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                      MEAD: THE BREW OF THE GODS! 
                              Lewis Stead

Mead is the oldest alcoholic drink known to mankind. More recently it
has been taken up in the Pagan and other .alternative. communities
such as the SCA as a favorite for years. It's a form of wine made
with a honey instead of grape juice. Mead is most often associated
with the Vikings and in the Pagan community with modern day Norse
Paganism or Asatru.

Mead is an important part of the Asatru religion and has a place in
both of the major Norse rituals: the blot and the sumble. The sumble
is a drinking ritual where stories, oaths, and poetry are shared and
mead.s function here is obvious. In this day and age mead is even
more important to the blot or sacrifice ritual. The blot is actually
quite simple. A God or Goddess is called upon and a sacrifice is
poured in their honor. In ancient times this was most often an
animal sacrifice and blood was poured out onto the ground or altar.
Today an alcoholic beverage of some kind is the usual sacrifice. This
is not only an adjustment to modern feelings about animal sacrifice,
but is appropriate from an esoteric point of view as well. In ancient
times the Norsemen were primarily farmers and an animal would
have been a product that they had raised. Also, sacrifices were not a
wasting of the animal, merely given to the Gods and left to rot, but
were usually feasts where the Gods got their portion and the humans
their own. Today mead making has been a frenzied activity among
Norse Pagans, and it is most appropriate that something be
sacrificed to the Gods which has been made by your own hands in a
sacred manner. Mead fits the bill. It has the immediate links to our
farming ancestors, but it can be easily made from household items
in even a small apartment.

While we really don.t know a great deal about how the ancients
viewed mead, other than as an intoxicant, we do have a few clues.
One interesting item to start with is that mead was apparently
sometimes strained through rye, which contains the hallucinogenic
chemical ergot. This may offer some insights into Seidhr, a Nordic
shamanic practice, and the frenzy of the berserkers. Another
interesting item is that Frey, a God of farming and harvest, was said
to have two close companions, Bygvir and Beyla. Bygvir was the
spirit of the barley and Beyla of the honey . both important Gods to
brewers and appropriate companions for the God of fertility.

Finally, we have a few myths involving mead directly. Mead was
known as Kvasir.s blood and it.s primary association was with
wisdom. Kvasir was a being who was the wisest in all the universe,
but he was killed and a mead created out of his blood that when
drank brought the drinker wisdom. Aegir, a God of the Sea, was held
to be the patron of brewing and the finest of mead and ale for the
Gods to drink in Valhalla. Odin is said to never eat, but to exist
purely on mead, just as the Greek Gods had their nectar.

Even if it were not for any mythological importance, mead is of
interest to the modern brewer because it is easy to produce and
delicious. One merely introduces a yeast to the sugary liquid, and the
yeast converts the natural sugars into alcohol. After all the sugar is
converted, the yeast dies off and the wine can be bottled. However,
this is not always as easy as it sounds.

The largest problem in brewing is keeping inappropriate yeasts out
of the drink. While the correct wine (or beer) yeasts eat sugar and
excrete alcohol, other yeasts produce vinegar instead. Because of
this it is absolutely vital to keep all brewing equipment absolutely
sterile. This is the most important thing you can do in brewing. All
the great equipment purchased as your wine making shop and the
finest ingredients cannot beat a glass jar filled with welfare honey
if the former is contaminated and the latter sterile. There are two
major ways to sterilize your materials, one is a commercial
"sanitizer" found in wine making shops. Follow label directions and all set. The other is to make a solution of 25% bleach and
rinse very thoroughly.

Let.s make some cheap and easy mead. You.ll need a large pot, a one
gallon vinegar or cider bottle, a 4' or 5' length of plastic tubing (try
.airline. tubing from a pet shop), a balloon or non-lubricated
condom, a package of wine yeast (not bread yeast), wine bottles,
corks, a corking device, and 2 1/2 pounds of honey.

First you need to prepare the mixture that will be fermented. Take
your pot and add the honey and enough water to finish filling up the
one gallon bottle. Bring these to a boil slowly. If you don.t want
scum in your mead and it forms on the top, skim it off. You don.t
need to boil it for any length of time, you just need to bring it up to
this temperature. Boiling for a while will release a lot of scum and
additives which you can get rid of right now and it will also allow
the mead to age more quickly. However, some of this .scum. as
called it is made up of those very things which can create flavor
nuances. I don.t boil mine. When you decide it.s done, let it cool long
enough so it won.t melt the plastic tubing, then siphon the mead into
the gallon jug , cap and let cool overnight. The gallon jug is your
primary fermenter.

Did you sterilize the pot? the bottle? the cap? the plastic tubing?
No! Pour it out and start again . yes I am serious.

Once the mixture is cooled to room temperature you will need to
pitch the yeast. Get a small cup half full with warm, but not hot,
water and add the yeast. Let it sit for about ten minutes and absorb
water and liven up, then pour it into your gallon jug and mix it in.

As of now your honey and water mixture is now being converted into
mead. However, this will take about two weeks, perhaps more, to
complete. During this time the mead mixture will bubble and foam,
and this is what the balloon is for. Cover the top of the bottle with
the balloon and about an hour later, when the balloon has started to
inflate but has not become too stretched, poke a few holes in it with
a pin. (I understand this may make you wince if you are using a
condom.) This balloon takes the place of a fermentation lock and
allows the gas to escape while not allowing air in, thus keeping the
fermentation bottle sterile. The holes may become clogged with
foam and you may need to poke a few more. Just remember the
purpose of this and use your common sense. accomplished this
with plastic wrap and a rubber band, but I wouldn.t advise others to
try unless fond of unmet expectations.

About two weeks from this point the balloon will cease to be greatly
inflated and will eventually go limp. When it has been completely
limp for a few days and the mead is clear rather than cloudy,
fermentation is over. At this point sanitize your wine bottles and
plastic tubing and bottle the mead. Be careful not to get the yeast
into the bottles as it.s not exactly tasty stuff. I stop about an inch
before the bottom of the primary fermenter and we siphon off the
last inch into cups and toast the new mead. My mead has been very
tasty at this point, other people describe theirs as tasting like paint
thinner. In any case, you may not mind a little yeast in your cup now,
but don.t inflict it on yourself in the future by bottling it.

Wait two to six months and then enjoy. Since the above recipe has no
additives which would hasten aging, it may take a while for it to
become truly fine mead, perhaps years. There are a lot of chemical
additives that one can use to improve the flavor and process. The
most common and important addition is a teaspoon of yeast
energizer or yeast nutrient. Others include grape tannin (1/4
teaspoon), malic acid (2 or 3 teaspoons), tartaric acid (1 to 2
teaspoons). I recommend all of these chemical additives in your first
batch, but if you can.t find them you can make do with natural
ingredients or nothing at all.

One can also add slices of fruit, raisins, or berries for flavor and in
place of grape tannin. One recipe I know of adds some apple jelly. A
few lemon peels will substitute for malic acid and a spoonful of
strong tea will do replace tartaric acid. Hops are a common additive
and will give the mead a bit of a bitterness to offset the sweetness
of the honey. The more bizarre ingredient I have heard of was
Szechuan peppers, use your imagination.

All of the above additives should be made to the honey and water mix
when it is boiled. Depending on the ingredient, some, such as fruit,
may have to be boiled in this mixture for a while to break them
down. Obviously hunks of fruit should be strained out after the
boiling. Also, all the above ingredients are based on 1 gallon of
mead, adjust appropriately with the exception of the yeast itself,
one package of which will do for anywhere between 1 and 5 gallons.


Another semi-useful item is sulfite tablets which can be added to
the mead mixture a day before bottling. This will kill all remaining
yeast and will assure that you are not contaminated by vinegar yeast
after bottling or worse that the fermentation process does not
continue in the bottle, causing it to explode or pop its cork. I don.t
use sulfite and heard negative comments about a sulfurous
aftertaste.  It.s probably the better part of valor to simply wait a
while longer and make sure the fermentation process is truly ended.

The above instructions also assume you are not interested in
spending a great deal of money on equipment. The only things you
really must obtain from a wine making store are the yeast, the
corks, and the corker.

If you are willing to spend $50 to $100 more you can improve your
chances of making a good mead by purchasing equipment made for
the purpose. A balloon works, but it is a poor substitute for a proper
fermentation lock that is custom fit to a vat built for the purpose.
Likewise there are many other devices which will useful.

Next: In Defense of Excellence (Adrienne, Quicksilver, Ottawa)