It's Time For Mead - Part One

We’ve been into experimenting with fermentation for a while now and its fasinating stuff.  It started with bread but recently we’ve been having a bash at making alcohol in the form of cider, beer and lately mead.

It started with cider, inspired by the Autumn the crop of local wild apples and by memories of my amazing wedding day 2 years ago where our vows were exchanged in a cider press!

Woodthorpe Hall, Holmsfield

This was at the incredible Woodthorpe Hall in Holmesfiled where the legendary owners Dick and Sue Shepley make a cider lauded by CAMRA and described in detail in this article in the Sheffield Star.

Since our wedding we have been keen to witness the afternoon of frenetic apple pressing which is held annually at Woodthorpe but pressure of work has prevented this.  Instead  over a period of a few weeks in September/October the team and I picked a few apples whenever we happended on a suitable tree.  This gave us a good mixture of apples, although being wild they all leaned towards the slightly astrigent (in some cases simply mouth puckering) end of the sweetness spectrum.  Being very much beginners we did’nt initially realise that having a good mixture of varieties is a good thing.  However, by having a mixture not only can you have a better character and flavour but it increases the chance of achieving the right balance of acidity required for correct fermentation.  As with much cooking there is a body of sound science behind the processes that occur and for those interested the link here originally created by Gillian Grafton gives some background to the micro biology involved in apple juice and its possible treatments to make cider.

In the spirit of navie beginners we plunged in without any of this background information.  We started by simply extracting the apple juice by shredding the apples through a commercial juicer, catching the pulp and pressing/squeezing this to extract the surprisingly large amount of residue juice left in the pulp (the pulp being technically called pomace or pommy).  The next bit was easy, simply leaving the juice in a large (and well cleaned) plastic fermenting bin.  This was covered and once we detected the natural yeats starting to ferment we out in a home brewers air lock.  In a coolish kitchen the fermentation gently proceeded for around a month at which point the liquid slowly started to naturally clear.  We helped this process by siphoning the majority of the liquid (leaving the last half inch of murky dead yeast cells etc) into another clean plastic vessel.  At this point we consume the product and very good it was too.  If we had read into the subject we may have been persuaded to mature the cider into the Spring and marvel at the next process of malo-lactic fermentation which apparently occurs when temperature rises to above 15C.  This softens flavours, taking away excess acidity and occurs naturally if the apple juice has not been detrimentally treated.  This stage will have to wait for another year!

Now where does the mead come in.  Well being prolific users of Sheffield Honey (we have used it in our Ginger and Orange Citrus Hits®, our organic oat granola, and soon in a lovely breakfast smoothie with local bio yoghurt as well as selling the jars in our shops) we thought it would be great to make a historic brew with a truly local product.  The attraction for me was to use the minimum of ingredients so it was just Sheffield Honey, Yorkshire Spring Water and a yeast (technically a strain of yeast called Lalvin RC212 which could stand the calculated final gravity of 14% alcohol).

Sheffield Blossom Honey, Yorkshire Water and Lalvin RC212 Yeast

This project is work in progress, the three ingredients having been mixed on the 23rd December and left to ferment.  Initial worries about a lack of fermentation action were relived when an inspection on Christmas day revealed occasional bubbles through the air lock.  By Boxing Day the frequency of gaseous blips had increased to one every 4 or 5 seconds and we well and truly had the first stage on the way.  I will report in part two how this project progresses.

In the meantime a brilliant online resource I have found is the NewBee Guide which has a wealth of information on mead.  As always its worth doing the research first but of course for our first go the imperative was to “crack on” with it so no doubt we will make mistakes.

Note:  For some historic background to the naming of the Shepley Spitfire pub close to Woodthorpe Hall see Shepley Spitfire.