Mead is the oldest alcoholic drink known to man. It is made from honey and water, and is fermented through the action of yeast. Traditionally, wild yeasts would have been used, although we can only imagine what our ancestors believed to be the cause of the magical transformation of their ingredients into alcohol. Hieroglyphics suggest that that ancient Egyptians were using yeast and the process of fermentation to produce alcoholic drinks and to leaven bread over 5,000 years ago. Commercial yeast has only be available from around the start of the twentieth century after Louis Pasteur identified it as a living organism, and responsible for both the fermentation process, and bread leavening, in the 1860's.
Wild yeasts are found everywhere. On fruit, flowers, trees and in the air. It even grows all over us. Wine making gives us a big clue to where you might find wild yeasts in abundance, with fruits such as grapes, elderberries and blackberries being particularly popular ones from which to make wine. Here in the UK, look at the dark fruits you see in the hedgerows such as blackberries, damsons and sloes, on them it is easy to see the powdery bloom of the wild yeast.
So we have decided to try and make some Mead. It is our first attempt, so time will tell how successful our method will be. The kids loved the whole process, and the fact we now how a strange mixture bubbling in the corner of our sitting room - like a ditch water version of a lava lamp!
We came up with our recipe from reading a number of different ones, all of which can be found on our Celebrating Wild Foods and Herbs Pinterest board, as can a couple of really interesting articles on making bread using wild yeasts. We did decide for our first attempt to use a champagne yeast for our Mead, going on the theory that if we manage to produce a drinkable product, when can then use that as a benchmark for more experimentation next time around. Our honey is a raw British wildflower honey, from a small bee-keeper, and for our flavouring we used Meadowsweet, which is a traditional herb used for Mead making. You can read more about Meadowsweet and see our cordial recipe here.
Some of the recipes suggest all sorts of additives, such as nutrient tablets to help support the yeast, and other bits and pieces to balance flavour. We decided to omit all of them, and go for a more traditional, and simple approach. We also didn't worry about sanitising our equipment - the demijohn and air lock are new, and everything else went through the dishwasher. We started by heating 2 litres of mineral water until almost boiling then added the flowers from our bunch of meadowsweet, and left them to steep for about 20 minutes. We then added about 2lbs of raw honey, and stirred well. When cool enough, we poured it all into the demijohn with half a sliced lemon and a dozen sultanas. The recipes we saw all used raisins, but we didn't have any in the cupboard! We topped our mixture up with more mineral water, leaving a couple of inches head room and gave it all a shake to mix, and finally we added half a sachet of champagne yeast and popped on the airlock (primed with water).
Within the hour we had bubbles making their way through the air lock, and by the time we returned from an afternoon bowling our Mead was sporting a very fine looking bubbly head indeed. From what I have read, the mead should take 4-6 weeks to ferment, and then we will see if our slightly relaxed approach has been successful.