What does fermentation look like?

I realized recently that I haven’t included many pictures of what fermentation looks like, only pictures of pitched must before active fermentation begins.

Here is the prickly pear mead, about 72 hours into fermentation:

First off, the color on this batch continues to be just unbelievable. Vibrant, almost glowing. Prickly pears are amazing, they represent their desert ecosystem with style and grace, during a snowy New England winter!

You can see the layer of bubbles at the top. This is CO2, carbon dioxide which is one of the byproducts of fermentation, along with heat (too little to be noticeable) and C2H5OH, or ethanol.

This stage of fermentation is very fun, if you look closely at it you can see it swirling and undulating, stirring itself as the yeast go to town, madly consuming the glucose and fructose from the honey. Fermentation is a metabolic process; it is literally alive. Like any other live creature, it really responds well to good juju. Love your mead!

Prickly Pear Mead

When I first started brewing beer years ago, the first book I read on the subject was The Complete Joy Of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. It remains a great introduction to homebrewing, written during the homebrew renaissance of the 1980s, after President Carter legalized homebrewing. The book focuses mostly on beers, but does have a detailed appendix on meadmaking.

In the appendix, he states that his favorite mead ever was Prickly Pear Mead:

Prickly Pear Mead is the most seductively delicious mead I have ever had — ever. Its color can be as dramatic as a sunset. The fluorescent crimson of ripe prickly pear fruit, the titillatingly soft character of light mesquite honey, a floral bouquet of the Sonoran desert freshly washed by rain and, finally, the sweet delicate currant nature of the world’s finest sherry all combine to stun your senses in appreciation of one of the greatest gifts to this world.

With a description like that, who can resist? I knew I had to try it one day. Unfortunately for me, the Prickly Pear is a cactus, and only grows in the desert. Not too many of these plants local to me in New England.

Enter Facebook. A fellow health drink enthusiast who does live in the desert, Anthony Anderson, posted about harvesting wild prickly pears where he lives in Arizona. I commented that I wanted to try a prickly pear mead, and he was kind enough to send me some! Thank you Anthony! Gratitude!

The pears themselves are, well, prickly; you have to handle them with care (meaning with tongs). They are gorgeous in color:

Because of the prickliness, I decided that rather than try to process these by hand, I’d just run them through our Champion juicer. Worked like a charm, with only a little seedy pulp left:

And in the end, I had about 1.5 quarts of the most amazingly vibrant fresh fruit juice I’ve seen in a very long time:

So I made a mead with this amazing juice. I started with a chaga decoction, and infused 3 bags of black tea. I then added the prickly pear juice, along with enough honey (about 3/4 gallon) to get things up to 18% alcohol potential:

The result is a vibrant brew that just glows with royal purple, the color is not unlike the elderberry mead I made last fall:

I think I’m gonna let this one go for a while. Charlie Papazian claims his Prickly Pear Meads can take sometimes a year — or even two — of fermentation. Not sure I’ll let it go that long though…. I didn’t use his exact recipe, but rather adapted my own meadmaking method to incorporate the prickly pears. Can’t wait to try it! Thanks again Anthony…

UPDATE, May 2, 2011: I just racked this mead, and wow. It’s a semi-sweet at about 3% remaining alcohol potential, which gives this batch about 15% alcohol content. It’s stronger than some of the recent meads I’ve done, and it tastes it! What an incredible color, still! And flavor-wise it will benefit greatly from aging. Very excited!

The Lore And Craft Of Mead: eBook Release

UPDATE: As of June 2017, this eBook is no longer available. If you really, really would like a copy, then contact me and we’ll work something out.

We’re excited to announce the release of this ebook as a PDF download!



This book has been a long time coming. Since I started brewing years ago, I knew that I wanted to help teach people how to make their own fermented beverages. It’s not a terribly difficult process, but I felt the process was more complicated for beginners than it perhaps should be.

Later, when I took Harper Meader‘s “Measure by the handful and stir with your arm” meadmaking class, I knew that I had finally found my fermented beverage of choice. Mead has many things going for it; it’s humanity’s oldest fermented beverage, it’s made from one of the most profound foods known (honey), and it’s really simple and easy to make a delicious batch.

This book builds (or perhaps restores) a bridge between two camps: traditional meadmaking, and traditional herbalism. If we go back far enough there is no difference between the two. So if you are an experienced meadmaker looking to add a dose of herbalism to your brewing, or if you are an herbalist looking to get into meadmaking, this book will speak to you. Of course, it is also ideal for the beginner as it walks you through every step of the way.

There is somewhat of a focus on keeping mead a healthy beverage; I speak of spring water, the best local organic honey you can find, and local or wildharvested ingredients for your mead. Honey and good water are both profound nutrients for the human body; when we combine them with yeast and other ingredients from our ecosystem we can get some of the most powerful beverages available anywhere.

I also worked hard to cut out the fluff, and make the book as concise as possible. Those of you who know me or my default writing style know this is no easy task. ;-)    My aim was to take this meadmaking method, which both is simple for the beginner and very expandable for the intermediate or advanced meadmaker, and keep it to a booklet-length document, cramming as much information as possible into 16 pages. Hopefully I was successful.

So for all of humanity’s meadmakers, past, present, and future, I raise my drinking horn to you!

Coming Soon: Meadmaking Book

Coming very soon, to a browser near you, will be the first publication from BardicBrews.net. It is to be called “The Lore And Craft of Mead,” and will be a detailed introduction to mead, as well as how to make your own mead. It is a more distinct version of some of the content on this site, as well as new information on taking meadmaking next-level.

If you are interested in getting a copy of this book when it’s avaiable, watch this space. I’m presently putting the finishing touches on the book, as well as getting infrastructure (ecommerce/paypal etc) work on this site in place.

The book will sell for less than $20, especially for early adopters. Stay tuned!