Everyone is all crazy about beer and wine–both rather intricate, easily-messed-up processes. Often, the learning curve is steep, with mixed results, unpredictable flavors, and long waiting times (with wine, at least.) Anyone who knows a hobby beer-brewer has probably seen their plethora of equipment as well! Such a costly investment.
Now, you can also make a delicious beverage out of honey. I’m talkin’ REAL honey, not that crap that comes from China, which Wal-Mart is somehow allowed to label “honey.” (Its not. In fact, China doesn’t even have bees anymore, and they have to pollinate by hand. Ugh!) So, you take this real honey, this delicious, wonderful gift from nature, and you can make the simplest, tastiest alcoholic beverage I’ve EVER had! Its called Mead.
Adding flavors is a fun experiment, and the great majority of the time, the results are just heavenly. So, in this article, in spring fashion, we will be making Lilac Mead, from freshly harvested, local lilacs here on the property.
Ready to follow the adventure? Hopefully you’ll be inspired to try making some yourself. Its well-worth it, I assure you.
So, first up, we get our horses saddled to ride down to the lilac bushes. These bushes were brought in by the old-timin’ homesteaders, waaaay back in the day. Far enough back that we can find pieces of their wood stove, turned to rusty, beautiful scraps. They also built up the awesome rock walls you see in the pictures.
Keno is rearin’ to go! We will be taking Keno, The Lady, and Hidalgo (Dalgo for short; the horse I’m on.) And off to the Lilacs…
These old lilacs are quite abundant! They are covered in butterflies, bees, moths, even some hummingbirds and a hummingbird moth! Now, how to gather enough? We need 5 quarts of lilacs for our five gallons of mead we are going to brew up.
I quickly ran out of lilacs that were within my human-reach.
So, I climbed up to the top of the bush, careful not to break any branches. I returned with my arms full of luscious lilac bunches!!!
Into the saddlebag they go! Thanks to The Lady for carrying them.
“You’re welcome!” She whinnied. We placed some lilacs in her halter, ’cause she’s so fine she deserves some flowers!
While we were out, we decided to head down towards the creek to harvest some wild ginger root.
Wild ginger success! This one is even blooming–what a treat. Such gorgeous, darkly-rich colors in those flowers. Mmm, and they smell spicy!
Now, we return to headquarters and start preparing the mead.
First off, we get all the flowers off the stem, and put them in a giant bowl. The scent is completely ridiculous. Almost TOO sweet by the end! Sticky, luscious, purply lilacs. (Organic and NOT by a roadside, either!)
“Start” the yeast in its own container. We do a quarter cup of sugar, an entire packet of yeast (champagne works well), and 2-ish cups of water with an air seal to keep it tight.
This lets the yeast get active and frothin’ and the bit, ready to make mead for us.
So, how to prepare the honey? In our five gallon carboy, we put two-and-a-half gallons of PURE HONEY. Local is best, of course. You’d be surprised how easy and affordable it can be, especially if its replacing alcohol you would normally purchase.
In a large pot, boil up some clean water. We used filtered rain water. Mother Nature’s distilled!
After the water boils up, begin to stir in your honey. Take the heat down, or even remove completely; don’t over cook your honey-water! Try to keep the temp at or just below boiling. You want it hot enough for the honey to dissolve into the water, but you also don’t want to kill your honey. (You do that by making it too hot 😀 )
Pour the hot honey water into the carboy. I would suggest using a funnel for this; have one person hold the funnel steady, and a great pour-er, ready to commit to the pour. Pour steadily, and maybe add a little water and swish to get the final bit.
(Sorry, we were concentrating so hard on the pour that we don’t have a photo of us succeeding. Just know that we performed excellently.) Here’s something [[WACKY]]
Now, its time to get those lilacs in there! Hopefully, you have read these instructions carefully and have NOT added the yeast yet. That water was boilin’, homefry, and you will definitely kill the yeast if you add it right now.
We lightly stuffed quart jars with lilacs as a measuring system. Into the carboy go five quarts of lilac flowers.
Stir it up!
There is still a little room left; fill this with water. Careful not to go past the curve on the carboy; its easy to misread the water line, but if its too full, you’ll find that it overflows when the yeast really gets workin’ on it in a few days.
Considerations: wait until the water is cool enough that you would let a baby drink it (i.e. touch your wrist to the side of the carboy; err on the side of not being too hot so your yeast will stay alive in it. When you add additional water, this will help, but remember the yeast “start” will increase the volume as well.)
Cap it! Label it! Date it! It will be about three months before its ready to drink. Hug it, tell it you love it, and wait patiently while the yeast does all the work for you. When we bottle this, we always set two bottles aside for long-term aging; we’ll know in a few years how they have turned out!
Nice job, everyone. Cheers!