when life gives you lemons . . . make lemons awesome!

heathcliffe's mead
Let me introduce my guest blogger, Heathcliffe's, first post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Yay, Heath!)

This week I've made mead and a fridge.

See, the big problem here is that I've just moved into a new flat and, right now, I have no appliances and no money left. I have an Argos catalogue shining out from my lone bookshelf like a beacon of all my life could be, but my bank account says no. So I figure a plan is in order.

So when life gives you lemons . . . let's make lemons awesome.

Anyway, let's talk about mead.

One of the greatest things my parents were blessed with was a stellar inability to think things through any more than was absolutely necessary. It's why me and my sister were raised in a commune of self-sufficient Russians in a large manor house in Norfolk, surrounded by orchards.

The Russians were great.

If they needed electricity they made it. If they needed vodka, they made it. Even before the advent of Argos, they managed to live well and joyously and completely off their heads. The orchards meant there were plenty of opportunities to make bucket loads of home brew. They ruled like Vikings with an allotment and wanted for nothing.

Since I have spare time, no money, a balcony, and few other options, I figure I'm perfectly positioned to put my past experiences into practice.

Everyone knows that one of the first things you'll need to survive in London is a steady supply of drinkable alcohol. If possible you should also aim to inspire awe and kudos towards you in all you meet. Food can also be useful.

So those priorities are the basis of this week's project.

Home made wine solves the alcohol problem, but raises issues of its own. The main problem is that as soon as you put the words 'home-made' and 'wine' together, most people think of murky, yeasty, undrinkable soup made with potato peelings and questionable hygiene. Then you lose the kudos and the awe.

It is a hard sell, so best to not start. It is much better to introduce your friends to the idea with something more impressive.

So let’s make mead, and old English (or even Pagan) honey wine. It is a great choice for your first home brew for so many reasons:

  • It tastes fantastic
  • It sounds impressive (and comes with some intriguing history and folklore)
  • It looks great
  • It is quite hard to source and incredibly expensive to buy the good stuff in shops
  • Mead is eminently barterable for food and cigarettes and (a) to (c) get you party invites, solving both the food and kudos problems.

If you're thinking of making it yourself, you're already halfway there. The rest of the job is stupidly easy and shouldn’t take you more than an hour.

It is a perfect weekend project. 

 Winemaking is an incredibly simple and robust process. Some of the earliest written words we have are grog recipes. Sumerians loved the stuff.

In essence, we just add yeast to stuff with sugar in and leave it to work. Yeast converts the sugar to alcohol and - when it runs out of sugars or produces enough alcohol - it dies off and settles out, leaving wine behind. 

It takes skill to screw it up. And for a fiver and a couple of hours of your time, it really is worth a go.

I think Boney M put it best: Yay those Russians!!!

Oh and before I forget. The fridge is just a large terracotta plant pot in a saucer of water with a plate on top. The pot soaks up the water, which borrows heat in order to evaporate. So far it's consistently cool to the touch and keeping milk fresh for a good four days.
It's a great camping trick if you're ever caught short.

kit you will need:
sterilising tablets (or use own-brand Miltons baby steriliser)
2 x demijohn or 5 litre plastic bottle (The first bottle is for immediate use, the second is for the “racking off” process)
1 x airlock (instructions to make your own below)
1 x Campden tablet (optional – can be bought from homebrew websites or Amazon, eBay, etc)
6 x wine bottles (for bottling up)

For one gallon you'll need:
around 1.5kg of honey (Iceland are great for this)
3tsp wine yeast (buy this from websites such as Amazon, eBay or a homebrew site)
about 4 litres of water plus extra (buy a gallon – 5 litres - of it for about a quid and you can use the bottle as a demijohn)

to make your own airlock:
If you need to make your own demijohn or airlock, you have some easy options: 
  • The lids of most 5L water bottles are elastic enough that small holes with things pushed through them become self-sealing. For a demijohn, just take your already clean bottle, make a small hole in the lid, and then force through an airlock.
  • For an easy home made airlock, get a length of sterilised siphon tube. Insert one end in the lid or bung. Pop the other in a jar of water. Job done.
  • The trick is just to make sure that - somehow - gas can safely exit the demijohn but nothing bad can waft its way in. Hygiene matters.
  • If you want to be really cheap, just prick a few pinholes in a balloon and stretch it over the neck of your demijohn. It'll do the same job, but the balloons do tend to break so keep an eye on them.
Now we're almost ready to cook!

  1. Before we start cooking, do sterilise the bottle, bungs, airlocks, utensils and so on before you start. Just add one Miltons tablet per gallon of water, dunk everything in to soak, leave for 15 minutes and rinse off. Easy.
  2. For our mead, we'll be using a solution of honey and wine yeast.
  3. First boil about 5 litres of water in a pan with the lid on. The steam will sterilise the pan, which saves you time in the long run.
  4. Pour out 2 litres and set aside to cool.
  5. Then add the honey to the rest of the hot water so you have thin, pourable honey. Swirl the jars with a little water in order that you get all the honey from each jar, and pour this into the pan.
  6. Make sure all the honey has dissolved, and then set aside to cool.
  7. Put about 4 tablespoons of the honey solution into a jug. Leave it to cool until at around body temperature; (when it feels neutral against your wrist). Make sure that you do check the temperature as if it is too hot, it will kill the yeast when you add it. If you mess up, don't worry too much. Yeast is pretty sturdy and forgiving.
  8. Now add 3 level teaspoons of the wine yeast. and stir in the yeast until it begins to dissolve.
  9. Add this solution to the demijohn or plastic bottle.
  10. Add the batches of the honey water solution, swirling around each time to ensure that the honey and yeast is properly dissolved.
  11. If there is room in the demijohn or bottle, top up with a little more of the water you have set aside.
  12. Put a bung in the demijohn (or use the 5 little bottle lid to cover) and insert the airlock. Ensure the airlock is topped up with water.
  13. You’re more or less done for the moment.
  14. The mead will take a few months to ferment; leave it in a dark place such as a cupboard and keep an eye on it. It needs to be kept away from both direct sunlight and from drafts.
  15. Make sure the airlock is regularly topped up with water.
  16. Fermenting will start after a few hours as the yeast gets to work. Froth will appear on the top of the honey solution, which will now look distinctly murky; the airlock will begin to bubble and “pop” as carbon dioxide is given off during the fermentation process.
  17. While the popping sound is a sign that fermentation has started, it is also a good indication of when it has finished. As the yeast exhausts itself, the popping sound becomes less frequent; more of a blip. (If you have ever made popcorn at home, it is the same kind of thing!).
  18. After about 2 weeks, the popping will cease completely. (It may only take 10 days, or it could take 16 – there is no definitive timescale. It is up to you to check.)
  19. When the mead has finished fermenting, the mixture will also start to clear as the dead yeast or “lees” sink to the bottom of the demijohn. .

Racking off:
  1. Sterilise your second demijohn, siphoning tube, bung and airlock (you can use the bung and airlock from the existing fermenting demijohn) before “racking off”. This is the process of removing the dead yeast (lees) from the bottom of the demijohn by siphoning. If you are not familiar with siphoning, this is a very simple process which depends on gravity.
  2. Get a large sturdy bowl, a clean washing up bowl will do, and place this by the edge of a kitchen sink. Place the mead-filled demijohn on top of the bowl.
  3. Place the empty sterilised demijohn in the sink.
  4. Remove the bung from the mead-filled demijohn and push the siphoning tube into the mead until it is about 5 centimetres from the bottom. This will prevent the lees at the bottom of the demijohn from going up the tube and spoiling the finished product. (I promise you the lees taste foul!)
  5. Suck the other end of the tube, until the wine flows through the tube. Quickly put this end into the clean jar. You may have to try to put your thumb over the end and then releasing it, to prevent spillage. Although a few millilitres won’t be any great loss, although it is a shame to waste it.
  6. As the mead flows into the sterilised demijohn, you will need to keep a firm hand on the end of the siphoning tube that is in the fermented demijohn, to ensure that it is kept in place; (so that it doesn’t snake off, spraying your kitchen with fermented honey!)
  7. Let the level of mead go down in the fermented demijohn as close to the lees as possible; 5 centimetres is a good rule of thumb. Now remove the siphoning tube.
  8. You now need to take the now filled second demijohn and remove any carbon dioxide that may be still present.
  9. Put your hands around the neck of this demijohn and give it a good shake, which helps to release any extraneous gas. Since the demijohn will be quite heavy, be careful. It may take 2 people to do this.
  10. Give a thorough shake 3 times.
  11. Seal the wine with a sterilised bung and airlock. Return to a dark place.
  12. After about 1 week, repeat the “racking off” process into a sterile demijohn and shake as before.
  13. After another week, taste it! If it still has carbon dioxide in it, it will taste sharp. Think of the difference between fizzy and flat cola and you'll get an idea of the end product.
  14. If it does taste a bit sharp, then give it a few more shakes and leave a bit longer.
  15. When you’re ready, add the Campden tablet, following the instructions. This will ensure your mead is crystal clear since the tablets attract any bacteria or remaining yeast particles and sink to the bottom of the demijohn.
  16. Leave for 3 to 5 days to settle.

Bottling up:
  1. Sterilise 6 wine bottles, (although you will probably only need 5), together with plastic corks (if using), together with the siphoning tube.
  2. For safety, DO avoid screw tops at all times. If it ferments a second time round, you'll have mead bombs. From experience, I can tell you that you really don't want to go there. They're a bugger to defuse safely and spectacular (and dangerous) when they blow.
  3. Rinse the bottles with cooled, boiled water, then set them in the sink, as you did when racking up into a sterilise demijohn.
  4. As before, put the mead-filled demijohn on a stable upturned bowl and siphon the wine into each bottle, as before.
  5. You will need to watch this carefully as the bottles fill quickly and you will need to be quick off the mark to move the siphoning tube to the next empty bottle.
  6. Push in the corks.
  7. Dry the bottles, label and date.
  8. Set aside for 2 to 3 months to mature. 6 months will be even better.
  9. You are now ready to drink it or to exchange it for stuff you need.

  • If you like it sweet, add some extra honey at the end of fermentation and leave it for a while longer
  • For some reason, fermentation seems to take out some of the top notes of the honey. Like perfume or aftershave at the end of the day when there's just the base notes left.
  • Top up with a little honey at the end and it'll add sweetness and re-introduce those honey top notes. Combined with the heavy bass notes, you'll have honey-plus.
  • Personally I love it when it's almost a dessert wine, kicks like sherry, and rolls with big, deep honey flavours.
  • If you want to add any other flavours, add them at the end. A little vanilla essence or a vanilla pod rocks and pads well against the honey. Rose water gives you Turkish Delight in a glass.
  • Include the juice of 2 lemons as well as about 50ml of strong tea before adding the wine yeast.

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