Mead. I make it.

So, I was introduced to mead through my local bottle-shop. They were selling 'Bee Mead' (a company that has since gone under, I think). It was carbonated and tasted a little like cider, but not 'appley'...

There were two varieties - Honey and Spiced. Of course, I had no idea this wasn't what mead really tasted like. Until now, mead was just an abstract idea. I'd heard of it in movies - Vikings drank it - and I figured it was pretty much just another name for beer. But I was very wrong! What I was tasting was a commercial 'pre-mix' type 'alcoho-pop' mead. A bit like fast-food vs. home cooked. Lots of additives and chemicals to make it homogeneous and last as long as possible on the shelves, with very little - to no - difference between batches. Don't get me wrong - I still like it and would get some whenever It's on special, but it's not the same as 'real' mead.

Mead is wine (essentially). Instead of cane sugars for fermentation, you use honey. And that's pretty much the extent of the 'rules'. A traditional mead would usually just be fermented honey-water, maybe some spices (clove, cinnamon, nothing too fancy) but not much else. You can experiment, of course - add fruits, acids, wood-shavings, tannin etc. play around with the pH, aeration, and other processes/methods. Sky's the limit.

I will say, however, it's an acquired taste - especially the 'traditional' variety. Unless you overdo it with the fruit and maybe back-sweeten (add more honey, or another type of sweetener, after it's done fermenting to make the final product sweeter), then you're probably not going to enjoy your first few batches. It takes practice, patience, and time to develop your palette for it - or at least get the hang of making a combination that does appeal to you. And even after a handful of tries, you may never end-up liking it. I'm not much for white wines, but that's just me. Having said that, Joe's Ancient Orange (there's plenty of recipes online, but that's as good as any) is usually a pretty tasty, easy to make, and 'quick' batch - so you don't have to wait years to drink it! Though it'll certainly taste better after a year, - more so after two or three - you can drink this recipe right away without spoiling the experience. It's a good way to figure out if you have the potential to enjoy mead, as it's a bit sweeter and fruitier than the more traditional recipes.

A word on the kit. Don't get bogged down with having all the stuff that everyone else (including myself, in the below picture) has, when trying your first batch. Spend your money on the ingredients you may not have handy (i.e. enough honey, some decent brewing yeast - though you can use bread yeast, the mead won't have the same taste or smell -bread yeast actually does give it more of a bread/beer smell and aftertaste - so it's worth spending a couple bucks on the better stuff), and any spices/fruits etc. you want to try. As for the kit - at least for your first try or two - try and use what you have around the house. You'll surely have some type of vessel that you can use as a fermenter (pots, mason jars, buckets, even a vase that's appropriately shaped and allows you to improvise an airlock.) Santitise (that's spelt correctly, in Australia) everything that will end up touching your mead (i.e. vessel, airlock, anything used to stir the mix etc.) - this is probably the most annoying bit of it all, but it's worth it in the end as having your batch ruined after weeks/months/years of waiting, because you didn't wash everything before starting, is a real pain. And then improvise an airlock, if you don't happen to have one. There's a billionty (not a word) ways to improvise an airlock, so you shouldn't need to buy one - or even really use one... it's just to keeps nasties (actual debris, but also the wrong kinds of bacteria and wild yeast) from getting into your brew, and this doesn't necessarily need a traditional water/bubbler airlock. There's other ways to safely brew - give it a Google.

If you find out you like it, then it can be a good - overall quite passive - hobby. If you have fruit or berries growing nearby then it can be fun to experiment with flavours when you have leftover crops. And just like any hobby, you'll start to accumulate the paraphernalia that comes with it. Some devote whole rooms to brewing and fermenting, while others - like myself - have a modest set of shelves to house my concoctions. Below you can see I have a blueberry mead (middle shelf, far right) going and some (hard) apple cider on the left (I have a few apple trees and I could never get the hang - or taste - of Cyser (which is an apple mead) so I just make a bit of cider on the side.

A set of metal shelves holding various brewing vessels, carboys, and homebrew accessories
Homebrew shelf

If you're like me, the idea of making as much of the mead out of your own ingredients is an interesting experiment. Since the fundamental ingredient is honey (you can see where this is going), I wanted to get bees. And so I did. Of course there's a bit of time, knowledge, and money that goes into beekeeping, so depending on your enthusiasm, you might find it more practical to try and source some local (or not - supermarket honey is just fine, but I encourage the local - or at least organic - stuff, so you know there's less chance of nasties in it) honey. But for me, I wanted to see what my own mead, made from my own honey, and my own fruit/berries, tasted like. So that's what I did.

2 tier (double deep) beehive on a stand hidden in a green garden
My first beehive

The first year I didn't get enough honey to make mead, but this year's the year - I can feel it. They colony has had enough time to grow and settle. It'll be bumper. I'll make a post about my bees another time.