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Mead

This summer we’ve mostly spent just south of Milwaukee, and with all my wife’s family in town for a wedding this week, everyone is feeling celebratory. This family has a long legacy in the Horn of Africa as missionaries. Grandma went off to the Horn in the late 40s and Grandpa arrived soon after, they met, got married and had my mother-in-law, aunt and uncle (who today is carrying on the legacy in Afar land in Ethiopia). Those kids grew up in between Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia, and their stories of British boarding school, Haile Selassie, and the Queen’s visit are a much more direct connection to colonial Africa than you encounter in any museum or movie.  

So of course with the family all together, Grandpa offered to take us out for injera and various wots at the Alem Ethiopian Village in Milwaukee. Back when my wife and I got married in Philadelphia five years ago this week, we held our “rehearsal dinner” at a tiny Ethiopian cafe next to Rittenhouse Square. It’s nice coda of sorts, upon reflection. 

I’d vowed to ask for T’ej–the famous spontaneously fermented Ethiopian honey wine–next time I could, and indeed they had it. Even Grandpa the teetotaler was in generous mood and ordered it for us anyway. (I’ve been working down his resistance so he’ll share his namesake Schneider Weiss by the end of summer.)

  Served cold in a wine glass, the T’ej was pleasantly sweet, spritzy like a Riesling, very honey-like and more refreshing than I expected. Although, the relatives who actually live in Ethiopia said I’d ordered the digestif too early. Rookie mistake on my part. 

 The menu lists it as Enat, which I think is a brand from California. Next time I’ll have  go at some of the Ethiopian beers on offer, including one on the bar shelf whose writing was completely in Amharic except for the words ‘Amber Beer.’ Sounds promising. 

All in all, a pleasant evening with fine food and good company. 

  

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Last week we four brewers here put together a batch of mead that we split into five six fermenters. It was a long brewday, involving bottling three previous batches of beer, but we’re looking forward to the results. It was not the most scientific of brew days, but that’s okay. We were anal about sanitizing.

Here’s the base recipe:

8 kg dark honey (not sure about the origin or blossoms, but it’s probably just general wild/forest honey)16 L distilled water
4 L tap water
2 tsp Yeast nutrient

OG 1.102

Lalvin EC-1118 yeast

We divided them into five fermenters initially, and then found we had enough left over for a sixth, which we pitched with an ale yeast. Here’s the breakdown for each:

V: “Control” mead with no extra ingredients added.
VI (Melomel): Racked on top of about 1/2 kg each of blanched/peeled chirimoya and kiwi.
VII (Metheglin): Blended with a tea made from a large handful of mint leaves.
VIII (Melomel): Racked onto 1 L of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice from Drew J-G’s backyard trees.
IX (Melomel): Racked on top of 1 kg total of lightly blanched peaches, plums, and apricots. Split into two metal bowls and left outside (covered with mesh strainers) in the courtyard to cool and pick up ambient yeasts. This is a tej-ish idea.
X (Sack Mead?): Put the leftovers into a fermenters and added the dregs of a Wit (S-23, but probably infected with some lacto), a Dubbel (T-58), and some trub from a Stout fermenter (I think it was US-05).

We’ll see how this goes…

I’ve had a leftover half-jar of crystallized honey in the fridge, and I’ve been wanting to make a small mead that doesn’t need aging so much. I’d read on some forum that one of the ways to make a decent, more drinkable mead without aging is to keep the OG low and the FG high. Likewise, I wanted to try using an ale yeast for mead and see how it turns out.

So one night I had some extra time, raided the kitchen and found a huge bag full of chamomile. Brought 1/2 cup of dried chamomile flowers to boil in 2 L water, then added the honey. Pitched some leftover Munton’s yeast that came out of the Pumpkin Brown Porter batch. I’m thinking about racking it onto a pureed pineapple or whatever fruit is cheap next time I go to the market, but I’ll determine that after a taste test in a couple weeks.

Details:
Batch Size (L): 2
Total Fermentables (kg): .260
Anticipated OG: 1.038

Fermentables:
260 g (100%) raw honey

Boil:
1/2 cup dried chamomile flowers

Yeast:
Munton’s Dry Yeast, 2nd generation

Notes:
-Brewed August 9, 2012. OG: 1.037

 

Tasting 11/9/2012: I’m not going to even bother with a proper tasting. This is bland, weak, highly carbonated, and lacking much distinction other than a pronounced (not in a bad way) chamomile taste. Herbal, light, and excessively dry but like a very bland soda–probably needs to be mixed with a tablespoon each of  lemon juice and simple syrup to be in any way interesting. Not to worry, this was always an open-ended experiment with low expectations.