Real Fermenting: November 2010

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Honey Wine

This is another recipe using wild yeast. It is a honey wine, or mead. It isn't Tej (Ethiopian honey wine) because we are not using gesho in the process. Gesho acts kind of like hops do in modern beer. In fact, all manner of other herbs and spices have been used in beer before hopping gained its current dominance. I would be interested in finding some gesho for use in later wines, but for right now, I am going to see what this wine is like in a couple of months and if it is lacking anything I can add some seasonal berries. As it will be around thanksgiving, I am thinking cranberries might be good.
So this method came from Mr Ryan Wade of Portland, Maine. I started with a honey bug, capturing some wild yeast in a mix of water and honey. I bought my honey from Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies store, on like X and 21st. It is a great store for tasting their honeys, and they also have some books on making honey-based booze. I bought 5lbs of raspberry honey for $27.95. It is raw and delicious. I would say any honey would probably work, but raw is best because it tastes better. Just don't get clover - I have no idea why that most bland of honeys is so popular.
The water is also important. As with everything you ferment, if you add a processed food or juice or whatever from the store, the preservatives they add to protect the food from decomposition will hurt your yeasty buddies. Water from the tap seems to work fine, but my understanding is that you live in a place where there is chlorine in the tap water, like us, you should go ahead and let the water stand for 24 hours before you add the honey. The chlorine will blow off in that time, and there is the chance it will kill the yeasts that came with the honey. You can also just buy a gallon of spring water for pretty cheap, which we have also done. If you know of your own local spring, that would get you maximum points.
So you mix 2 cups of water with 1/2 cup honey and leave it open to the air until it starts to bubble. You need to cover it is with cheesecloth (breathable fabric) so that yeast can fall in but flies can't get in there. This will probably take about 3 or so days but it really depends on your conditions, with respect to temperature and the yeast that live in your area.
Once that bug is bubbling, put it in a gallon container and add 1lb of honey. I did this by putting the whole jar on my digital scale, which was super easy, but you can find a generic figure for honey density and work out the equivalent volume. Here I did it for you: It's about 11 fluid ounces.

Then top the gallon jar up with water (again no chlorine please, you will kill your bug). We let this mixture sit in the primary fermenter (wide-mouth gallon jar = ~$5), stirring daily, for about a week. It was weakly bubbly and very mild tasting. Then we siphoned it into a narrow-neck gallon jar of the type that gallons of juice come in (hello cider) and airlocked it. It has now been bubbling away (still fermenting) for about 2 weeks. I tasted it today and it kind of had a hint of nail varnish remover, so I am looking into what the deal with that is.

So to recap:
Time: ~3 days in catching stage
~1 week in primary fermenter
~2 months in secondary fermenter (until it stops bubbling)
1. 1/2 cup honey, 2 cups unchlorinated water to catch some yeast.
2. Add 1lb honey, water to make 1 gallon, stir vigorously. Leave for a week.
3. Siphon into secondary fermenter. Airlock. Leave until it stops bubbling.
4. Consume!