There is nothing quite like cracking open a bottle of your own wild fermented honey wine- traditionally called mead. The crisp flavors, the tingling mouth feel, and the unparallelled satisfaction of successfully joining forces with wild yeast organisms.
Alright, so that last part might have thrown you off a bit.
Let me explain… yeast is a living microorganism that is found in all sorts of places including in soil and water, as well as on the surfaces of plants, fruits, animals, and even humans.
This means that it is quite easy to get a hold of wild yeast, should you require there services, but what exactly would we stand to gain from teaming up with these microscopic critters?
Well there are several things like pharmaceutical applications and leavening bread, but in this case we are talking about their ability to produce alcohol.
To put it simply, yeast eats sugar and as a byproduct creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. The latter responsible for the carbonated effervescence that these drinks often have and the former giving adult beverages their desired effects.
The equation for fermenting your own alcoholic beverages at home is as simple as this
In this case the sugary liquid is a mixture of honey and water. The yeast is naturally found in the honey, on the skins of the raisins, and in the form of wild airborne yeast. The time table for this is about a month total, but can be aged longer for deeper flavors.
Step by step
Update 7/21/16: While I’ve used the method below multiple times with no issues, I’ve recently become skeptical about using “wild” fermentation methods that rely on high amounts of yeast. Unfortunately, I don’t have any hard evidence to back this skepticism. I have just come to believe that high yeast ferments require a bit of extra planning and strategy.
1. In a large wide mouth vessel add water and raw honey at a 4:1 ratio
I did a gallon- 4 cups honey and 12 cups water
3. Cover with a breathable material and let sit at room temperature away from direct sunlight
4. Stir! stir! stir! stir! stir!
As often as you think about it, but at least a 2 times a day
6. Strain out raisins and pour liquid into a narrow necked container
I use glass apple juice jugs
7. Fix airlock and let sit at room temperature for 2-3 weeks.
I use a 2$ airlock from my local home brewery store. If you don’t have access to an airlock you can put a balloon over the top and periodically loosen it to release built up pressure. The idea is that the yeast will be producing carbon dioxide, if it is unable to escape from the bottle pressure will build up leading to an explosion. The airlock/balloon also keep out unwanted contaminants and insects.
8. Bottle and enjoy!
After the first couple weeks fermentation will slow down, at this point I like to start giving my jug a good swirl every day to aerate the yeast to help them push a little further. Once the airlock is no longer releasing bubbles or the balloon is no longer filling up, transfer the mead into individual airtight bottles and start drinking it!
*Be sure fermentation is complete before transferring to bottles or Co2 build up could result in bottle explosions.
Note: At this point many recipes call for bottling and aging the mead, however this recipe is for a sweeter “young” mead that does not require any long term aging.
The above recipe is the bare bones version of mead, which is a good starting point. However, the real beauty of the mead world is in the infinite amount of potential flavor varieties that you can create. Simply infuse combinations of dried/fresh fruits, herbs, or spices in during Step 1, and strain it out in Step 6. A couple handfuls of fresh berries is an awesome way to add a flavor kick to the traditional version.
Will any water work?
Technically, yes. I have fermented with all types of water including basic tap and never had any problems. With that being said, if you live in an area with heavily chlorinated municipal water it may be best to opt for a different option. It is also not recommended to use distilled water as it lacks minerals needed for healthy fermentation. Ideally you would use purified spring water.
Will any honey work?
Technically, yes. In this case there are several variables to consider. If you are able to get raw unprocessed honey that means that it has not been heat treated, this honey will contain a healthy quantity of wild yeast. However, if you are only able to get processed honey, you should assume that the yeast has been killed off and ensure that you use raisins or other fruits (skin on!) to get yeast into the mixture.
Do I need an airlock?
An airlock is not required, but is very useful and quite cheap. If you don’t have access, the balloon method mentioned above is a perfectly acceptable alternative. The most important thing is to allow carbon dioxide to release from the container, while keeping contaminants out.
What is the alcohol percentage?
This varies from batch to batch depending on the honey, fruit, and more specifically the yeast. With this type of fermentation you are using wild yeast strains, these strains may be vigorous and robust or quite wimpy. You could pick up a hydrometer if you want to measure your batch.
For additional information check out my page explaining alcohol fermentation.