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"Our lives are a book that has already been written. The brilliance of the plan is that we are only given a chapter at a time..." ~A. Drayton Boylston

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Pagan Tradition: Learning to Brew Meade


Kombucha Tea -- ALMOST READY! :)
It has now been over three weeks, and my Kombucha Tea is doing great.  In fact.... its ready to bottle but I'm going to wait a little longer so that its a bit more tart than it is now.

On Sunday I learned how to brew yet another beverage.....one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) fermented drink in the world.... Meade!!!!  Meade is "honey wine" and its origins can be traced back to antiquity.  The mythology surrounding it is mainly Norse -- many Norse tales tell of a God or Goddess using Meade to lower the defenses of their enemies so that they could have their way with them.  Meade was said to be made from Kvasir's blood, which was mixed with honey, following his death at the hands of the dwarves Fjalar and Galar.

One tradition that came about as a result of Meade was the "honeymoon".  The period after a marriage came to be known as such because the newly-married couple would keep enough Meade with them to last a moon cycle.  

Due to the mythology surrounding the beverage, Meade is a popular drink among Pagans, SCA members, and the like.

I have always wanted to try making Meade, not only because I'm Pagan but because I find it very simple and delicious.  It's probably one of the easiest types of wine someone could possibly make, and I like to start with simple things before learning the more complicated methods of doing something.  Because it's so simple, and the entire process takes about 2-6 weeks....its a good way to learn how to brew in any capacity.

During this past weekend, on Sunday, I attended a class on how to make "Magickal Meade", which included how to cast a magickal runic circle before the cooking process, and how to set up a small altar for the Goddess Freya beforehand as well.  I will leave the magickal instructions out of this post, but following are instructions on making Meade for the beginner.

To make a small batch of Meade, some simple equipment is needed....
1 stock pot
2 1-gallon carboys (you always need one more carboy for racking purposes)
a stopper and a fermentation lock
large plastic funnel
Measuring cups
Muslin bag for herbs
Any herbs or additive you want to put in your Meade
good quality sugar (pure cane is good)
good quality water (not from tap unless its from a well, Spring Water is best)
good quality yeast (Lavin D-47 or champagne yeast)
bee pollen (great yeast starter)
Irish Moss (great clarifier)
1-step sterilizer for all equipment

To begin, make sure you clean your counter or work surface, as well as the sink, stove, and anything you will be using. This includes the fermentation lock, funnels, any bowls you will be using to prep, the carboy, stock pot, etc....  1 Step powdered sterilizer is very easy to use.... just add one tsp per gallon of warm water.  Place it in a bowl to sterilize the small equipment.  And also use some to sterilize the carboy and funnel in the sink.  The sterilizer only needs about two minutes of contact to fully sterilize your equipment, but you can leave it "soaking" for several minutes while you're preparing your ingredients.

You can also place your container(s) of honey in unsterilized warm water at this time, to make it more liquid and easy to pour when you're ready.

Beginning the process....
  • Put approximately 1/2 gallon of water or juice in the refrigerator
  • Put approximately 1/2 gallon of water or juice in your Meade pot
  • Heat the water or juice to boiling, and then turn the temperature to LOW.
  • If using herbs, add them at this time -- either directly into the water or inside a muslin bag
Steep herbs for at least 45 minutes if you're going to leave them in the Meade for the first fermentation.  Steeping means to turn off the heat and put a cover on your pot so that the herbs have time to enhance the water.
  • Add honey to the water, stirring until it is completely dissolved and mixed thoroughly.  Put a little bit of hot water in the honey container and swish it around to get all of the honey out and into your pot.
  • Add any fruit or fruit juice (if you started with water) and heat thoroughly.
  • Stir in Irish Moss and mix thoroughly.
  • Turn off the heat and let the Wort (which is what your Meade mixture is called at this point) a bit.  Be careful and pour the Meade into a 1 gallon carboy using a funnel.  Pour very carefully and slowly.
  • Add enough chilled water or juice to bring the liquid in the fermentation jug (carboy) just up to the shoulder a bit.  You may not use the entire 1/2 gallon and that's ok.
  • Place the fermentation lock onto the stopper, so that no bacteria or other particles can get into your Wort.
At this point you need to wait to add the yeast.... the Wort should be cooled to about 80-100 degrees F.  If the temp is any higher, the yeast will die. The cooling can take a few hours....or you can leave it to cool overnight.
  • Put about 1/2 cup of warm water into a measuring cup or glass
  • Pour 1 packet of Yeast (Lavin D-47 or better) into the water and stir well.
  • Add 1 tsp of raw cane sugar (booster) and 1 tsp of bee pollen (yeast nutrient) and stir until all are dissolved.
  • Using a funnel (or being very careful), pour this mixture into your fermentation jug and replace the fermentation lock.
In 4-24 hours, your Meade will begin to bubble.  If you get a vigorous fermentation, and the Meade gets up into the fermentation lock, just sterilize another lock (its a good idea to have one or two at the ready), and replace the one with liquid inside it.  You can also sterilize a spoon with a thin handle, and give it a good stir before you replace the lock.  Always keep the cap on the fermentation lock.

While making Meade for the first time, I had to replace the fermentation lock twice before the fermentation slowed down.  I was worried as to whether this was normal, and asked the fellow Witch who taught me about it, and he said that it was normal and to "Consider it a rite of passage.... your Meade runneth over!"

The first fermentation lasts about 2-3 weeks.
  • At the end of that period, you will need to sterilize another 1 gallon carboy (as well as another stopper and fermentation lock) and "rack" your Meade
  • Using your funnel, very carefully pour your Wort into the clean fermentation jug.  Be careful not to pour any of the sediment into the clean jug.  The purpose of racking is to leave the sediment behind.  
  • Add water to bring the level back up to just above the shoulder.  
  • Pour a small sample to taste.  This will give you a good idea on how well you are progressing.
  • Place a clean stopper and fermentation lock on your Wort and let it go.
For the next fermentation round, allow your Meade to ferment for another 2-3 weeks.  Pour a small sample to taste.  If you like it, bottle it.  If not, keep repeating the fermentation process until you like the results.  Follow the same steps above.

If you like the Meade and are ready to bottle it, sterilize the glass bottles you will pour it into, as well as the caps and a funnel.  Using the funnel, carefully pour the Meade into the bottles, and then cap them.  Do not refrigerate your Meade.  Keep some for yourself, some for your family and friends, and enjoy.  Meade goes quickly.... and then you will want to make another batch because people will ask for more!

See.... pretty easy right????  Its a fun, addictive process, and I personally LOVE to watch the Meade bubble and do its thing while its fermenting.

Here are some basic recipes to get you started.

Simple Meade
  • 1/2 gallon water for your pot (and 1/2 gallon to refrigerate and add later)
  • 3lbs of honey 
  • 1 tsp Irish Moss
  • 1 tsp bee pollen
  • 1 pkt of yeast (Lavin D-47, EC-118 or Ale)
  • 1 tsp raw sugar
  • 1 handful of raisins at the bottom of the carboy to add TANNINS to your Meade.  Alternately you can also float a tea bag on top of your heated mixture while its on the stove.
Instructions: Heat water and honey until boiling for 10-15mn.  Turn off heat.  Add Irish Moss, and let stand for 15-30mn.  Rack to 1 gallon jug (pour using funnel).  When cool enough to add yeast, combine yeast, bee pollen and sugar in 1/2 cup of water.  Stir thoroughly and add to Meade.  Top off with cold water or juice.  Top with fermentation stopper and lock.

Carrie's First Meade - Apple Spice
  • 1/2 gallon of Organic Apple Juice with no added sugar
  • 3 lbs of Wildflower Honey
  • 1 tbsp of whole cloves, 1 tsp powdered nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Irish Moss
  • 1 tsp bee pollen
  • 1 pkt of Lavin D-47
  • 1 tsp raw sugar
  • 1 handful of raisins to add tannins
To make, follow the instructions above for Simple Meade but heat the apple juice instead of water.  Turn off heat and add the spices.  Allow to steep for 15-20mn or as long as 45.  Add Irish Moss and let stand 15-30mn.  Rack to gallon jug, etc.
****I tried a taste of this when I had to replace the fermentation lock because the Meade got into the first (and second) one I used.  It ALREADY tasted like apple cider wine.  DELICIOUS!!!!!!

For my next batch of Meade,  I will be making a special Samhain Mead with organic pumpkin, Chai Tea, Pumpkin Pie Spice, and Mesquite Honey from Trader Joe's.   CAN'T WAIT :)

A Note About Herbs
When considering adding herbs to your Meade, make sure you research both the physical and magickal properties of the herbs, to make sure they are safe for consumption.  Consult herbalists and read up on the herbs you want to add.  Don't add anything you're not sure about.

And a final recipe....

Meade for the Impatient
If the process of making Meade seems like too much work, or you just NEED MEADE NOW, the following recipe is great and something you can drink right after making!!!!!!

  • 1 whole 1 liter bottle of wine (preferably a red, that works nice.  Chardonnay also makes for a nice dry Meade)
  • 1 cup of honey 
  • Spices to taste
Instructions: Add a whole bottle of wine and honey to a stock pot and cook, stirring well, until very hot (NOT TO BOILING, otherwise there will be no alcohol in your Meade!) and honey is dissolved.  Add spices.  Remove pot from heat, and let the spices steep for 15-20mn, or as long as 45.  You can also add herbs and filter them out when you bottle the mixture.
Bottle your mixture and enjoy when ready.

Another Sweet Wine Non-Meade Recipe...

  • 2 1-liter bottles of cheap red wine or one of the JUG WINES (great because you can use the jug to bottle it)
  • 1 1-liter bottle of Brandy or Vodka
  • 2 ounces dried orange zest
  • 2 ounces cinnamon sticks
  • 20 whole cardamom seeds
  • 25 whole cloves
  • 1 pound blanched almonds
  • 1 pound raisins
  • 1 pound sugar cubes
Pour wine into a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Wrap orange zest, cinnamon sticks, cardamom and cloves in cheesecloth, tie with kitchen string and put into pot. Let boil for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in almonds and raisins and continue to boil for 15 more minutes. Remove from heat.

Place a wire grill over the pot and cover with sugar cubes. Slowly pour on brandy or vodka, making sure to completely saturate the sugar. Light sugar with a match and let it flame. When sugar has melted, cover pot with lid to extinguish flame. 

Stir and remove spice bag. Serve hot in cups with a few almonds and raisins.

This is recipe is really for people who JUST NEED TO GET DRUNK IMMEDIATELY (aka HOLIDAYS).  You've been warned.


Meade has the reputation of being a "panty remover".... it has long been regarded as a Aphrodisiac.  So be careful of when, where and how you use your Meade.  
Another interesting thing to note is that people tend to be able to drink large quantities of Meade with very little negative effects IN A RITUAL SETTING.  However, people who drink Meade outside of a ritual setting typically report that they can drink a half of a glass if that before feeling DRUNK.
Drink responsibly :) 

Here are some excellent resources for learning how to make Meade:
And if you'd like to go beyond Meade making, into the world of brewing beers (my next project!), this is an excellent book...

Have fun!

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