If you’re itching for some honey wine, we have good news: You don’t have to go to nerdy RenFest to get your grubby hands on it.
Do you look forward to your yearly trip to RenFest at least in part because of the amazing mead you can snag while you’re there? Well, allow us to say that you’re a freaking nerd but we love it.
Also allow us to say that you can forget about mead being held within the confines of Renaissance fairs; this stuff is going mainstream. Your wildest dreams are indeed coming true.
If you’re unfamilair with mead, it’s also called honey wine, and is essentially fermented honey, with an alcohol content of 10% to 18%. Historians consider mead the first fermented beverage, and archeologists have found traces of mead in pots dating from 7000 BC.
Mead is mentioned in many historical texts, from the works of Aristotle to Beowulf, and varieties are found worldwide, from South Africa to Wales.
But it’s no longer just something you’ll read about in Aristotle’s writing or experience at a festival. Hundreds of “meaderies” have sprung up in the United States in recent years, thanks to the widespread adoption of this beer alternative. If you live in or near a large city in the U.S., there’s a good chance you have at least one meadery located within a driving distance from you.
But don’t fret if you live in the middle of nowhere (like, err, a small mountain town in the middle of the Southwest or whatever). Enyone can satisfy their curiosity about this medieval brew by making mead at home, even if there’s no meadery nearby.
The simplest mead recipes call for just three ingredients: honey, water, and yeast. There are many variations of this recipe, ranging from hippocras (which adds spices and grapes) to thalassiomel (mead made with seawater).
Part of the fun of brewing mead at home comes from experimenting with different recipes; many fruits and spices are an excellent addition to mead.
Get your mead on
Mead making uses essentially the same procedure as making homemade wine.
Mix together honey and water, add spices and fruit if desired, and top it off with wine yeast. Pro tip, though: Don’t use baker’s yeast, as it produces unpleasant flavors. Your homebrewed mead will be disgusting if you take that route.
A glass carboy, like a cider bottle or water cooler jug, makes an ideal fermentation container.
Cap the carboy with a fermentation lock, which allows excess carbon dioxide to escape without letting in oxygen and other contaminants. Fermentation locks are inexpensive and can be found online or at homebrew stores.
For best results, mead should ferment for months. During fermentation, or every 3-6 weeks, the mead is ‘racked,’ or siphoned into another container or containers while leaving the solids behind. This improves the flavor and produces a smooth, grit-free end product.
In the United States, mead is classified as a wine, and home brewers are allowed to make a generous 100 gallons per year for personal use. So if you’re bored this summer or are looking for an easy way to make booze at home — one with endless variations — the grandfather of all fermented beverages is an excellent choice.
And yes, you can wear your dumb RenFest costume at home while drinking it. We’ll begrudgingly allow it.