Boreal Mead Making

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

In the late summer, I was swamped with an abundance of berries. They seemed to come in at once: wild blueberries, cranberries, and rosehips. As I was drying most of these for our Aroma Borealis herbal teas, I realized I could do something else with the berries. I could make mead or honey wine.

Mead is the oldest alcoholic drink and created by fermenting honey with water and fruits, spices, grains, or hops. It was in fashion long before beer or wine, and its alcoholic content varies between 7–20 percent.

Despite the fact it’s an alcoholic beverage, mead has many healthy qualities. The naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria convert the sugars during the fermentation process into a high-energy, probiotic, and nutrient-rich elixir filled with anti- oxidant goodness.

Mead is often referred to as “Nectar of the Gods” or “Drink of Love.” The intoxicating concoction is believed to be an accidental discovery by hunter-gatherers who stumbled on a beehive filled with rainwater during the Stone Age. The beverage is said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Some theorize that during ancient times in Europe mead was given to newlyweds

for a full cycle of the moon to enhance fertility, which is where the word honey- moon comes from.

I taught a few courses at an herb gathering in Alberta earlier this summer and took a Mead Making 101 workshop with a local herbalist. As we taste-tested cherry mead the instructor had made, I thought how well boreal herbs and berries would work in the concoction.

I’ve never liked sweet wines and thought mead might be too sugary for my palate, but it’s actually dry, delicious, and not overly sweet at all. When I returned to the Yukon, I gathered all the necessary equipment and ingredients and started on this fun kitchen-alchemy project.

I was a bit intimidated by mead making, thinking I would have to make large batches and buy all sorts of fancy equipment. However, I learned that’s not the case. This past August, I spoke with local Yukon mead makers at Mount Lorne’s Ingestible Festival, which celebrates local foods and food creations. They confirmed small mead batches work best, plus they are simple and easy to make.

After chatting with Yukon organic grower and homesteader Shiela Alexandrovich, of Wheaton River Garden, I felt I was on the right track for making good, old-fashioned, homemade mead. Alexandrovich has created mead for many years and prefers making small four-litre batches.

“Traditional mead is basically honey and water that is fermented. The big thing for people is to not be intimidated or afraid of the process and to just go for it,” Alexandrovich explains. “Most things already know how to ferment if you give it half a chance, and using good quality, unpas- teurized honey is important.”

She has made mead from locally grown chokecherries and frozen rhubarb she had put away for the winter.

“A couple years ago I found some jugs of mead in the root cellar that I made 12 years ago, and it was delicious!” Alexandrovich says. “When you make your own alcohols from wild fruits and plants, the pleasure you get from looking at the colours and enjoying the taste is far greater than any- thing you can buy in the store.”

Use the following recipes and instructions to try your hand at making homemade mead. As Shiela says, “Just go for it.”

HERBAL BERRY MEAD RECIPES

There are many boreal plants that can be used for mead. Choose your favourite boreal tea for your decoction tea base or experiment and have fun with other wild herbs and berries. *See instructions that follow for preparation.

Wild Cranberry
Winter Mead
 – A nourishing fermented honey
wine that is rich and full bodied.


4 cups (1 L) wild cranberries

2 tbsp. (30 ml) ginger
root, freshly grated

16 cups (4 L) water

2 cups (500 ml) unpasteurized honey

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

Blueberry Juniper Mead-Dark and rich and full of flavour.


4 cups (1 L) wild blueberries

2 tbsp. (30 ml) juniper berries

16 cups (4 L) water

2 cups (500 ml) unpasteurized honey

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

Rosehip Mead
- Just how you would imagine—
smells divine and tastes even better.


4 cups (1 L) wild rosehips

2 tbsp. (30 ml) wild-rose petals

16 cups (4 L) water

2 cups (500 ml) unpasteurized honey

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

Fireweed Flower Honey Mead
- A light, floral bouquet.


1/2 cup (125 ml) fireweed flowers (dried or fresh)

2 cups (500 ml) fireweed honey

16 cups (4 L) water

1 tsp. (5 ml) wine yeast

NOTE: Make sure all equipment and utensils you use are sterilized. *See recipes above for specific ingredients to create different types of mead.

PREPARE HERBAL BERRY DECOCTION TEA:

Place berries and herbs in a stainless-steel pot and cover with 16 cups (4 L) of water. (If your tap water is treated, you may want to use spring water instead.) Heat slowly and simmer with the lid on for 5–30 minutes. The longer you simmer, the stronger your brew will be. Ideally, you want to warm the liquid enough that it will be reduced to 14 cups of tea decoction without boiling the plant material.

PART ONE ADD HONEY AND YEAST
B Strain warm herbal berry decoction tea through cheesecloth and return strained liquid to pot. C Stir unpasteurized honey into the warm herbal berry decoction tea and let sit until it has reached room temperature. D Stir in wine yeast. E Pour into 4-litre jug.
F Cork with an airlock (purchased at any winemaking supply shop). Watch your brew bubble. There should be plenty of
action and bubbling happening in your airlock. NOTE: You can let your mead ferment for two weeks to a month.

PART TWO CLARIFY THE LIQUID
 Take a hose (available at winemaking supply shops) and place it in your mead to siphon off the liquid from the top. Put this liquid into another 4-litre jug. Continue until there is only sediment left on the bottom of the original jug. This sediment is highly nutritious and can be used to make salad dressing. If your brew is still fermenting, you can continue letting it age by putting the airlock on the new jug. If you want mead that is delicate and clear, clarify the liquid again in a couple of weeks.

PART THREE BOTTLE THE MEAD
You can find great bottles at your local recycling centre or buy them from your local wine shop. The secret is making sure the bottles are made to withstand pressure. Mead is a living ferment and will continue creating pressure, so ensure the bottles and lids can handle it. Otherwise, the tops may pop off while you’re storing them, which may lead you to lose your mead.

PART FOUR ENJOY!
 These instructions yield one 4-litre jug of mead. 

 

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