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Making your own honey wine is easy, cheap(ish), super fun, probiotic, and can even get you a little tipsy. What more could you want?
I recently read Sandor Katz’ “Art of Fermentation” and let me tell you, it was amazing. I’m not much of a reader and always been intimidated by the subject of fermentation, but Katz has a way of making sure the information he wants to share can be digested by anyone. I finished the book determined to start some ferments but also completely overwhelmed by the endless possibilities. I love enjoying ferments bought at the supermarket but never realized how simple they were to make at home.
Why are ferments so interesting? If you’ve ever heard of probiotics you might be familiar with the concept of gut flora or the human microbiome. We are just beginning to understand the importance of our gut microbiome and how this can affect our immune system, the way we digest and absorb nutrients, and even our emotions.
Honestly, probiotic supplements are expensive and even if I could afford them, I wouldn’t buy them. Not after knowing what I know now. When you’re taking a probiotic often what you are taking is a mixture of a few microbe strains that someone has decided could be healthy for some people. Might it be beneficial for you? Could be. Probably won’t hurt you. But when you eat an alive fermented food you incorporate an entire community of microbes that have naturally occurred together. A fermented food is an entire microbial ecosystem! Now, that to me sounds more potentially beneficial than a couple strains someone decided were good for me. And the best part is, making fermented foods is easy, cheap, interesting (if you’re a little nerdy like I am), and you can adjust them to your liking. The more I learn about it the more I realize that you can probably ferment just about anything. But this post is about one of the first things I learned to ferment because it was simple.
I’m going to start you guys with the simplest ferment I know how to do. I don’t think it could get any simpler. Two ingredients! Water and honey. With these two things, you can make a delicious honey wine, more formally known as mead. Mead is so easy why isn’t everyone making it!? I have no idea, but it’s probably a good thing no one showed me this in high school.
I started with mead because Katz explained how ridiculously easy it is to start with. His basic recipe is 4 parts water and 1 part raw honey. What’s raw honey you ask? Well, this is an example of a wild ferment, which means using the organisms naturally present to do the fermenting. If you have pasteurized honey and want to add yeast you can do that too, but I think it’s more work. Honey that is raw has not been heat treated, so all naturally present organisms are left intact and alive. We will be putting these little guys to work after waking them up with water. Sometimes you can contact the vendor to ask if the honey has been pasteurized, or you can look for details on the jar. If you’re buying really cheap honey it’s likely it’s been pasteurized or has some other additives.
That’s it. The only catch is you need to be sure there is no chlorine in the water as chlorine can kill yeasts in the honey you’re trying to cultivate. Since I was living in Tenerife the first time I made mead I used bottled water. For my second batch, I was in California and used filtered water and they both worked great. I am now in Madrid and using boiled tap water, which also seems to have no problems. It’s important to let the water cool as hot water could essentially pasteurize the honey. If you are thinking of adding yeasts that’s fine but that gets more complicated. I am always interested in using the yeasts naturally present in the honey to create a “wild” ferment. I think it’s really cool that we can encourage a community of organisms that are already present to grow only by changing their environment.
After you’ve got your honey and water mixed, Katz recommends you mix or shake your mead several times a day until you can see it bubbling. So, you can use a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake, or you can use a jar with no lid and stir. If using a lidless jar you need to cover the jar with some kind of fabric or paper towel and a rubber band to make sure nothing surprising tries to take a bath in our bubbling brew. After bubbling you can just mix once a day. When the bubbling slows down after a week, week and a half-ish, congratulations! You’ve got young mead!
Here is a picture of my mead after about a week in Tenerife. It’s warm in Tenerife so the ferment moved quickly. You can see how I just covered them with pieces of fabric and It got all frothy after a good mixing. I mix mine with a chopstick, once a day. When it starts looking like this you know the ferment is strong. When it stops bubbling so much it is slowing down.
If that sounds complicated here is a summary:
-Mix 4 parts water 1 part honey
-Stir vigorously 3ish times daily
-Once bubbly you can stir once a day
-After 7-10 days you’ve got young mead!
So easy right!? You can play with the water honey ratio and add all kind of flavours and fruits and whatnot. But this is the simplest version suggested by Katz that I have personally had success with. And we can talk about getting fancy later. This young mead is going to be super sweet, you can drink it young or you can mature it. I will leave that for my next post. As this one was just to get you started and thinking about how easy it is to start your own probiotic alcoholic goodness!
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