Hallowme’ad – my special Halloween mead
I love Halloween. I love making mead. What better thing to do then make a mead on Halloween night so that it is holiday-specific? Nothing! So a few years ago, once the family Halloween festivities ended and my own Samhain fun began, I brewed a sack mead with special ingredients, with the final touches being done at midnight.
So after the costume wearing, the trick-or-treating, the Great Pumpkin watching, and the candy testing was over, I pulled out my honey, yeast, bottled water, and “spices.” In most of my meads, I tend to use a lot of honey, as it makes a really high ABV and very sweet mead, termed a sack mead. I also use a sweet mead yeast, to definitely make sure it is sweet, although I have used dry mead yeast before with good results. And why do I use bottled water? Because I live in the country and have well water. Sometimes well water works well (ha!), and sometimes it does not. Rather than risk it, I just buy a few gallons of spring water from the grocery store.
My holiday spices for this one were easy: pumpkin pie spice and actual pumpkin. Yeah, pumpkin isn’t a spice, but it was neat to add it in. It gave it some nice depth, if not a lot of flavor. All the holiday flavors came from the pumpkin pie spice. Of course, at midnight, I had to offer a little bit up to all the ghosties and boggles and Shining One that were out and about, pouring a snifter full and leaving it outside. I also gave a toast to the mead gods using my last Reaper Ales’ Deathly Pale Ale (speaking of which, if anyone is reading this in California, feel free to send me a few bottles!).
And of course I had to give a nod to Urien, the Celtic god of heavy metal and Halloween. More accurately, the god of dark bards and Samhain. Same thing, right?
Now, on to the recipe! (Makes around three gallons – I filled up around fifteen 22 oz. bottles)
- 10 pounds honey (I get mine from a local apiary, but have occasionally use store bought)
- 3 ½ gallons water
- ½ can pumpkin puree
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (for the North American brutes – all spice for the non-American brutes)
- ½ tsp yeast nutrient (optional)
- 1 tsp yeast energizer (optional)
- 1 package/tube sweet mead yeast (or dry mead if you prefer – cider yeast also works fairly well)
Heat one gallon of water to a near boil, then flash heat* the honey (pour the honey in to the hot water, stir it to dissolve, then remove from heat – all done quickly). Allow the honey-water mixture to cool, now that you’ve removed from heat, to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. During this cooling phase, add the pumpkin spice first, stirring until dissolved. Then add the pumpkin puree, stirring until dissolved. Once the mixture as cooled, add the yeast nutrient and energizer, again, stirring until dissolved. All that is left is to rack the mixture into your fermentation carboy, and then to add the yeast, swishing it around to aerate.
*Regarding the flash heat: I have a friend who has made terrific meads without heating up the water first, and just stirring the honey into cold water. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this! Honey in general is “creeping thing” free. I tend to flash heat because that’s what I’ve always done and it does kill off any bacteria that may have been canned with the honey, but I do recognize that the odds of this are low.
After a few weeks, rack/move the must (the fermenting mead mixture) over to a secondary carboy. This isn’t necessary, but it helps clarify the final product, as it leaves sediment behind each time you rack it over. After a few more weeks, it’s time to bottle. I made mine a sparkling mead by boiling 6 ounces of honey in water and adding it to the must before bottling. If you prefer a non-sparkling (that is, a non-carbonated) mead, just skip this step. (Psssttt... I actually used 8 ounces to make it really bubbly, to simulate a witch’s cauldron when pouring out, but I also then left more room than usual at the top of the bottle to make sure it didn’t explode! Six ounces is what I would’ve used for a normal carbonation. Make it extra carbonated at your own risk.)
DON’T FORGET!!! SANITIZE EVERYTHING AT EVERY STEP!
I ended up with a final gravity of very close to 1. Making less than five gallons and adding the energizer and nutrients really helps the yeast gobble as much of the sugars as possible. So what was left was a very nice, pumpkin-spiced, 13% mead.
I let it sit for a year, so I could have the first bottle on the next Halloween night. It was worth the wait. It is one of my favorite meads I have made so far, although whether from it being a good recipe or just being imbued with the spirits that were roaming the previous Halloween night, I don’t know. Nor do I care.
Slainte and wassail!
© 2016 James Slaven