Saturday July 28: Beginning AND Intermediate Meadmaking Workshop

Big announcement! I’ll be giving my next The Lore And Craft Of Mead workshop on Saturday, July 28th from 1pm until 4pm in New Gloucester, Maine. There will be an informal mead tasting before this exclusive, private event, and then in the event itself there will be a short lecture about mead, followed by a hands-on demonstration on how to make your own mead.

In addition, for the first time ever, I will also be showing how to “rack” the mead at the end of the fermentation cycle, as well as how to bottle the mead after it has cleared. You will witness the entire process, from mixing the initial ingredients to the final bottling! I’m very excited to teach this aspect of meadmaking because I’ve never done it before.

Space is limited to 12 participants, so get your registration in as soon as possible! The $50 registration fee includes a free copy of the Lore And Craft Of Mead eBook, so you will have something to study in advance and refer to after the workshop.

Get your registration in as soon as you can, space is limited!
[WORKSHOP IS OVER. Watch for future workshops!]

Location details will be sent to you upon registration. The $50 registration is non-refundable. If extraordinary circumstances cause you to miss the event, we will hold a space for you at a future event.

Root Mead

I never remember being a huge fan of root beer when I was a kid. I’d drink it, but the unusual, deep-root flavors were a bit much for my young, Standard American Diet, unevolved palate. It was sweet, though, so I’d drink it.

When I got older, I learned that root beer — with sassafras root as the primary ingredient — was a uniquely American beverage, and that people have been using this herb to make beverages on this continent for a very long time. Naturally, I wanted to make a mead based on this centuries-old technique of root beer.

There are a few ingredients I wanted to use. The obvious one is sassafras root, because it’s been the main traditional ingredient in root beer for a very long time. In addition, sarsaparilla has been used quite a bit in root beers, so it felt natural to include it here as well. Lastly, spikenard root is another herb local to my northern New England ecosystem that has a similar flavor. We begin with details on these three ingredients.


Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) is one of the primary medicinal herbs of the American continent, having been used for hundreds (if not thousands) of years by the indigenous people, as well as European colonists, both medicinally and for tonic, tasty beverages. In nineteenth-century herbal medicine, it was regarded as “a tonic, blood purifying herb, an aromatic stimulant, warming, diaphoretic, diuretic, and alterative,” which means that “it helps liver function, helps cleanse the bloodstream of accumulated tocins from a monotonous winter diet, and provides a warming stimulation to all parts of the body” (Buhner 302-303).

In recent years, there has been some controversy over whether or not sassafras is carcinogenic, since it was categorized by the FDA as such in the late 20th century. Indeed, there is some carcinogenic activity in safrole, which is the main volatile oil in sassafras. This categorization is in conflict with the fact that sassafras has been used extensively by indigenous people for generations; furthermore, these populations had very little incidence of cancer in general. Buhner notes that “the FDA ban [on sassafras] is thus, like many FDA bans, absurd,” because the safrole in a 12-ounce can of old-fashioned root beer is not as carcinogenic as the ethanol in a can of beer. I leave to the reader to decide, but I have no problem emulating our ancestors in my beverage preparation.


Sarsaparilla (Smilax regelii), also known as China root, was another medicinal root used extensively by North American healers for generations. In the early 19th century it became an in-demand ingredient in Europe and the UK, and there was a lively export trade around this species indigenous to North America.

It has a lovely scent and flavor, and is a tonic for the whole body. According to Buhner, “it has been found to possess antibiotic and antimicrobial activity and is useful in digestive complaints, for fevers, as a diuretic, and for hypertension” (Buhner 284).


I first heard about Spikenard Root (Aralia racemosa) from my friend and botany expert Arthur Haines. When I mentioned to him that I was doing a root mead, he said right away that I should include spikenard, since it is similar in flavor and effect to the above two more common herbs, and is indigenous to northern New England.

I was surprised at the lore of spikenard, since I’d never heard of the plant until Arthur mentioned it:

“Known since ancient times, spikenard is named in the Old Testament as one of the ingredients in the incense burned in the holy temple of Jerusalem. The powdered root is cited in some Islamic traditions as the forbidden fruit Adam ate in the garden of Eden against God’s wishes. In medieval Europe spikenard was part of the spice blend used in Hypocras, a sweetened wine drink” (from Mountain Rose Herbs).

 The Process

I began this mead as I do with so many of my meads, with a chaga decoction. Chaga adds a beautiful dark color, and a very delicate maple/vanilla flavor to a mead, which I thought would go beautifully with the root beer flavor. I put 2 gallons of spring water and maybe a fistful of chaga chunks into my 3 gallon stockpot, brought it to a boil, and then reduced the heat, allowing it to simmer for about 6 hours. Then, I added 1c each of Sassafras and Sarsaparilla, and 1/2c of Spikenard:

Chaga, Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, and Spikenard decoction

I let this simmer for another 2 hours, before turning the heat off and cooling down the decoction, by dunking the stockpot into a sinkful of cold tap water. I let the tap water around the stockpot warm up, drawing the heat out of the decoction, then drained the sink, then repeated the process twice to complete the cooling. I’m actually quite pleased with how will this works, it reduces the tea to room temperature within an hour or so at most.

Once the decoction was cool, I strained it, cleaned out my stockpot, and returned the very darkly colored tea into the stockpot. I then added enough honey and extra spring water to bring it to a full 3 gallons, at 19% alcohol potential (I want this root mead to be sweet, like root beer):

Sorry for the slight blur. This is just about 19% initial alcohol potential.

I then added the must, along with the rehydrated Red Star Montrachet yeast into a 3 gallon carboy, shook it well to mix/oxidize the must, and capped it off with an airlock.

24 hours later (as I write this) it is happily bubbling away. This should be another very interesting experiment, and as always I look forward to sampling the results!

UPDATE: July 28

This mead cleared very quickly! By the time I racked it 5 weeks in it was pretty close to clear enough to bottle. Very cool! It comes in at around 4% remaining alcohol so it is quite sweet, and stands at about 15% alcohol. It’s delicious! Already very much a success, and it will only get better as it mellows a bit with age.

I’m thinking about tossing a vanilla bean in to each jug to further smooth the flavor.

The Bee Crisis and Pesticides

As meadmakers, we obviously use a lot of honey and the health of our bees is of immediate importance, beyond the impact that bees have on the entire ecosystem. As such, I am regularly asked about the crisis involving bees that has been getting some well-deserved publicity as of late. I saw this article in the Associated Press today, and wanted to reproduce it here for posterity:

Latest buzz on bee decline: Maybe it’s pesticides

AP Science Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — A common class of pesticide is causing problems for honeybees and bumblebees, important species already in trouble, two studies suggest.

But the findings don’t explain all the reasons behind a long-running bee decline, and other experts found one of the studies less than convincing.

The new research suggests the chemicals used in the pesticide – designed to attack the central nervous system of insects – reduces the weight and number of queens in bumblebee hives. These pesticides also cause honeybees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives, the researchers concluded.

The two studies were published online Thursday in the journal Science.

Just last week activists filed a petition with more than a million signatures asking the government to ban the class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it is re-evaluating the chemicals and is seeking scientific help.

For more than a decade, pollinators of all types have been in decline, mostly because of habitat loss and perhaps some pesticide use. In the past five years, a new mysterious honeybee problem, colony collapse disorder, has further attacked hives. But over the last couple of years, that problem has been observed a bit less, said Jeff Pettis, lead bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s lab in Beltsville, Md.

Other studies have also found problems with the pesticide class singled out in the new research. These “strengthen the case for more thorough re-assessing,” said University of Illinois entomology professor May Berenbaum, who wasn’t involved in the new studies. “But this is not a slam-dunk indictment that could compel a ban. It’s complicated.”

In the honeybee study, French scientists glued tiny radio transmitters to the bees managed for orchard pollination. The bees were tracked when they came and left the hive. Those that were dosed with neonicotinoids were two to three times more likely not to return.

“Where’d they go? We have no clue about that actually,” said study author Mickael Henry, a bee ecologist for the French national agriculture institute. His study said the pesticide likely contributes to colony collapse.

In the bumblebee study, British researchers dosed bees with the pesticide and moved their hives out into the field. After six weeks, they found the pesticide-treated hives were 10 percent lighter than those that weren’t treated. And more important, the hives that had pesticides lost about 85 percent of their queens.

“Queen production is in some sense the be all and end all,” study author David Goulson of the University of Stirling in Scotland said.

Bayer Crop Sciences, which is the leading producer of neonicotinoids, says it is used on 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. and is safe. Bayer eco-toxicologist David Fischer said the honeybee study used unrealistically high doses of the chemicals, amounts that would not be used on crops bees normally pollinate.

Berenbaum, Pettis and a third outside scientist said the bumblebee study was more convincing than the honeybee research because it used lower doses and didn’t make as many assumptions.

Bayer’s Fischer said perhaps bumblebees are more sensitive to the pesticide and that issue is worthy of more study. But he said his company is one of the biggest canola growers in Canada and it uses the pesticide. The honeybees that pollinate Bayer’s fields are “some of the healthiest bees in Canada,” he said.

But environmental activists and some beekeepers are convinced the pesticide is a problem.

“The simple fact is, we know enough to take decisive action on this class of pesticides which covers well over 143 million acres of U.S. countryside,” said Heather Pilatic, co-director of the Pesticide Action Network North America.

The EPA, in a prepared statement said the decline in bee health, is due to “complex interactions” that involve inadequate food sources, diseases caused by parasites and viruses, habitat loss and bee management practices, as well as pesticides.

Bees are needed to pollinate fruit, vegetables and nuts. Without them experts say our diets would be very bland. Honeybees, which aren’t native to America, are managed by professional beekeepers, carted from farm to orchard and raised to produce honey. Bumblebees, native to this country, are wild pollinators.

Without bees, Berenbaum said, “we’d be a scurvy-ridden society.”

This article is copyright 2012 by Associated Press. It is cross-posted here for informational purposes only under the spirit of Fair Use.

Talking With The Plants

We’re excited to bring you this FREE recording, Talking With The Plants with Sean Donahue. This mp3 recording provides a groundwork for Sean’s approach to herbalism in general, focusing on building one’s relationship with the plants. Sean teaches that “what is this plant good for?” is the wrong question; rather, Sean invites us to rethink what it means to work with plants, to approach them on their own terms as living, breathing beings with their own intelligences. We have to learn to let go of our mechanistic approach to seeking out certain plants based upon what symptoms they will soothe, and instead realize that it’s really about being in relationship with the plants. The deeper our relationship with the plants on their own terms becomes, the greater the potential for transformation.

You can listen to this free recording directly from your browser:

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Or if you prefer, you can download it directly and save it to your computer, iPod, or other audio device.

Enjoy this free offering from Sean Donahue and Bardic Brews! If you’d like to support us directly, you can either look at our product offerings here on, you can register for some of Sean’s classes, or you can donate directly to us at

Some of you who are themselves or have loved ones who are healing breathing difficulties might also be interested in our Herbal Strategies for Asthma program. Look for more collaborations soon between Sean and Bardic Brews.

Sean Donahue is not a medical doctor, and none of the information contained in this recording is intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, or cure of any medical condition. Listeners are advised to consult a health professional before beginning to use any herb.

Double Extraction

A facebook post generated enough interest in the chaga double extraction I did recently that I decided to post about Double (or Dual) Extraction. This is a technique in working with herbs that I’ve picked up from a few herbalist friends.

When we extract herbal essences from herbs, sometimes making teas works better (if the compounds we want are water soluble), other times making tinctures is better (if the compounds we want are alcohol soluble).

But what if we want different compounds from a substance, some of which are water soluble and some of which are alcohol soluble? This is where dual extraction can be of value, since we use both water and alcohol. I have mostly used this technique with medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi and chaga.

Sorry for the lack of pictures; perhaps the next time I do this I’ll take pictures of the process to document it more fully. This technique takes some time, several weeks for the tincturing process and several days for the decocting process, but it’s not much work, it mostly involves letting the herbs sit in whichever medium they are being extracted in.

Step 1: tincture

  • I begin with a large mason jar with a lid. I fill the jar about halfway with the finely-chopped medicinal mushrooms of my choice. The finer the chopping, the more surface area we expose and the easier it will be to extract the alkaloids we are looking for.
  • Then, once the mushrooms or herbs are in the jar, I fill the jar completely with 80 (or more) proof alcohol. Vodka usually has the most neutral flavor but you can use whatever you wish.
  • Let the tincture sit for a period of time. Chaga can be ready within a week; on the other hand I’ve let Reishi go for more than a year. Harvest when you feel it is ready.
  • To harvest, pour the contents of the jar through a strainer, capturing the mark (chunks of mushrooms/herbs) and the menstruum (the now-colored alcohol containing the herbal essences just extracted). Cover the mentruum with a lid and set aside for several days while we further process the mark.

Step 2: decoction

  • Next, take the half-spent mark leftover from the tincturing process and put it into a large saucepan. Cover with a gallon of spring water and bring to a boil. I prefer using a crock pot for this step, put everything in, turn the pot onto high, and keep the lid cracked open so steam can escape.
  • Simmer and reduce the liquid to half or even one-quarter. Remove from heat, and let cool to blood temperature. Put into an appropriate container — mark and water (menstruum) together — and put the mixture into the freezer for 2-3 days, to allow it to fully freeze. The act of freezing the mark while in water can sometimes help break open the cell (or chitin) walls, allowing us to extract more nutrients.
  • Thaw the frozen mixture, and continue cooking down. Once completely thawed, add another gallon of water, return to simmer, and let it reduce to 1/2 quart (reduce by 8). Once reduced, where the liquid is quite dark and thick (chaga is GORGEOUS for instance), strain the mixture. Discard the mark, and keep the menstruum.

Step 3: dual extraction

  • Once the reduced tea has cooled to blood temperature, combine it with the tincture done in step 1. Shake/stir well to combine.
  • OPTIONAL: at this stage you can also add sweetener (no more than 1:1 honey) or additional flavorings (such as a vanilla bean).
  • Store in a bottle that offers some protection against UVs.
  • Your dual extraction will be potent! Experiment with just a few drops, or perhaps a dropperful or two.

To reiterate, I’ve had the most luck doing this with medicinal mushrooms, namely reishi and chaga. Have fun making your own medicines!

Herbal Asthma Strategies with Sean Donahue

We are very happy to bring you a brand new product: Herbal Asthma Strategies with Sean Donahue. After the success of the Lore And Craft of Mead book, we wanted to broaden our product range. While herbalism is one of the foundations of our meadmaking method, this new product is a foray into herbalism rather than fermentation.

Herbal Asthma Strategies with Sean Donahue consists of 7 audio lecture recordings in mp3 format (over 100 minutes of audio total), as well as a concise booklet that outline Sean’s approach to dealing with asthma. He developed these strategies with his own life experience. They were effective enough to have a profound effect on Sean’s life, leading him down the path of becoming an herbalist. He no longer considers asthma to be a part of how he defines himself, and has helped many other people with their asthma.

The program begins with teachings about what asthma is, in terms of why the body responds to certain stimuli with the tightness, wheezing, and difficulty breathing associated with asthma. So the first step is to learn which triggers to avoid, in order to prevent the body from responding with breathing trouble. One very important trigger point is diet, which is discussed in detail to help you determine which dietary choices will improve your quality of breath.

In addition, Sean discusses the critical — and often overlooked — emotional component of healing associated with those who no longer have asthma, which may explain why some people “grow out of” asthma and others do not.

Lastly, Sean gives a breakdown of 13 Herbs for Asthma, discussing the virtues of each plant along with where and when it is appropriate to employ each one as part of your asthma strategy.

We’ve made available a short interview with Sean where we discuss this program and his history with asthma, which you can listen to here:

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As you can hear, Sean’s teaching style is quite gentle, heart-based, and thorough.

Lastly, we believe healthcare of all kinds are a fundamental right for everyone, so as of Imbolc, 2012 we are reducing the cost on this program to just $13.99!

Add it to your cart: [wp_eStore:product_id:5:end][wp_eStore_cart_when_not_empty]

Sean Donahue is not a medical doctor, and none of the information contained in this booklet or the accompanying recordings is intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, or cure of any medical condition. The term asthma is used here in a general, colloquial sense, not as a term for a medical condition. Readers and listeners are advised to consult a health professional before beginning to use any herb.

New Product Announcement… coming soon

I’m very excited for an upcoming product announcement that will be a departure for Bardic Brews. In the past, all of our work has been about fermentation in general, and mead in particular. However, despite my love of mead and fermentation, it was never my intention to keep the focus of this website so narrow.

Herbalism is a big part of my meadmaking strategy; I have incorporated herbs into my concoctions from the very beginning. And indeed, herbalism has been an increasing part of my life since this website began.

This new publication, which will be released in the coming days, is also near and dear to me personally. I’ve had asthma since I was a small child, and have struggled throughout my life to keep it under control so that I can live the life I wish to live with minimal impact from the asthma.

For this new, upcoming product, I am teaming up with Sean Donahue, to bring you a packet of information called Herbal Asthma Strategies. Sean, who deals with asthma himself, has used these strategies to improve his own health, and to help many other people — including me.

I can’t tell you how excited we are to bring this information out to the public. For people like myself who have struggled with asthma their entire lives, being reliant upon the steroid-based products of the pharmaceutical industry, this information is a life-changer, empowering us to increase our health naturally, affordably, and sustainably.

This publication will consist of several high-quality audio recordings (in mp3 format so you can put them on your portable player), where Sean discusses the nuances of his strategies in detail, as well as a more concise booklet summarizing the information in the recordings.

Best of all, this information will be extremely affordable. It will cost less than most other asthma remedies commonly in use, and the information contained within will never run out, it can be used for the rest of your life. And, because we want to make this important information available to everyone, we will be offering it on a sliding scale.

Watch this space for the official announcement and launch coming later this week!

Elder Mead

If we wish to honor our Elders — our ancestors; our blood-roots — then we can do well to learn from their wisdom. Their wisdom honors us, if we are attentive to it. In some way, I regard Elderberries, Reishi Mushrooms, and Rose Hips as Herbal Elders. Our Elders used these plants/fungi considerably. These herbs have been our companions as humans for a very long time.

All three of them have profound healing properties on some level, all working in close harmony with our immune systems, strengthening and regulating them when they are out of balance. All three herbs are abundant this time of year, going into the cooler months where we are more likely to benefit from their properties. And all three have been used to strengthen the immune system, aid in healing sickness, in many traditions and cultures worldwide, all over the planet, for millennia.

I wanted to bring all of these Elders together in a mead. This chronicle will start with the ingredients used first.

Reishi (Ganoderma tsugae)

“Reishi is that age old medicine cited thousands of years ago in several texts and scripts as being a tonic for emperors. At one time this mushroom was specifically used under the prestigious vestiges of the ruling class, but it has since made its way into the pantries of us common folk. Traditional and contemporary Chinese medicine admire it as a tonic benefiting vital energy or “Qi”, and it is popularly prescribed for a multitude of maladies.”

Reishi seems like an elder to me. It has been in use for thousands of years; its Chinese name translates to “mushroom of the spirit” or “supernatural mushroom.” There is a wisdom to this “immortality” fungus that western scientists are just beginning to wonder about.

Much has been written about Reishi; there are plenty of places to learn about it. I won’t repeat any more here, other than to say Reishi is one of my absolute favorite herbs to work with. Its decocted taste is extremely bitter, so I’ve wanted to incorporate it into a brew for a while now. Elder Mead seemed an obvious choice.

I began by chopping up my reishi into tiny pieces, to increase their surface area which will allow more medicine to be in the tea:

Reishi can be tough to cut, but the newly-sharpened Becker BK-2 makes short work of it.

I put the reishi into 2 gallons of spring water, brought it to a simmer, and let it decoct for about 10 hours.

Rose Hips (Rosa canina)

Rose Hips to me embody the wisdom of the divine feminine, our Mother-Elders have an unbroken, living lineage back to the dawn of time. Their scent conjures springtime, and they look over us, nourishing us with vitamin C and their other, many nutrients. Bringing this mother-herb into this mead was a no-brainer.

Right at the end of the Reishi decoction, I put the (frozen, then thawed, to soften their skins) rose hips into the tea and let everything (hot water, reishi bits, rose hips) infuse and cool overnight. The next morning, I strained the tea, which was a gorgeous, clear color tasting both bitter and tart:

Reishi (decoction) Rose Hip (infusion) tea.

Once the tea cooled to blood temperature, I was ready to put everything else together.

Elderberry (Sambucus Nigra)

Elderberry is one of my favorite berries to brew with. 2010’s Elderberry Mead was one of my favorites of the year, both in terms of taste and in terms of its effects on the body. Elderberries are extremely medicinal, with a long history of medicinal lore not only from the past, but also right up through the present, where its “H1N1 inhibition activities… compare favorably” to other known flu medications. Elderberry syrup is one common way to get this fantastic medicine into our bodies, but mead works just as well, and might last longer.

I got some gorgeous, purple elderberries:


I did the usual; I whizzed these up in the VitaMix and then strained it into the must. This time, however, I did something different with the mark; after I strained it I saved the pulp and the seeds, put the mark into a small (leftover Rite Chocolate) jar and then covered it all up with vodka. I’ll let this tincture for a few weeks, strain it, then mix it with honey to make an Elderberry Cordial:

Making an elderberry tincture with the leftover pulp and a bit of vodka.

I’ll report back as to how the tincture goes.

Then, I mixed in enough honey to get up to a 17% initial alcohol potential:

Transfer everything to the carboy, give a good shake, label it, and clean up the bit of mess, and we’re good to go:

Elder Mead, with Reishi, Rose Hips, and Elderberries

Here’s one for the Elders. Tonight I raise my horn to you. Hail to the Blood Roots! Hail to the Mud Roots! May your wisdom bestow us with health in the coming cold months….


This is quite dry, and very bitter from the reishi! Nice! 1% remaining alcohol potential, which means this is quite strong at 16% alcohol. This one is very complex and very nice…. should just get better as it ages.

Chaga Pyment

I’ve wanted to make a pyment for a while now. Pyment is simply one of the fancy names for mead variants (such as melomel, metheglin, cyser, etc) that refers to mead made with grape juice. I was going to do a pyment last season, but never did — apparently I was distracted by the plethora of choice ingredients available for mead at this time of year when grapes are ripe in this climate. However this year, after a phone call from a friend alerting me to a patch of wild Concord Grapes, I finally had a good chance to do so.

Concord Grapes (Vitis labrusca) were developed nearby (in Concord, MA) in the mid-19th century:

Experimenting with seeds from some of the native species, Boston-born Ephraim Wales Bull developed the Concord grape in 1849. On his farm outside Concord, down the road from the Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Alcott homesteads, he planted some 22,000 seedlings in all, before he had produced the ideal grape. Early ripening, to escape the killing northern frosts, but with a rich, full-bodied flavor, the hardy Concord grape thrives where European cuttings had failed to survive. In 1853, Mr. Bull felt ready to put the first bunches of his Concord grapes before the public — and won first prize at the Boston horticultural Society exhibition. From these early arbors, fame of Mr. Bull’s (“the father of the Concord grape”) Concord grape spread world-wide, bringing him up to $1,000 a cutting, but he died a relatively poor man. The inscription on his tombstone states, “He sowed–others reaped.”

These grapes are hardy, and can be found in abundance in New England, having been cultivated here for many decades. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the grapes outlast the abandoned human settlements where they were first planted. I found a patch in an urban setting, and harvested about 2 quarts:

about 2 quarts of wild grapes

The grapes have seeds in them of course, and while there is a bit of sweetness to them, the overwhelming flavor is tartness/sourness. It will be a nice counterbalance to the sweet honey. After harvesting, I blended the grapes in the blender, and then strained them into the 2 gallon chaga decoction I had made previously:

straining the grape juice into the must

I then added about 14 cups of honey, enough to get me up to a 17% alcohol potential:

under all the foam, the hydrometer reads 17%

Normally with meads, one must add various acids (citric and tannic), but grapes contain both of these, so I just went simple: chaga decoction, spring water, honey, and grapes. The result is a beautifully rich colored brew:

Beautiful chaga pyment

I look forward to this one! I have only tried a few pyments, and really want to explore this further. Now I’ll have a chance!


This one is fruity and beautiful. It is sweet at 4% remaining alcohol potential, and is 13% alcohol.

On Sulfites

As I learn more about fermentation on a commercial level, the issue of sulfites has come up for me. I’ve never added sulfites to my mead; it’s an extra ingredient that I never really needed. I wasn’t even sure what it did, though I know it was surrounded by a sort of enigmatic haze that it’s bad for humans; I vaguely remembered warning labels from wine about sulfites.

Sulfite is a salt, its chemical formula is SO3. It is naturally occurring, but it also is routinely added to commercial ferments. When added to a fermentation, it stabilizes the ferment where it is: the yeast dies, the fermentation process stops, and the sulfites resist oxidization and act as a preservative of the brew. Sounds reasonable, especially in a commercial setting; using sulfites prevents unanticipated fermentation after bottling (the last thing a commercial brewer needs is one of their bottles exploding in a customer’s face), and makes each bottle more consistent over time.

The problem is, some people react to sulfites similarly to having an allergic reaction. These people should avoid consuming excess sulfites, though exposure to some naturally-occurring sulfites is almost inevitable.

I still don’t think I’ll ever use sulfites for my homebrews, there is just no need for it. And philosophically, I don’t like the idea of “killing” my beverages, regardless of the specific questionability of sulfites themselves. For commercial brews, I can understand why it is used.

Plus it’s not so simple than just choosing not to use sulfites: if a commercial brewer decides not to use them and claim “no sulfites” on the label, then they must submit a sample of the brew for testing, to ensure that it truly does not contain sulfites. It’s not as simple as saying “we have added no sulfites” to a particular brew.

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll use sulfites for the Bardic Brews Meads that I will release with UFF. Watch this space.