Happy Strawberry Mead

This is my third year making mead using local, wild and/or organic berries in season. For this year’s strawberry mead I wanted to do something a little different; at the same time I pretty much have the berry meads dialed in to produce consistent and delicious meads. Some of my herbal meads I’ve experimented with over the past year or so have been a bit heavy-handed with the herbal flavor, so I wanted to back off a bit on the herbal ingredients, using herbs with gentler flavors.

For this mead, I wanted to use my now-customary chaga decoction as a base, and also repeat last year’s experiment with strawberry leaf tea, and also add some St John’s Wort, for without that it would be mere Strawberry Mead (which is actually delicious in itself).

St Johns Wort

St Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is one of the more well-known herbs used in our culture, since it is very effective in treating one of the more widespread psychological dis-eases in our culture: depression. According to Mountain Rose Herbs,

Originally native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, St. John’s wort is a perennial plant with bright yellow star-shaped flowers are now readily found throughout North America, growing wild in neglected fields and along roadsides. St. John’s wort rose from virtual obscurity in the U.S. to become the fifth best selling dietary supplement in mainstream retail stores. Its rise to fame came after the national media reported clinical research showing that it was safe and effective for treating mild to moderate depression, and the Greek physician Hippocrates (ca. 460-377 B.C.E.) was one of the first to speak of the health benefits of St. Johns Wort, and it as been used to treat anxiety, neurosis, and depression since the time of Paracelsus (ca. 1493-1541 C.E.), when it was declared to be “arnica for the nerves.” In addition to its value as a psychiatric treatment, Some of the original folklore uses of this versatile plant were in treating bedwetting, rheumatism, and gout.

In addition to its widespread use and lore, I do have some personal experience with this plant, having used it to to self-medicate for mild depression issues a few times in my life.

One additional use that is gaining notoriety is in using St Johns Wort as part of an herbal smoking mixture. I don’t have any personal experience with this but it is something I may experiment with.

Interestingly, one of the side effects of St Johns Wort is that it can make one more susceptible to sunburn and UV from the sun in general. However, this seemed somehow appropriate given the sunny disposition of this strawberry mead.

The Process

I began as is common for me these days with a 12-hour chaga decoction. At the end of the 12 hours I turned off the heat, added 3 organic black teabags for the tannic acid, a few fistfuls of chopped St Johns Wort, and finally a good fistful or two of dried strawberry leaves from last year’s harvest:

Tea with decocted chaga, 3 organic black tea bags, St Johns Wort and Strawberry Leaves infused.

I let this steep for about 10 minutes, and then began to cool the must. Too cool it, I used the new technique I tried recently with the Bar Mills Braggot, putting the stockpot into a sinkful of cold tap water. This technique works very well!

Placing the stockpot with hot tea into a sinkful of cold water will cool the must down about 30 degrees each time it is repeated. It is very effective!

Once the tea had cooled, I strained it and was ready to make the mead. The main ingredients are honey, the tea, and a quart of strawberries:

From left, a gallon of honey, about 1.5 gallons of tea, and a quart of strawberries in the blender.

First I strained the blended strawberries into the tea:

Straining the blended strawberries into the must.

Afterward, I added enough honey (about 14 cups) to bring the must up to about 17.5% alcohol potential:

Enough honey added to a 17.5% initial alcohol potential.

Once everything was mixed well, I poured the rehydrated yeast into the bottom of the carboy, added the must on top of it, shook it well to mix and oxidize it, and capped it with an airlock:

Yeast pitched, must transferred to carboy, everything mixed and oxidezed..... Happy Strawberry Mead!

As I write this 24 hours later,  it is happily bubbling away.

New Meadmaking Class in Maine? And Ohio?

Quick entry…. I’d like to plan another meadmaking class this summer, somewhere between Portland and Augusta in Maine. It’s been nearly a year since the last one. If you are interested in attending, contact me; I’d like to have an idea of how many people are interested before I decide the location.

I would also like to set one up in Ohio (Cincinnati area) this summer, since I am planning a visit there this summer. If you are interested in having a workshop in that area, please contact me.

Contact info is brewmeister AT the domain name of this site (ie, bardicbrews.net). Die, spam, die.

Mad Trad – Not Half Bad!

Well it turns out, in the Mad Trad Trial, the 2 batches I did with chaga (B and D) cleared much more quickly and were ready to bottle. I really needed the space for new brews so I decided to bottle Mad Trad B and Mad Trad D.

They came out beautifully clear:

Mad Trad B and Mad Trad D were ready to bottle before the others.

Mad Trad A and Mad Trad C, along with the Perry Cyser, are still clearing. When they are ready to bottle watch this space for new batches….

Mad Trad Racking

The first stage of the Mad Trad Trial is complete. Tonight I racked all 4 batches into jugs, so that they will have a chance to clear before bottling. It was nice to do, because I got a chance to test each batch.

To refresh, I did 4 batches of traditional mead, all with very slight variations on the same basic recipe. To recap, and to provide new data, I present the following photo, with observations below:

From left, Mad Trads D, C, B, and A. Note that the chaga was used in D and B, and these 2 are the darker of the 4. The lighting in this photo is imperfect so the colors aren't completely accurate, but this conveys the general idea.

Mad Trad A

This batch was the most basic recipe doing things the way I was taught. It is the closest to a traditional mead, in that it uses water, honey, yeast, and a small amount of orange juice for the citric acid and black tea for the tannic acid. Like all the Mad Trads, the initial alcohol potential was 18%. The remaining alcohol potential is now 6%, which means this is 12% alcohol and still very very sweet.

The flavor is already excellent with a bit of that young mead harshness. The sack mead sweetness helps cover it up. The flavor of the oranges and the various notes from the honey used predominate the flavor. All in all it is a very fine, very sweet mead, but it was actually my least favorite of the bunch.

Mad Trad B

This batch was the same as the previous batch except it was made with chaga tea instead of plain spring water. The color is a bit darker, and the flavor is a bit richer. In addition, fermentation was better because this is just 4% remaining alcohol potential (after starting at 18%).

This mead is a very pleasant sweet mead, at 14% alcohol. The chaga gives the flavor more smoothness and richness. The orange and the honey are still the dominant flavors, but this one has a different layer than Mad Trad A that I find appealing. This was my 3rd favorite of the 4 at this stage.

Mad Trad C

This batch is the same as Mad Trad A, except it uses sumac rather than orange juice and black tea. It too started off at 18% alcohol potential and is now at 4%, so it too is pleasantly sweet.

The flavor here with the sumac was very light and crisp, but the honey was still very predominant. In a sense, the sumac let the honey flavor out better than the orange, which tended to dominate the flavor. This was the second best of the 4 at this stage.

Mad Trad D

This batch had both sumac and chaga, and was my favorite of the bunch. It too started off at 18% alcohol potential and is now at 4%, so it is also pleasantly sweet.

Mad Trad D has the richness of Mad Trad B, and the crispness of Mad Trad C. This was my favorite of the 4. It has the most complex, and also yet the most balanced flavor of the 4.

Next Steps

From here, these 8 gallons of Traditional Mead will settle out in their jugs before bottling, pictured here with 2 gallons of Perry Cyser that are also still clearing:

From left, 2 gallons each of Perry Cyser, Mad Trad A, Mad Trad B, Mad Trad C, Mad Trad D

This will make 48-50 bottles of mead as soon as it clears…. hopefully soon!

UPDATE, 10 May 2012

Mad Trad B is already clearing significantly! I have 2 gallons in jugs, and another half-gallon-ish in a large bottle. All 3 are clearing, and none of the other jugs are. This is what it looks like now (saving the 2 gallon jugs for bottling, this is out of the large bottle):

Mad Trad B

It will be interesting to see how the rest of them clear…. Mad Trad B was made with chaga, and with black tea & oranges.

Beltane Mini-Harvest

Just a quick post to document a small bottling session I did the other night:

This is just the Blackberry Cyser Mead…. the Perry Cyser is still in jugs clearing, and of course all 4 batches in the Mad Trad Trial will be ready for racking soon. This mead is delightfully clear, nice and tart, with a bit of berry sweetness underlying it. I’m sure we’ll enjoy it at today’s potluck and into the future!

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.

The Mad Trad Trial

I recently realized that I have yet to do a plain Traditional Mead. And, as fate would have it, I also realized I have 4 clear carboys at the same time (usually I do a better job of cycling the brews). So I decided as both a learning experience to fine-tune my basic meadmaking recipe, I thought I’d do two experiments at once.

Variable #1: Chaga Base

As you know, I regularly make mead with chaga tea as a base. But I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison of the same recipe, one done with spring water and the other done with chaga tea. This will therefore be variable 1 in the experiment.

Variable #2: Sumac vs. Oranges/Black Tea

I was taught to use Oranges and Black Tea to change the pH of the must, but later started to use Staghorn Sumac as a substitute, for a similar flavor profile. But again, I had never compared 2 identical recipes, one done with oranges/black tea and one done with Sumac.

So with this variable matrix, I will do 4 unique batches:

Mad Trad A

This one has spring water with oranges and black tea. It is the basic mead recipe I was taught from Harper Meader’s “Measure with your fist, Stir with your arm” method. 3 cups of black tea with the juice of 6 oranges to alter the pH of the must. Start at the beginning. If this group has a control, Mad Trad A is it.

Mad Trad B

Since I first began experimenting with chaga, the first deviation will be that. Mad Trad B also has oranges and black tea as above, but is made with a chaga decoction base rather than plain spring water.

Mad Trad C

Next is the sumac experiment. Mad Trad C is Spring Water with Sumac Tea to alter the pH.

Mad Trad D

Last but not least, Mad Trad D is made with both Chaga Tea and Sumac Tea.

I made all the batches consecutively, so the variables are minimized (temperatures, yeast rehydration and pitch time, etc. are all similar). They were all brought up to an 18% initial alcohol potential reading.

From left: Mad Trad A, Mad Trad B, Mad Trad C, Mad Trad D. Notice how the 2 chaga batches are darker.
From left: Mad Trad A, Mad Trad B, Mad Trad C, Mad Trad D. Notice how the 2 chaga batches are darker.

Let the games begin!

18 Hour Update

So far it seems the tea/orange combo are quicker to ferment. Batch A has the most foam at the top, but Batch B has more bubbles in the airlock. Still early, fermentation hasn’t really started yet for any of them. The next 12 hours will be fun.

 24 Hour Update

All the batches are bubbling now. A and B are almost full-on. C and D are slower but have started. This is evidence that pH levels with oranges and tea are more favorable than with sumac. In both pairs, the chaga bubbled a bit earlier which also seems to support that chaga is good for the yeast.

40 Hour Update

Everything is now bubbling away as one would expect…. and the carboys are all in the cabinet, out of the light. Will check on them regularly, and am definitely looking forward to a mad trad mead shootout later this summer….

10 Week Update

All 4 batches were racked tonight. There is a separate entry detailing the results of it. Mad Trad A has 6% remaining alcohol potential, the other 3 batches have 4% remaining alcohol potential.

Imbolc Harvest

Actually this one is about halfway between Imbolc and Ostara. Oh well.

Both of these two are really good meads, for different reasons. The Chaga Pyment is simply delicious already, and I expect it to get better. The Elder Mead is one of the most complex meads I’ve done yet; each of its main ingredients (reishi, elderberry, rose hip) are easily discernible in the flavor spectrum. Medicinally it also might be the most powerful one I’ve yet done (excepting possibly the Elecampane Mead).

All in all, a lovely harvest! Next up will be this year’s cysers, but not for a few months most likely.

Yule Harvest, 2011

Quite a harvest after the bottling session today:

Bottled three batches today: Spruce Tip Mead, Raspberry Damiana Mead, and Cherry/Red Ginseng Mead. If I may say so, all three batches are excellent in their own right, and for very different reasons.

For the Spruce Tip Mead, this is not the first time I’ve made an evergreen brew. They do hold a special place in my heart; last year’s spruce mead was surprisingly one of the best ones I did all year. This years is no different, though the flavor is different from last years. It’s still very sweet, but it still tastes like Yule.

When talking about the Raspberry Damiana the first thing I should mention is its incredibly vibrant color. Deep red, one of the most gorgeous batches since the Wild Black Cherry and the Prickly Pear. To be honest, at first I was a bit disappointed with the flavor when I racked it; it had a bit of a “cough syrup” vibe to it with the herbal damiana and the sweet-fruity flavor mixed together. I’m happy to say that the cough-syrupiness has faded significantly since then, and it is delicious! Will be a favorite I think.

Finally, the Cherry Red Ginseng is surprising precisely for its lack of color. I did use fewer cherries than last year, and the cherries I did use were not as ripe — bright red rather than deep black. However the mead turned out… yellow. Go figure. That said, it is beautifully clear and might be the most delicious of these three batches.

I’m definitely grateful for a bountiful Yule harvest! Happiness is…. a full mead cabinet.

Mead Workshop in Auburn, ME

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be offering a Lore And Craft Of Mead Workshop in Auburn, ME on Tuesday, July 26th at 6pm. 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.

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 Lewiston/Auburn people! Space is limited, so register now!