It's time to make some "Black-Briar" mead. Any Skyrim fans might especially like this one.
As there's no mention of what is in Black-Briar's mead in game, this is a just-for-fun imagining of it. The Black-Briar crest features what appears to be a thorny vine with the leaves of a blackberry bush, so that's what I'm basing it on.
Before starting, make sure to sanitize all equipment thoroughly, especially the brewing bucket. If any bad bacteria at all gets into your mead as it ferments, it will have months to feed and grow and you'll wind up having made a disgusting batch of biohazardous rot-gut that will make you and whoever you share it with fairly ill.
Also bear in mind before starting that mead can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to properly ferment and age. Drinking it before 3 months will likely mean it's not particularly palatable.
Things you'll need:
- Honey! This is the basis of mead. It requires quite a lot in the quantity I'm doing and it can get quite expensive. Two 3kg bottles cost me $35ish.
- Yeast. Any yeast will do, but the effects individual strains have on alcohol is huge. My last batch used champaigne yeast which gave it a dry tasting finish. If you're famliar with champaigne you'll know what I mean. For a sweeter tasting mead you might use wine yeast. For this recipe I'm using plain old bread yeast, common in simple mead recipes.
- Blackberries. About three pints should do it, use more or less to your preference. These were the last three at the grocery store or I would have bought more. I actually grabbed the last of them just before another woman could. She did not look happy with me at all. They cost $1.47 each. If you can't find them fresh, look for them frozen.
- A brew bucket. Two, actually, as you'll want to transfer the mead a few times while it ferments over the next couple months. Ideally a food grade container capable of holding at least 23L and a 23L glass carboy. You can likely buy a home brewing kit including these two things and more from your local home brew store for about $90, or online for even less.
- Water. Spring water is ideal, but it's a hassle. You'll be boiling it anyways, so tap water is generally fine unless there's a lot of flavour altering minerals in it where you are. Up to you.
Step 1: Dissolving The Honey Into Water
Set some water to boil in a large pot. Fill it about halfway as you'll be adding a lot of honey.
As your water heats up, you may want to skip to step two and activate your yeast.
When the bottle is 'empty,' pour in a small amount of warm water, shake the hell out of it and add it to the pot. There's a lot of honey left clinging to the sides of the bottle and you want all of it in your mead.
As it starts to boil, you'll see a lot of 'scum' rise to the top. I'm not sure what it is, exactly (possibly beeswax?), but you don't want it in your mead.
Be sure to skim most of it off and wash it down the sink. It creates unwanted solids in your primary fermenter (brew bucket) later on.
Since there is a lot of honey to add, you may need to do two or three pots to get it all dissolved.
Next, add the blackberries. Getting back to the threat of bacterial infection, I find it quite necessary to boil them. This will also release their flavour and colour into the mead quite efficiently.
With the addition of the blackberries, more scum ought to rize to the surface. Do your best to get as much of it out as possible. It shouldn't be too hard to work around the berries.
Your blackberries should now be redberries.
Once the honey is dissolved, blackberries boiled, and the scum is removed, let it cool a bit and then pour it into your primary fermenter. I recommend having the bucket on the ground. Even at 6'4 I would have difficulty pouring into the tall bucket on a counter. Be careful as you pour, it's probably still very hot and it splashes quite a bit. It's also sticky like you wouldn't believe once it dries. Top up the bucket to the 23L mark with cold water. This should help lower the overall temperature to one that won't kill the yeast.
Step 2: Activating The Yeast
In a small container, add a teaspoon of sugar and warm water. Make sure the water isn't "gah, that's cold" or "shit! that's hot," but rather "mmm, that's nice." Cold water won't activate the yeast and hot water will kill it. Add one tablespoon of yeast.
Wait about ten minutes. If your yeast is alive and the temperature of water was right, it will now look something like this and is ready to be added.
Step 3: Pitching The Yeast
"Pitching" is fancy brewer talk for "adding." Kind of like how "racking" means transferring from one container to another.
At this point, your must (the unfermented honey-water mixture that becomes mead) may be too hot to add the yeast. Use your judgemtent in this case. A temperature of less that 40c should be alright.
Add the yeast. Nothing fancy about it, just pour it in.
Stir it for a minute or two.
If you bought a brew kit it will have included the proper bung and airlock. If not, there should be tutorials on how to create impromtpu airlocks on youtube.
An airlock is important as it lets out the CO2 produced by the yeast during fermentation while not letting any contaminants in.
Fermentation is noticeable when CO2 starts to bubble out of the airlock and will start between 1 and 24 hours later. Much longer than that and you might want to start troubleshooting what went wrong. And that's it. It'll be a week or two before it's ready to be transferred into a glass carboy, so I'll do an update when that time comes.
Keep the bucket in a warm area but out of sunlight. To ferment properly it should be between 20c and 30c. A stick-on thermometer is great to keep an eye on temperature, otherwise it's just guesswork. A "heatbelt" can be purchased from most homebrew stores if your house is simply too cold for fermentation to occur properly. Too cold and it'll take forever to ferment and too warm means it'll be too active and come into danger of overflowing and clogging the airlock. This could result in the bung popping out and your mead becoming contaminated, not to mention a sticky mess wherever you kept your bucket.
I should mention, you don't have to make mead on this large a scale. You can modify the recipe to fit into a 4L milk jug with no problem, and you can even make a simple airlock by wrapping a rubber balloon over the lip and pricking a pin through it a few times. Just be sure to sanitize everything involved.
Now, for how I almost horribly burned myself. I needed two runs of boiling water to dissolve all of my honey, so after having poured the first pot of must into the primary bucket, I noticed that there was some splashed on the floor. Not wanting to walk around on a sticky floor, I grabbed a washcloth, soaked it and cleaned up the mess, leaving a wet floor. While waiting for the second pot of honey and water to come to a full boil, I sat down at my computer to kill a few minutes. This was a mistake.
About three minutes later I heard a familiar noise I hate very much; the sizzle and hiss of a pot overboiling onto the stove burner. I panicked and in a hurry ran back into the kitchen, barefoot, completely forgetting that the already very slick tiles were covered in water. I slid from one end of the kitchen to the other, crashing into the stove and, while still trying to keep my feet under me, hoisted the large, heavy pot of water off the burner and onto an open space on the stove. The scum that had collected had spilled onto the burner, though and proceeded to rapidly caramalize, burn and fill the house with smoke.
Sometimes I think it's a miracle I haven't killed myself yet. Another popular theory is that I'm invincible in the sense that I'm just too damned lucky to die.
Thanks for reading, stay manly.