If we were all in prison and could only have one job each, Dave the Norseman would be the throat cutter. But if we could have two jobs, he’d also be making us booze. Read up. Mad Duo
Nectar of the Gods–Mead Making
David “Norseman” Williams
As some of you know, I recently joined the ranks of the twisted and misguided information junkies here at BreachBangClear. As a way to introduce myself I thought I’d provide you and all your “fringe of society” friends some nectar of the gods. Actually, I thought it might be a good way to buy your friendship. Believe me, I need all the help I can get.
Wine is fine, especially if you are in the habit of hopping rides on train cars or sleeping in the subway. But for now let’s just leave wine to depressed housewives, since we have better things to drink. Beer is definitely a staple of my well-rounded diet, but that’s not the stuff of the gods. So what do gods drink? Mead, that oh-so-sweet, fermented honey that makes an ordinary hangover feel like a holiday. How can you truly call yourself warrior elite if you have never been completely hammered on a few pints of the honey stuff? At first sip, images of raiding foreign lands and capturing booty come to mind. In fact, that’s about all you’ll remember when you wake up in the drunk tank. But you’ll be a hero in your own mind.
Is it legal? If that matters to you, brewing beers, meads and wines are totally legal in the US. You get in trouble if you distill the stuff down to whiskey and brandy, but simple brewing is perfectly fine as long as it’s for personal use. Alabama and Mississippi were the last states to finally make home brewing legal in 2013.
OOPS, my bad, I guess I’m an outlaw, too. Good thing I moved away from there before I got caught. Local areas still have the right to outlaw home brewing so know the laws in your area. But Uncle Sam says it’s okay so whoopty f’kn doo, let’s get down to the good stuff.
For starters you are going to have to gather a few items and ingredients. I’ll give the recipe for a 2½ gallon batch; that should be enough to get you through a visit from the in-laws. Use it responsibly or you might wake up to discover your brother in law moved in again. “True story, bro.” You have been warned.
You will need a glass receptacle of about 2½ or 3 gallons with a small mouth (commonly called a carboy) and an equally sized cooking pot. Stay with me, I know that this is a lot of thinking for a common core brain but it’s worth it. You’ll also need a fermentation lock, but lacking that a balloon or a condom will work (preferably an unused condom but to each his own). Lastly, you’re gonna need a spoon, a big one, with a long handle. Enough said. For brewing chemicals you can do an online search or stop by a local brewing supply house. You will need: Malic acid, Tartaric Acid (sometimes sold as an acid blend), Grape Tannin, Wine or Champagne yeast, yeast energizer, honey and water. That is all.
Brewing in a nutshell: Yeast eats sugar and poops alcohol then dies when there is no more sugar to eat. Imagine swimming in your own septic tank. That’s the life of yeast, so be happy you weren’t born a yeast. Yeast also duplicates like a virus so there will be a lot more dead yeast in the bottom of the carboy than you originally put into the batch. The acids stabilize the PH of the batch to help the yeast perform its duty. The tannins are clearing agents and help the final brew to look as good as it tastes, but it isn’t necessary if you don’t mind drinking a mead that’s as cloudy as your mind.
That’s all there is to it. The real magic is in the sterilization, to keep that yeast in a sterile environment. If wild strains of yeast take over the batch they can wreak havoc. The worst is a vinegar infection, sure you can put it on a salad but we’re trying to get through an in-laws visit and a freaking salad won’t help.
Again, it is very important to make sure all your equipment is sterile. Often the difference between a great batch and a bad batch can be traced back to sterilization procedures. My method is to dilute a cap full of bleach to a gallon of water. I mix about three gallons of this with hot water and give everything a thorough rinse. After it has been properly bleached I rinse with clean hot water until I can no longer smell the bleach, then rinse it again.
We start the process by putting about two gallons of water in a pot and boiling it. This kills anything living in the water and warms it so the honey can dissolve easier. Turn off the fire and add the honey, stirring with your big spoon until it is completely dissolved. Add your acids and tannin in the proper amount then let it cool. When the batch is cool pour it into the carboy, open a packet of yeast and pour it in. Poke a needle hole in the balloon and stretch it over the top of the carboy. This allows the gas to escape but keeps air from entering the bottle. It is possible that in the first few days the batch could foam over when the yeast starts working overtime. To avoid too large a mess just put the carboy on a baking sheet to catch the overflow. If this happens clean it up immediately and do your best to protect the integrity of the environment inside the carboy.
The best practice is to master the recipe and procedure for a naked mead, which is just a plain mead with honey and water. After you have that recipe and procedure down you can start experimenting with adjuncts. Adjuncts are other additives used to flavor the mead. Below is a list of common adjuncts mead makers use. Keep in mind that there are many more and whenever you add anything to the honey, the name of the type of mead will change. Look up brewing forums online to get a good ideal of the amounts of adjuncts you want to experiment with. Then adjust to your taste.
Naked mead: Honey and water
Methaglin: Honey and spice
Cyser: Honey and Apples
Pyment: Honey and grapes
Melomel: Honey and other fruits.
Now comes the hard part: the wait. It should be in the carboy for at least a month but will be drinkable in only a few weeks. After a month I siphon it (rack) into a new carboy, and I continue this process about every month for three or four months.
After that I let it sit until I am ready to bottle it. I have had mead sit in the carboy at this stage in excess of a year just because I was too lazy to clean and sterilize all the bottles. The cool part is that mead gets better with age so the more patient/lazy you are the better it gets.
Just before bottling I re-sweeten the batch with warm honey. I do this until the taste is just right. Often it is about another pound or pound and a half. The goal is to sweeten it just enough to bring out the flavor. Over sweetening can make it taste like honey water. If you re-sweeten at bottling be cautious, there will most likely be a small secondary fermentation that will carbonate the mead and make it bubbly like champagne. If too much sugar is added it can over carbonate and blow corks, leaving that sweet goodness all over the floor or occasionally the ceiling.
There are many more brewing tools, methods and techniques to explore, but I don’t think it’s necessary to invest hundreds of dollars into equipment or make the process too complicated. At least not at first. Some people enjoy brewing and some don’t so there is no point in putting too much into it until you know if it is for you. I started with meads and then branched off into beers and wines once I had a good understanding of the process and owned a fair amount of brewing gear. I find it’s a lot like cooking, in that some people find it extremely rewarding and others find it only a means to an end. I personally enjoy the hell out of it and I hope you will too.
Here is my basic recipe:
Honey: 6 Pounds (half gallon)
Water: 2 gallons
Malic acid: 7 tea spoons
Tartaric Acid: 4 tea spoons
Grape Tannin: 1 tea spoon
Yeast energizer: 2 tea spoons
Yeast: 1 Package, dry champagne yeast
A quick note on honey: the more raw the better. If you can get it unpasteurized from a bee keeper, even better. I brewed a one gallon batch of what I call “pilfered mead” from nothing but honey packets that I lifted from fast food restaurants. It wasn’t great but it worked; not the stuff I would serve to friends, but I just had to do it at least once. There are many great flavors of honey but some are hard to get and even bee keepers cannot always identify their own honeys. The type of honey is derived from where the bees gathered it.
The honeys you usually find in the stores are clover. Other common ones from brew supply houses or bee keepers are orange blossom, thistle, wildflower, and buckwheat. Each has its own subtleties and impart a distinct flavor to the mead. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different honeys.
In addition to different honeys you can skip the brewing chemicals and use natural ingredients like graded orange and lemon peelings to replace the acids. A strong brewed tea can replace the tannins and corn sugar can be used as a yeast nutrient. I find this practice frustrating because the recipes aren’t consistent or repeatable. Every batch is a roll of the dice, and these days honey is so expensive I don’t take the chance on a batch going crazy. The last one I made the natural way tasted like orange Everclear.
One final note: mead taste better from a horn. If you can get your hands on a drinking horn that has been lined with bees wax you won’t regret it. I don’t know why it’s so much better, but it is, and anyone who plans to brew mead consistently and share it with friends should drink from a horn.
Now that you are armed with all you need to brew the nectar of the gods, do it! Share it with friends and try not to get arrested during your drunken raids at the local frat house.
Keep calm and drink mead. Til Valhall!
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
Emergency: Activate firefly, deploy green (or brown) star cluster, get your wank sock out of your ruck and stand by ’til we come get you.
About the Author:
Gunny “Norseman” Williams enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1993 and deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia in 1995 as a grunt. He was one of only two SLUGs out of fifteen to make it through Sniper Indoc and attend the USMC Scout Sniper School, graduating on his first attempt and later attending Urban Sniper, Urban R&S, Advanced Sniper, Sniper Employment Officer and the Mountain Sniper/High Angle Shooting Course. As you might expect, after some time ramrodding a Sniper Platoon in the FMF he attended the Formal Schools Instructors Course and was selected as a Scout Sniper Instructor for the First Marine Division. There he was the primary instructor for the survival and .50 SASR portions, specializing in fieldcraft and combat tracking. (Note: it was there at Horno that David Reeder, our editor, met both Williams and Mad Duo Freddy; they instructed a class together. This was the start of a long and improbable badass tale.) Not too much later he received orders to the Mountain Warfare Training Center at Bridgeport. Since retiring he has continued to contribute tot he survival community as a Brother of Bushcraft and is also the HFBIC (Head Fucking Blacksmith In Charge) of the forge at Survival Hardware.