Do YOU Brew?
It seems like there has been an explosion in the popularity of homebrewing in recent years– unless I’ve just been living under a rock and somehow hadn’t noticed it before! More and more often I hear of folks taking up brewing as a hobby, yet for some reason it seems like everyone I talk with or hear of is brewing beer. In fact, many of them just buy a kit and use that.
Which is interesting….. but it somehow seems to be about on the same level as stirring together a cake mix from a box and calling it baking. Or assembling an Ikea chair and calling yourself a furniture builder.
I’m sure I’m missing something here, but aren’t you essentially just combining what they gave you and watching it develop? Now, that can be super interesting in and of itself– I always love to watch things transforming themselves into something edible– but it misses some of the intrigue and delight of figuring out what works, why, and accomplishing it on your own. It definitely seems like a more approachable way of getting a drinkable brew for those of us who are total beginners though!
At any rate, I was super excited for this episode to get a chance to talk with Jereme Zimmerman (author of Make Mead Like a Viking) about traditional mead making!
What is a Traditional Mead?
A simple way of thinking about it– I was interested in learning how to make mead using natural wild yeasts. Without specialized modern equipment. And without having to worry about spending a all day sterilizing my kitchen.
Essentially, I want to know how someone would have done this 100 years or more ago.
I’ll be upfront, I’ve never brewed. But I love projects that result in something edible– I bake frequently (almost exclusively sourdough for the last few years), do some lactofermentation, and have been experimenting with cheeses over the last couple of years as well. And (seeing that I got an elk this year) it looks like I may be dipping my toes into curing meat in the near future. Brewing seems like a fun project that would fit right in!
For some reason beer making has never appealed to me. Admittedly, I’m probably the odd man out on this, but something about beer has never quite piqued my interest. Perhaps because it seems. . . So common?
That said, I’ve always been slightly fascinated by the idea of hard cider, mead and wild fruit wines– they seem more simple (to my uninitiated brain, perhaps that isn’t the case)and are just enough out of the norm to catch my attention. And talking with Jereme was just what I needed to pique my interest even more and give me a good starting point into the brewing world! Besides, I like his approach– he doesn’t have an innate fear of letting things ferment on their own to discover what they’ll do! Love it!!
I first came across Jereme via a Youtube video he did on the topic (link here). Though I had heard of his mead book before, it had danced around the edge of my consciousness and never quite made it onto my “To Read” list. After watching the video though I decided to reach out to him and see if he would be game to come on and explain mead making to us. Thanks again to Jereme for being willing to share his knowledge and passion!
Essentials of Making a Traditional Mead
- 1 gallon of spring or filtered water (tap water has chlorine which will kill your bacteria and prohibit fermentation, also gives it an odd flavor. Distilled water also gives an odd flavor due to lack of minerals).
- 1 quart of raw honey– roughly 2.5 pounds (will make a 10-12 % alcohol mead).
Getting Going With Wild Yeast
The first thing you do is dissolve the honey in warm water (don’t get too hot and pasteurize the yeast out of it). Pour it into a crock, glass jar, etc that has a large, open mouth. Next add a small handful of organic fruit– dried or fresh (raisins are Jereme’s go-to addition). This inoculates the mead with yeasts that are present on the fruit as well as stabilizes the yeast in your mead so that they don’t consume the honey and die off too rapidly. A splash of citrus juice can help balance the flavor– not necessary, but you may want to consider squeezing some lemon or orange juice into it. Cover with a cloth and put in warm corner to ferment. Stir it a couple times a day until it fizzes (about 3-5 days). If you leave it in an open container after this initial fermentation has taken place it will turn into vinegar, so at this point you will need to transfer to a container you can keep the air out of.
Siphon the mead off into a capped jug. After about a month you will see a bunch of sediment accumulating on the bottom of your jug, siphon the mead off into another jug leaving behind the sediment. Add water to bring your mead level back up to the neck of the jug. After another couple months of aging, siphon into smaller bottles– bottle it when flat or mostly flat (once you no longer see many bubbles in it). Age a few months (higher alcohol meads generally should be aged longer) but sample occasionally and drink it when you like it!
Links & Resources Mentioned
- Make Mead Like a Viking— by Jereme Zimmerman
- Brew Beer Like a Yeti— by Jereme Zimmerman
- Specific article on using wild yeast
- Facebook– @JeremeZimmYeti
- Instagram– @jeremezimm
Helpful Brewing Equipment:
- Airlock— can be done without, but this is the first thing Jereme would suggest getting.
- Carboy— 5 gallon, helpful if you want to brew larger batches
- Bucket with spigot— also for larger batches
- Grolsch bottles (swing top clamp ones, for bottling)
- Racking cane
- Hydrometer (measures alcohol level)
Thanks for listening folks, I really appreciate it! I’m excited to continue learning new skills every week and hope you are as well.
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Join us for next week’s episode as we discuss bark tanning small furs!