Gratitude Mead

Thanksgiving time, so a Gratitude Mead is in order. My friend Arthur Haines was kind enough to give me a quart of his homemade, wild-harvested cranberry juice, so I thought one of the best uses I could put it to is a mead.

I started with a chaga decoction, then strained the cranberry juice into the must, to filter out the pectin:

Then, I added honey to 18% alcohol potential:

And, I was left with a carboy full of Gratitude Mead, which surprised me because it wasn’t a red color, only the slightest hint of red in the brown must:

UPDATE, March 20: I just racked this mead. It measured 6% alcohol potential, so it is extremely sweet tasting, clocking in at 12% alcohol. I’m now starting to wonder if I am approaching the alcohol limit of the Montrachet yeast I am using; to get higher alcohol levels I think I might need to start experimenting with different yeasts, such as champagne yeasts. Still, this is already delicious, and will only get better!

June 19: This mead is delicious! Here’s the label:

Inaugural Meadmaking Workshop

The Inaugural Meadmaking Workshop last night was a great success! Thanks so much to Eli Cayer at UFF and Daniel Vitalis for co-conspiring the workshop with me. Also, thanks to Ali and Jason for the backline support. And most of all, thanks to all the mead lovers who came to share stories and skills. There are about a dozen new batches of mead in the world after our workshop!

Jason Arno took some great photos:

U-F-F! U-F-F!
Beautiful fermentation room @ UFF
Great artwork @ UFF
Ready for a great workshop!
Daniel Vitalis speaking on the nutrition of mead, and the controversy over ethanol in the health community
On one hand....
On the break, between Daniel's talk and hands-in meadmaking
Must inside a fabulous crock! These crocks are also great for sauerkraut, available @ UFF
"Stir with your arm, measure by the fistful"
Making mead!
Beautiful meads being made!
A berry mead, probably blueberry
Pouring the must into the carboy
Crazy two-color mead. This is either an apple mead or a goji/cranberry mead. Once it's done fermenting it will all be the same color.
Blackberry mead, you can see the berries floating on top
Either a plain or an apple mead

What a great night! For people who attended, I promised you a free PDF copy of the meadmaking booklet. If you don’t remember how to get it, contact me and we’ll get you sorted out.

For those of you who missed the workshop, we’re gonna take a break for a bit, but are already co-conspiring to bring you more events at UFF in 2011.

Terminology: “Brewing” Mead

Live and learn!

Turns out “Brewing” is not an appropriate term for making mead. ” ‘Brewing’ is an extraction process.” Beers, for instance, extract sugars from malted grains. Herbal teas extract herbal essences from the herbs. There is no such extraction inherent in meadmaking, though meads can include extracts (ie, using herbal teas as a base or braggots using malt sugars).

The proper term is meadmaking.

Mead Workshop Tonight

Last call for the From Alcohol To Alchemy: The Lore, Craft, and Nutrition of Mead workshop! As of this moment there are a few openings left, so pay at the door WILL be an option. Please come! We’ll get you in even if it’s “sold out.”

I just got back from the spring a while ago, collecting wild spring water for the 12 of us who will be brewing tonight. I’m getting very excited for this event!

In addition, there is additional excitement in the pipeline for…. watch this space for a special announcement after the workshop.

Elecampane Mead

I’d never even heard of elecampane before, until I heard an herbalist called Sean Donahue was moving to Maine. I read about his story dealing with asthma, getting great results with elecampane, and immediately felt inspiration and resonance:

Its a familiar archetype: the bookish, asthmatic child whose imagination is captivated by stories of other worlds that sound more like home than this one. At once distant and emotionally sensitive. At times deeply empathetic and perceptive and at other times completely oblivious to social norms and cues. Asthma in these cases is often closely associated with social anxiety. Breath is a tenuous thread barely keeping the child present in this reality….
Elecampane is a medicine that reaches deep into the lungs and gets things moving again — releasing and cleansing buried grief just as it brings up old, infected mucus.

I decided I wanted to do a medicinal mead, incorporating elecampane, to treat my asthma.

I also decided to add some additional herbs to the mixture. I wanted to include rose hips, because they are in season and a great source of vitamin C; schisandra berries, because they’d add more adaptogens and other nutrients; St Johns Wort, because it helps elevate the spirit allowing one to breathe more deeply, and mullein, which is a great lung tonic.

In researching how each of these herbs should be prepared, I decided to make a decoction with the elecampane, rose hips, and schizandra berries, and an infusion with St John’s Wort and mullein.

I began the decoction with 2c rose hips, 1c elecampane, 1/4 c shizandra berries, 2 gallons spring water, and simmered it for 1 hour:

After an hour, I turned off the heat and added the infusion herbs: 1/2c St Johns Wort and 1/2c Mullein:

I let this cool overnight and strained it the next day, leaving me with a gorgeous, deep brown, very potent-tasting tea:

I poured it back into my stockpot and added about 3/4 of a gallon of honey. I don’t want this medicinal mead to be too sweet, so I was shooting for 15% alcohol potential. I took a few readings, adding a bit of honey or spring water to get the desired result:

As you can see it’s a bit above 15%, not quite 16%, but I knew I’d be topping off the carboy with extra water to get it to 3 gallons. So I pitched the yeast and transferred the must into the carboy, shook it up, gave it some positive juju, and wound up with a beautiful carboy:

Looking forward to being with this medicine in 2011.

UPDATE (Feb 27): I just racked the elecampane into jugs. Fermentation had definitely stopped; there was no bubbling and the mead was “dead”, which is just a subjective observation that there was no life remaining in the mead. Much to my surprise, with a low initial alcohol potential of 15%, the mead still tastes quite sweet. I took a hydrometer reading and got 5%, which means this mead is only 10% alcohol. Admittedly I’m somewhat puzzled by this, since this mead sat for 4 months in fermentation. Perhaps one of the herbs is a fermentation inhibitor, and is unfriendly toward yeast? I think I shall let these jugs sit for a few months and then take another reading. Not sure if there is any live yeast left in the jugs or not….

UPDATE (Mar 15): It was almost certainly the elecampane, which is used in antifungal and antiyeast protocols. Now the question is, do I try adding another yeast to get it to ferment some more, or just drink it as is?

UPDATE (Apr 11): The two gallons of mead have cleared somewhat, and I’ve been sipping on the top of the batch for a while. I really love this medicine. I wanted to bottle one of these gallons to capture it as it is now, and I wanted to experiment with the other gallon by tincturing more elecampane herb in the alcohol of the mead.

So for the first gallon, I added about 2 TBSP of dried elecampane root to tincture, which floated at the top and will slowly start to sink down in the coming days:

With the other gallon, I simply bottled it into 10 extremely handy 12oz grolsch bottles:

I drink about 4oz of this medicine per day when I’m using it, so a bottle will last me 3 days. I’m grateful for this powerful medicine, and I look forward to seeing how the other gallon with the tincture will turn out.

So far, my favorite quote about this batch is: “the Elecampane Mead is far from my best tasting mead. However, it is by far the best tasting asthma medicine I’ve ever used.”

Mead Workshop podcast interview

In my spare time, my family and I have done the Sweet Peas Podcast for nearly two years, chronicling our journey around diet and health. Episode 73 is now live, and it’s an interview with me and Daniel Vitalis about the upcoming Mead Workshop.

Give it a listen, subscribe to the rss feed for other episodes, and get a great little teaser about what this workshop will be like. Check it out!

Mead Workshop Preview Video

We shot this video last night at the UFF, as we get ready for the workshop. It’s very exciting, and it’s gonna be a great evening. There are only a few Get Your Gear, Brew Your Mead seats left (where you take home your carboy with fermenting mead inside), as well as some General Admission seats to see the workshop, so register soon before it sells out!