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Mead Recipe: Black-and-Blue Melomel
Ah, the heady days of Catholic School. The brain washing (why of course I’d love to go to church six times a week!), the knuckle whacking (Woden may have been on the ash tree for nine days to receive wisdom, but I learned mine by getting my knuckles whacked with a three sided engineer’s ruler by an elderly nun), and the rote memorization of prayers (but don’t ever try to compare them to how Druid’s learned – you’ll get another knuckle whacking).
But before you think it was all bad, going to a parochial school for eight years did help me out in a few ways. I learned how to think about religion in a critical way, that Catholic school girls are sadly not how they’re portrayed in media, and how to sneak into the Irish priest’s house for his stash of wine. If anyone loved his wine, it was Father Shanahan. (And honestly, if more priests were like him, there wouldn’t be such a rumble about abuse – he just liked his drinks, not his servers.)
What does this rambling have to do with a mead article, I hear you asking? Why, almost nothing! Except that if you aren’t sure you want to try straight mead, but do enjoy a nice glass of wine, you can always make (or purchase) a melomel, which is a fruit infused mead and has a more wine-like flavor.
Naturally, enjoying the shortening of the year and feeling closer to the more rough-and-tumble and the darker/underworld deities, when I made my melomel, I wanted to make it as dark as possible. No orange and lemon for me! What fruit is dark? Blackberries! So I worked out a blackberry melomel recipe. When I was at the store buying the berries, I saw blueberries there as well and had the epiphany to use both, just so I could all it my black-and-blue mead. It had the added bonus of letting the two berry flavors merge and keep either one from becoming too “in your face.”
Unfortunately for me, it being my first (and so far only) melomel, I used more berries than were necessary and it still came out rather thick. So if you really like a deep fruit flavor (yes, berries are fruits – specifically, they are the fleshy fruit made from a single flower containing one ovary – think about that while you’re drinking the mead), stick with my recipe as I have it below. If you want a more mellow fruit flavor, you can easily half the berry quantities. (Technical points: a melomel is mead made with fruit, but if you use grapes it’s also called pyment, if you use apples it’s also called cyser, and if you use mulberries it’s called morat.)
The recipe given here is for a bit over two gallons of mead that comes out at an ABV of 12%. For me, this is the real connection with Father Shanahan’s wine. The man loved a thick and alcohol-hot wine. If you try this within the first year, it’s going to remind you of what winos pass around the trash can. I drank my last bottle of it five or six years after it was made and it really mellowed into something wonderful. So if you have the patience, wait at least two or three years in order to experience a bit of quality.
And before I try to set myself up as some awesome bad boy, for having snuck the drinks? Each time I did, I had a quick sip, made a horrible grimace, and vowed to never do it again. At least until the memory faded and it seemed like a cool idea again. Besides, no one likes a quitter.
5 pounds honey
2 gallons water
5 pounds berries (I did half black berry and half blueberry)
2/3 tsp yeast nutrient
2/3 tsp yeast energizer
½ bottle mead yeast
Heat all the water to boiling and then remove from heat (some mead makers prefer to do a cold throw and not heat the water at all – I’ve had those and they’re good, but I’m just a bit on the anal retentive side about disinfecting). Once the water has cooled down to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, add the honey, yeast nutrient, and yeast energizer (I only ever add the nutrient, but feel I should be complete when giving you my directions). Let it sit for 15 minutes and then chill to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Get the mixture into a fermenter (I use a three gallon glass carboy), add the yeast (you can add the whole yeast packet/bottle if you want a robust fermentation and don’t have plans for the other half), and swish it around a bit to aerate.
Let it sit for 2-4 weeks and then rack (move) it over into a fermenting bucket. During this time is when you’ll add the berries. I put the berries in a grain bag (in a pinch you can use new panty hose) and boiled them for a few minutes. This ensured they were disinfected, but also mushed them up a bit to really get the juice into the must. Add the berries, still in the grain bag, into the bucket, and the juice will seep out into the must during fermentation. If you don’t have a bucket, you can squeeze it into a carboy, but be careful or it will be very messy. The extra sugar produced by the berries will probably kick start the yeast again, especially if you used the whole yeast packet for the small batch, so make sure there is room in the container for the activity.
Let it sit another 2-4 weeks before bottling (I let it sit four). If you add a little honey to the mixture just before bottling, it will turn it into a sparkling melomel. I did not, as I wanted it more wine like.
Wassail and enjoy!