, so I backed off a bit.
  • I added 1 Tablespoon of ground raw, wildcrafted, vanilla beans. Obviously, vanilla is known in the west primarily for its flavor, but in addition to being one of the most exotic (and take for granted) flavors the world has known, “the mythology of the pre-Columbian Totonac tribe (who resided in what is now Mexico) refers to vanilla as an aphrodisiac.” This of course is right in line with what a good mead should be.
  • I whizzed 2 quarts, maybe a little more, of fresh local peaches, skins and all, in the vitamix, and strained it into the must. In retrospect I’m not sure straining was necessary since there was very little matter left in my strainer at the end. Better safe than sorry.
  • I heated the must a bit for the first time in a long time, mostly because the weather is cooling off quite a bit. I’m sure it never got anywhere near 90 degrees, but the honey did completely dissolve.

The result is a gorgeous, deep brown color:


UPDATE: When I racked this into 1-gallon jugs a week or two ago, I added whole vanilla beans to do an extraction of the vanilla essence. I’m anxious to see how well the tincturing works (ie, mead has less alcohol than 80 proof vodka for instance). Hopefully it will add a nice finish.

Here’s the label for this batch:

Meadmaking 102: Racking and Plonk

I wanted to expand a bit on what I wrote in my Basic Mead Recipe about the next steps in meadmaking, once primary fermentation is finished.

I generally brew 3 gallon batches, and once it’s brewed it generally will bubble steadily for 2-4 weeks, and then will take another week or three to completely stop bubbling. In addition, you will see an inch or three (depending on ingredients) of sediment at the bottom of the carboy. At this point, primary fermentation is finished. You can either leave it in the carboy until you are ready to bottle, but I generally don’t. Some argue that the mead will pick up off-flavors from being with the sediment, but my real motivation is to try my latest batch of mead right away!

I like to siphon the clear mead off the top of the sediment, into one-gallon jugs, for further aging/clarifying. I can always get 2 gallons of clear mead from each batch, and once they are in the jugs I put airlocks on them for further aging. This process, of siphoning fermentations from one carboy into another container, is called “racking.”

I never could get the knack of siphoning well, until I started using a carboy cap like this one:

carboy cap for easy siphoning
carboy cap for easy siphoning

This elegantly simple device allows you to easily siphon every time. Simply put a plastic hose or rod through the center, larger diameter hole so that it goes down into the mead below the top surface of the liquid, but above the sediment layer, and put the other end of the hose into the 1-gallon jug. Then simply blow air into the other, taller hole. The air pressure will force the mead up through the hose and into your other container. As soon as the liquid makes it into the smaller jug, you’ve started the siphon and it will go by itself.

In addition, I can usually get additional clear mead, and most often I drink it right away. This gives me a great idea of how the mead turned out. It’s nearly always delicious right off the bat (some batches are of course better than others), though each batch will definitely improve with age. When I first started making mead, I would drink pretty much all of the mead right away. Now that I generally have several batches going at a time, I am finally able to get some as far as bottling so that it actually can age. So nowadays I nearly always put back 2 gallons of clear mead for further aging, and drink whatever additional clear mead that I can get from the carboy.

What you are left with in the bottom of the carboy, ie, the sediment and some additional liquid, I have taken to call “plonk.” I got this term from Harper Meader but I think we might use it a bit differently. I keep a half-gallon plonk jar in the fridge, and all the plonk from all the batches goes into this jar. This is usually very thick with all the sediment, so I don’t usually drink it. Many meadmaking resources will tell you to throw this away, but I completely disagree: plonk is fabulous for cooking!

My favorite use for plonk is either as a marinade, or poured over meat of some sort that is either roasting, crock-potting, or simmering in a skillet. Let it cook down a bit (until the alcohol evaporates) and it’s a delicious additive. So far my favorite use of plonk was the sediment from my cacao mead (made before I started keeping a vigilant log here), poured over sauteed pork tenderloin medallions with veggies. Yum!

Another reason I like to keep the plonk: nutrition! There are a ton of nutrients there, between the dead yeast (proteins) and other compounds synthesized during fermentation (such as B-complex vitamins). You can learn more about the nutrients involved in fermentation in Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book Sacred And Herbal Healing Beers, and there is also a good summary of Buhner’s work in this article.

Elderberry Mead

It’s Elderberry season! A friend of mine hooked me up with some amazing locally grown organic elderberries from Heath Hill Farm in Sumner, Maine. So of course I had to do a mead with them.

The liquid base was a chaga decoction, followed by an infusion of 2 sumac drupes (for the tannic and citric acids). I let the liquid cool, and added 14 cups of honey, to go for a bit drier mead than what I’ve been getting with 16 cups (1 gallon).

I used about 2 pounds of elderberries, and whizzed up in the Vitamix. They had the most amazing hue:

elderberries whizzed in the VitaMix
Amazing vibrant color of whizzed elderberries

I then took this blend and strained it into the must:

Elderberry puree strained into the must
Elderberry puree strained into the must

After a good stir, to make sure everything is dissolved, I was left with a beautiful purple must:

swirly elderberry must
swirly elderberry must

Then, a good yeast-pitch, oxidizing shake, and an airlock, and this should be quite delicious in a few weeks:

Elderberry Mead
Elderberry Mead

UPDATE: here’s the label for this batch: