I proposed the idea to my wonderful girlfriend, Amy, of making a mead on our first anniversary, then drinking the first bottle of it on our second. I got the urge after reading about mead in one of Charlie Papazian’s great books. He explained that the term honeymoon originated from the practice of taking a month (moon) off to drink mead (honey wine) after getting married. If we have any chance of continuing this proud tradition, we had better start stocking up.
So for our first anniversary, December 30, 2012, we made a batch of of dry, orange blossom honey mead. It turned out pretty well, and I’ll post more about it at some point. For our second anniversary, I asked Amy what she wanted to do and, after much deliberation, she decided that strawberries were in order.
I should admit before we get any further, that I don’t know much about mead. The recipes and procedures for both of these meads (and the Wyld Cyser LINK) are based on quick internet searches and briefly browsing the mead forum on HomebrewTalk.com.
After this short bit of research, I decided that clover honey, known for it’s mild flavor, but intense sweetness, was the appropriate varietal if we wanted the strawberries to be the real star. I also determined that we probably should have used more honey last year, to make a stronger mead that will hold up for longer, as we plan to hold on to some of it for years to come. Last year, we used twelve pounds of honey. I upped it to fifteen this year, plus any additional sugar from strawberries and a plan to back sweeten before bottling.
For the strawberries, there were not a lot of options considering the season. It would have to be frozen berries, but that actually sounded like a pretty good choice. The conventional wisdom for amount of fruit seemed to match the advice for honey: more is better. I settled on fifteen pounds, before realizing that Costco sold them in six pound bags. Eighteen pounds sounded even better.
For the process, I simply let the water out overnight to dechlorinate, in a bucket. On the day, We added a couple gallons of it to a canning pot and heated it on the stove. Amy dumped the honey in as I stirred long enough for the honey to dissolve into the water. We added more of the water to the honey containers and microwaved them to get the last of the honey out, then added that to the pot. By this point, the pot was a bit fuller than I would have liked. Less water in the pot next year. Or maybe just add the honey in a couple rounds?
Anyway, Amy held the carboy and funnel as I poured the honey water in and attempted to not spill it on her. That went about as well as could be expected. Once all the honey water was in, I added the yeast, we went with Red Star’s Premier Cuve’e, and yeast nutrient and shook the half full carboy for a bit. Once it settled down a little, we topped it up with the rest of the water and took a gravity reading (I know, after the yeast was added… but I wanted to mix it good and wasn’t confident that I wouldn’t make a mess doing so after the water was added). The gravity came to 1.135. Pow!
We let the mead ferment for six weeks, then added the strawberries. They were still frozen, so we put them in a pot with a little water over low heat and stirred until they thawed. They came apart and disintegrated much more than I anticipated while we did this. I’m not sure if that is good or bad. Once they were all thawed and close to room temperature, Amy held a five gallon paint strainer bag open in my eight gallon bucket fermentor and I dumped them in (a pattern emerges…). I attempted to tie the bag shut, but it was pretty full and the strawberries were already turned to mush, hopefully they aren’t too hard to separate later.
With the strawberries in the bucket, we began siphoning the mead on top. Going on the hope that it will ferment dry, the yeas was a little over halfway through it’s meal. According the nutrition facts, all the strawberries we used should add another 783 grams of sugar. I don’t know how much of that is actually accessible to the yeast, but if it all got into the mead, it would add another .015 to the gravity. If completely fermented, that is all but another 2% ABV, putting the total just south of 20% ABV.
Maybe I won’t have to back sweeten after all. I’m still debating how long to leave the strawberries in there. When I ferment beer with fruit, the standard rule I follow is that when the fruit loses it’s color, it’s ready to be discarded. The degradation of the strawberries before even being added to the fermentor make that harder to judge, though. This will require more research.
I opened the fermentor after a week and the smell was fantastic. Everything was red. I’m going to give it some time. If anyone has advice, please let me know. I will update on this as more decisions are made.