more on Sumac

I’m going to do another batch of mead soon, and I’m going to use sumac a little differently. This time, I will prepare a chaga tea as normal, but after it is done decocting, I will pull out the chaga and then put in the whole sumac drupes (the flowery fruit formations), without worrying about pulling them off the stems. I will let this sit for a while (20 minutes minimum, or perhaps overnight) before straining and then beginning the mead recipe.

This should result in a tea that, apart from the chaga medicine, should be high in tannic acid, ascorbic acid, malic acid, and ready to make a most excellent local mead.

The benefit of this method is that there won’t be any floaties in the must after fermentation that I have to deal with.

Blackberry Mead

Blackberries are up at this time of year, so of course a blackberry mead is in order. I made a few modifications to my Standard Mead Recipe. I used chaga tea as a base, which has almost become the norm for me at this point.

I blended a quart of wild blackberries, most of which were given to me by a friend, though I added about a cup from our yard, and strained out the seeds. I poured the blackberry puree into the must with the chaga tea and the honey.

In general, my quest is to use the highest quality, yet local, ingredients wherever possible. Up until now I have been using black tea and citrus fruits (oranges/lemons) to provide the citric acid and tannic acid desired by the yeast. Neither of these grow in my local ecosystem, and that has troubled me a bit. I wanted to take things to the next level here, and find a way to make it work without these imported ingredients.

However, Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) does grow in my area, and it contains both citric acid as well as tannic acid. Some friends of mine tried using sumac in their meads and it seemed to go well (started bubbling within 24 hours) so I thought I’d give it a try with this batch as well. You don’t want the sumac to get too hot, so I poured warm (maybe 120 degrees) water over it and let it steep for a few minutes:

I then poured this tea, unstrained, into the carboy with the yeast, and the must came behind it, when I topped it off to 3-gallons. The result is the darkest color mead yet:

I’m anxious to see how it goes with the sumac rather than the tea/lemons. It started bubbling away within 8 hours and is going strong now. I really hope the results are good, because now literally every ingredient in this mead, except for the yeast, is local: spring water I harvested myself; local honey from Tony’s Honey in Buckfield, Maine; wild-harvested blackberries, chaga, and sumac.

The next step, and it will happen soon, is to start experimenting with wild yeast.

UPDATE: Here’s the label I made for this batch, with the new logo:

Lammas Harvest

Spent several hours bottling tonight, thanks to LM for the assistance. Scraping labels off recycled wine bottles with razor blades is tedious work.

I bottled a gallon each from 4 different batches (Spruce, Dandelion, Strawberry, Goji), yielding 20 bottles:

This is the official beginning of my mead cellar. W00t! Some of the bottles are spoken for, I’ve committed them to friends for sharing. There is more on the way behind this! Exciting harvest!

PS – Thanks to Harper Meader for his post earlier today. I learned the basics of meadmaking from him, so it’s a pleasure to have his thoughts here. I can definitely attest to the quality of his raspberry braggot! Hail!

Harper’s Raspberry Braggot Recipe and Musings

Hey, Harper Meader here, pinch-hitting for Jim. I have been brewing mead for about 25 years, and have never actually repeated a recipe. As people who have taken my occasional class know, my method is the “Stir With Your Arm and Measure by the Handful” method. I like to spice mead intuitively, use a lot of fuits and berries, straighten it out in the end with fingers crossed and a hydrometer for a general clue.

Until now. A little background, though. I experimented with a few braggots (mead with malt as well as honey) over the last five years or so, and generally liked the results, even though the “Black Fairy” stoutish batch was only appreciated by a few friends. To my dismay this past winter, I found that a five-year-old bottle of it had spoiled terribly. It tasted like mildew. My theory is that the malt doesn’t keep well, which makes sense since beer generally is better in the first few months than later.

I took this badly, but then thought, “Hey, all this means is the we have to drink braggots faster; that’s not ALL bad!”

With this in mind, I tried a new batch, aiming for flavor in the neighborhood of good Belgian lambic, a fantastic raspberry beer that, if you haven’t tried it, you should. The resulting braggot is just beautiful, lush, complex, a little tangy, and it has been a pleasure sharing it at every occasion. The recipe follows, and I have decided to actually repeat it, a personal first.

Harper’s Raspberry Braggot:

Sumbl Horn
The Sumbl Horn, caught in a rare dry moment.

+/- 18 pounds Honey
3 lb. can of raspberry puree (didn’t note the brand)
a half can (1.6 lbs.) Unhopped extra light malt extract
juice of 14 clementines (1 3/4 cups of juice)
4 black teabags
fresh-ground nutmeg, maybe 1/2 tsp?
two packets Redstar Pasteur Red yeast

Warm up the honey enough to completely dissolve, with twice the volume of water, stirring, then turn off the heat.
Add puree, extract, juice, nutmeg, and stir.

steep the tea ten minutes in 4 cups of the must, microwaved to near boiling, then add. With hydrometer, adjust by adding water if needed to have a starting potential alcohol of 17%.

Cool a cup or two of the must in a bowl until it’s below 95 degrees, then pour the yeast on top and let sit to proof. (This makes sure it’s good yeast, and helps it start better)
When must is below 95 degrees, pour into brewing container, stir vigorously with a slotted spoon for a minute or two, and add the proofed yeast.
Cover and add airlock.

Raspberry Mead

Probably my favorite young mead I’ve had yet was raspberry mead done by friends of mine. Since raspberries are now in season in Maine, doing up a batch of raspberry mead is a no-brainer. I used my Basic Mead Recipe with the following modifications:

  • 2 gallons of chaga tea as the liquid base
  • 5 cups of fresh, local raspberries, blended and strained (to get rid of the fine raspberry seeds)
  • juice of 3 lemons
  • 3 bags black tea

Color is the deepest, richest red yet…. let’s see how it is after fermentation.

UPDATE: Here’s the label, with the new logo:

Blueberry Mead

I just did up a blueberry mead. I used the basic mead recipe, adapted by using chaga tea as the water base, 3 oranges (blueberries have vitamin C so I didn’t need 6), 3 black teabags, and a quart of fresh blueberries from the local farmer’s market. Beautiful red/purple color:

UPDATE: This mead came out really nice. Still has a rich dark color. A few “floaties” from the blueberry skins, next time I’ll whiz them longer. Here’s the label:

Yarrow Mead

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium – “the thousand-leaved plant of Achilles”) is an intriguing herb for brewing, and has been used in this capacity for centuries or more. According to Stephen Harrod Buhner, “throughout Scandanavia it is called jordhumle, ‘earth hop.’ ” It was commonly used in gruit ale in the middle ages, before the exclusive use of hops was mandated by the authorities (not coincidentally, around the time the witch hunts began, when wise women herbalists were the victims of genocide and their knowledge was systematically eradicated). Yarrow is, however, still used to some degree in Europe for ale brewing.

In addition, yarrow is “highly inebriating and stimulating” when used in brewing, “far out of proportion to [its] individual effects outside of fermentation.”

I wanted to try a mead using yarrow, so as always I adapted my standard mead recipe in the following ways:

  • Brew 2 gallons of yarrow tea, using about 2 ounces of dried yarrow. Boil 2 gallons of water and pour it over the yarrow, let it steep for about an hour, and then strain it.
  • Add a gallon of honey to the must
  • Add the juice of 8 lemons (I wanted to have a bit more of a citrus-y flavor, I think it will blend nicely with the yarrow herb flavor
  • Brew a small pot of black tea, using 3 black teabags and some of the yarrow tea, letting steep for 5 minutes, and add to the must

It has a beautiful golden color:

UPDATE: Here’s the label:

Goji Mead

This is actually my 2nd attempt at Goji Mead. First attempt was fantastic! I wanted to do another brew, and didn’t have any local fruits to use, so I used some (rehydrated) dried goji berries. This is also the first batch I posted here in real time, or at least a few minutes after I finished it, and not a retrospective post.

This was brewed in accordance with my basic mead recipe, with the following additions:

  • started with a chaga decoction
  • soaked a quart of dried goji berries in some of the chaga tea, then blended in VitaMix (high speed blender)
  • used 3 bags of tea done up with the chaga tea
  • added juice of 3 lemons (goji berries have ascorbic acid)

Also, I used a siphon hose coming out of the stopper, with the other end in a bucket of water, to avoid re-creating an artificial axe-murder scene.

3 gallons of Goji Mead

Let’s see how this batch turns out!

UPDATE: Good thing I used the siphon hose, less than 12 hours into primary fermentation:

Goji Mead - siphon tube

Note that the hose and the water in the bucket are now red…. if I hadn’t done this, the pressure would have built up until the airlock exploded, and I’ve had another axe-murder scene on my hands. Phew!

UPDATE: Here’s the label:

Strawberry Mead

I used the same Basic Mead Recipe but started with a chaga decoction tea as the liquid base. I used 3 lemons. At the end, I whizzed up 2 quarts of fresh, local strawberries in a VitaMix high speed blender, and added it to the must.

This was put up on June 23rd. Imagine my surprise that night when I got home and thought I’d walked in on an axe-murder. The mead, in its initial blast of fermentation, and shot up out of the airlock and spewed all over the ceiling, walls, floor, laundry machine, and really everything. Man, what a mess.

This will get racked around Lammas (Aug 1) or so.

Lovely deep red color:

And finally, a pic of the label: