Dandelion Sumac Mead

photo by Morgan Lindenschmidt

I enjoyed working with the Dandelion Mead last year. I was inspired by the traditional Dandelion Wine, and sure enough, my Dandelion Mead had a unique, if mellow flavor. Last year, I got the Dandelions from a friend, who harvested them for me from his yard.

This year, I wanted to go next-level by harvesting the dandelions myself. I got most of the flowers in my yard today, but only had a tiny fraction of what I needed. As I was going around my neighborhood looking for dandelions, I saw that most of the dandelions had gone to the seedhead stage (white puffballs), whereas I was looking for the yellow flowers. When the sunlight hit the air just right, you could see the airborne seeds, like dust particles in a ray of light coming through the window.

Finally, I saw a small south-facing hillside that still had some dandelions in yellow bloom. I pulled over and harvested a gallon of them:

photo by Morgan Lindenschmidt

Then, I tossed two sumac drupes from last year’s harvest into the container of dandelions, and put 2 gallons of water to boil. Once it was boiling, I dumped in the dandelion tops and the sumac drupes, let it boil for a few minutes longer, then turned off the heat to allow the infusion to cool overnight.

The next day, I strained the tea, and it smelled amazing! We tasted it and it was fantastic. My wife said, “I could drink this as my morning tea every day. Very nice!”

Also, when I got a gallon of honey I’d been storing, I was thrilled to discover it was raspberry honey! This is by far the best honey my supplier has available, and it’s probably the best honey I’ve ever had. The honey itself has almost a tartness to it that is utterly delicious. He calls it raspberry honey because the bees that produce it are near raspberry patches, and the flavor from the raspberries comes through. This is one of my favorite examples of how the qualities of the honey produced are a direct result of the ecosystem where the honey was produced. Honey truly is the lifeblood of an ecosystem.

I added enough of the honey to get up to about 19% alcohol potential:

I pitched the yeast, added everything to the carboy, mixed it, and airlocked it, and am left with a beautiful carboy of what will be a wonderful mead:

Truly a springtime brew! We’ll be enjoying this later in the summer.

UPDATE: 15 August

Just racked this mead… it’s already starting to clear! It measures in at 3% alcohol potential, which means this is a semisweet mead at 16% ABV. This will age beautifully, and is already bold and crisp.

Spruce Tip Mead

Out of all the meads I did last year, the Spruce Mead was easily the most unusual, and also one of the best-loved. I was told “it tastes like Yule” more than once, and one friend sipped it, shouted with joy, jumped up, gave me a hug, and told me it was the best mead he’d ever had. For me, it was also the first mead I made using ingredients from my local ecosystem. I harvested the spruce boughs on Beltane, and made the tea with that.

This year, I waited a bit longer in the season. I got the most gorgeous, neon-green tips when they came out:

photo by Morgan Lindenschmidt

I took about a half-gallon of these boughs, harvested sparingly from the north side of the tree, and from branches near my driveway that I didn’t want to grow much further over the driveway, and made a tea:

photo by Morgan Lindenschmidt

I brought the tea to a boil, and then turned the heat off for a nice spruce tip infusion. I then strained the spruce tips. I wanted to add some tang to it as well, so I made about 3 cups of sumac tea, using 2 TBSP of crushed staghorn sumac:

Again, I brought it to a boil, and let it infuse for about 5 minutes. I then poured the tea through a strainer into the large pot with the spruce tea, which warmed the tea up nicely (it had cooled to room temperature).

I then added enough honey to get to a 19% alcohol potential:

The spruce mead last year was extremely sweet, which was part of its charm. Hopefully this batch will be somewhat less sweet, with a relatively high alcohol by volume rating (I’m shooting for 15% alcohol, with 4% potential remaining for a pretty sweet finish).

Technically, this mead is a metheglin, since it was brewed with herbs. This was a big hit last year, and along with the Treequinox Mead this year I hope it comes out well.


9 Sept 2011: Just racked this mead. It’s still extremely sweet at 6% alcohol potential, which means this mead is at 13%. Flavor is subtly different than last year’s, which I attribute to using sumac rather than lemons and black tea. Still fantastic! Will be nice to have both this and the Treequinox Mead aging in my “cellar”….

Mead Workshop in Manchester, NH

making mead!

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be offering a Lore And Craft Of Mead Workshop in Manchester, NH on Thursday, June 30th at 7pm. The workshop will include a small mead tasting of a few brews I’ve done, a talk about the lore and value of mead, and a demonstration of how to make your first batch of mead. Registration for the class is $30, and includes a copy of The Lore And Craft Of Mead eBook.

Register for the class here: [wp_eStore:product_id:2:end]

In addition, I will have brewing kits available, that include all the equipment and basic ingredients you will need to produce your first batch of mead, including a 3-gallon glass carboy, rubber stopper, airlock, funnel, siphon hose, and a hydrometer, as well as a gallon of fantastic local (to me in Maine) honey and a packet of yeast.
NOTE: As of June 25 it is too late to get the brewing kits in time for the workshop.
Class registration is still available.

If there are any questions, or specific requests for what the class should cover, please contact us! I’m very much looking forward to sharing the magic of mead with Manchester people! Space is limited, so register now!

MeadFest 2011, and podcast interview

Last week Eli and I drove to Boston for MeadFest 2011. There were 4 Meaderies there sampling their wares. It was great to meet some fellow mead enthusiasts, and to finally sample some worthy commercial meads! I must admit, I haven’t had a large number of commercial meads, and very few of those I have tried compare to the homebrews I am used to from myself and my tribe. It was nice to know that there are good commercial meads in the world!

On the trip down, Eli and I recorded a podcast episode, talking about mead (of course), as well as the UFF’s mission more broadly. When I’m not involved with mead, my family and I have been doing a weekly podcast for the past 2 years or so, chronically our family’s journey toward conscientious living through nutrition and sustainability. We began the podcast as raw vegans, and have evolved our thinking/practices since then to a more primal, locavore-oriented philosophy. We’ve been anxious to get Eli onto the show since I first encountered UFF last year.

So if you want to hear more about mead, or the UFF and its mission, point your browser to our podcast page and listen to Episode 97 (the most recent one as of this writing). Mead enthusiasts might also be interested in Episode 86 (interview with my meadmaking mentor, Harper Meader), as well as Episode 49, where I talked about mead (basically an intro to mead from my point of view). There are many other topics on the podcast that might interest UFFies as well; take a peek at the contents page and see what sounds good to you.

Meadfest 2011

Very excited to be attending Meadfest 2011 in Boston this Thursday. I’ll be going with Eli from UFF, and there will be several meadmakers in attendance, including the guys from B.Nektar Meadery in Michigan, Moonlight Meadery in New Hampshire, Green River Ambrosia from western Massaschussetts, and several others.

As I’ve written here in the past, I don’t have a ton of experience with commercial meads, so I’m looking forward to meeting these guys, sampling some quality commercial meads, and networking. Should be a good time! This event IS open to the public, so come on down if you are in the area and want to dive in to the full-on mead experience.

Bardic Brews Mead: Coming Soon to a Market Near You

I’m so excited to finally be able to share this with everyone. I’m bringing Bardic Brews Mead to the marketplace! We’re going to put the first batch (Cacao Mead, of course….) in soon, so the first bottles will be available later this summer (whenever they are ready).

I’m teaming up with Urban Farm Fermentory in order to make this happen. Starting an alcohol-producing business requires significant upfront investment, including legal fees to navigate the complex government documentation and licensure (alcohol is a heavily regulated substance), as well as in proper equipment to produce alcohol on a commercial scale.

UFF has already done all this. They are a fully licensed facility, with all the gear necessary for commercial fermentation. They’ve been doing quite a few ciders this past year, which have all been outstanding. Also, UFF was the site of the Lore And Craft Of Mead Workshop I did with Daniel Vitalis last year. We’ll be doing contract brews together, which avoids all these upfront expenses for me.

Here’s how it works: the mead will be made on the UFF’s premises, using their space and equipment, but using my recipes, ingredient specifications, and techniques. Eli has been making mead for several years now, so I’m sure I’ll learn a lot by taking my mead to the commercial scale with him. Each batch will be many times greater than what I’m used to in my small 3 gallon homebrews. I expect my brews to get even better in this enviroment, with regulated temperatures, state of the art gear (I wonder what aging my mead for 6 months in an oak barrel would do? Let’s find out!), and constant supervision. This is the thing I love about working with UFF: our missions and values are completely compatible and intertwined. We are committed to doing things the right way.

My commercial brews will hold to the same standard as my homebrews: we will use real wild-harvested spring water, the best honey available in Maine, and high quality, local, and wild ingredients. I’ll make teas where appropriate to start each batch, and will also use tincturing as the mead ages. The only difference will be the size of the carboys. :-D

For the first batch, Cacao is a natural choice, given that I’ve had a few successful brews with it, and that my wife is a chocolatier. I’ll definitely be picking her brain a bit on this. It will still use wild-harvested chaga tea as a base, along with the best quality raw cacao available. The quality of these ingredients is off the charts! And the price point will be very reasonable as well.

Sales, at first, will be local to Maine. Alcohol interstate commerce is quite complex; you need permits and licenses within each state you want to ship to, and some states are impossible to ship alcohol to under any circumstances. Bardic Brews Mead will always be available at the UFF itself in Portland, Maine, as well as other shops, bars, and restaurants in Maine.

We might consider doing a preorder for the first 100 bottles (possibly numbering them). Watch this space for more info on where to buy Bardic Brews Cacao Mead.

Lastly, this website will not change. We are still committed to education, and building awareness on meadmaking, homebrewing, and the best ingredients you can use. Indeed, this site continuing as it has been is essential to our strategy moving forward. If anything, we’ll be ramping this end of the equation up as the site continues to grow. We’ll still encourage people to make their own mead using ingredients in their area. But now, our mead will also be available commercially as well, giving consumers an opportunity to sample mead made our way without having to do it yourself.

But first, we have to make some mead. I’ll provide updates on this site in real time as we go through the process. And for now, I’ll pour myself some Prickly Pear Mead and start to settle down for the evening.