Introduction: Fire Mead
Mead is a sweet and delicious honey-based fermented beverage from eons ago. It was drunk by the Vikings and even older civilizations for it's intoxicating and preserving properties. Mead can age for a very long time, some ancient stories tell of 40 year old meads. There are many varieties of mead from ancient times and this one could fall under a few categories. It could be a metheglin, or spiced mead. It could be a melomel because of the fruit. The best one though, is a capsicumel, made with chilies.
This capsicumel recipe is a sweet and spicy one brewed with honey, ancho chilies, spices and citrus. It has a good kick on the first sip but after that it's fruity, spicy and sweet.
Image: A 1 gallon carboy of Fire Mead fermenting away, A glass of Fire Mead.
Step 1: The Recipe
1 kg blackberry honey
3 black cardamom pods
2 dried ancho chili peppers
1 cup plain black tea
3 small blood oranges
1 pkg Lalvin EC-1118
1 sanitizing vessel
lots of sanitizer
1 - 2 x 1 gallon (3.78 L) glass carboy or other fermenting vessel
1 big metal spoon
1 coffee mug
1 brewing pot
1 pair of scissors
1 airlock setup
1 siphon hose, at least 4 ft in length
11 beer bottles and caps (or 5 pressure-capable 750 ml wine bottles and corks)
Notes on Ingredients and Equipment
Blackberry Honey: Any sweet honey with a nice fruity flavour will do, but blackberry is just sooo good.*
Black Cardamom Pods: Other cardamoms can be used as a substitute but they won't give it a nice smoky flavour.*
Blood Oranges: Try to get blood oranges because they have a certain intensity and tang, but any other sweet and sour orange will work great. *
Sanitizing Vessel: This should be solid and large enough to hold all the equipment you need for each step of the brewing process. I use a big Rubbermaid container.
Sanitizer: Make sure you read the instructions for your sanitizer and get something food-safe. You can use unscented household bleach diluted to 4ml per Liter of water (1 tbsp per gallon) but make sure you rinse it really well or the mead will taste off.
Carboy: Any fermentation will do as long as it's nonreactive, BPA free and foodsafe with some kind of one-way air release valve or a hole that will fit an airlock setup.
Coffee Mug: Doesn't have to be a coffee mug but it should be big enough to hold yeast and a cup of warm water. This will be your yeast starter vessel.
Airlock Setup: Usually a 3-piece thing that fills with water only lets the CO2 escape and no contaminated air into the brew. The important thing is that no contaminated air gets into the mead. A simple balloon with a pinhole in it covering the top of the fermentation vessel works well.
Beer or Wine Bottles: These must be capable of withstanding the pressure of a carbonated beverage, no bottle-splosions here! If you choose to use wine bottles get ones with swing tops or champagne corks with cages.
*Don't listen to me about the ingredients, do whatever you want with your own mead and then post awesome recipes in the comments!
Image: My first brewed batch of Fire Mead.
Step 2: Sanitize and Make the Must
For making the must you need to sanitize
- the fermenting vessel
- airlock parts
- cup or other yeast starting container
- yeast packet
- sealed honey container
- brew pot and lid
If you're wondering, must is a solution that you feed the yeast to make wine or mead. It can be honey and water or grapes and water... it could even be tomatoes, sugar and water!
Once everything is sanitized and ready you can boil some water for the yeast starter. Dissolve a teaspoon of honey with the recommended amount of water on the package. Once the water has cooled to the recommended temperature scatter the yeast over the top. Give them a gentle stir so that most of them fall to the bottom of the dish and they can get nice and hydrated. Let the yeast bloom and come back to life. They'll start making bubbles and floating to the top of the water, it takes about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, get the brewing pot on the stove and add half a gallon of water. Put it on the stove and turn it on low. The must should never boil, or even simmer. Honey is a very delicate flavour and applying too much heat can destroy the flavour so make sure it only steams, and doesn't bubble. Chop the ancho chili up with the scissors and add it to the pot with the cloves, cardamom and honey. Give it a good stir until the honey is dissolved and zest those oranges. Segment the oranges so that there is no pith in the must. Add the orange fruit and zest and let steam for 20 minutes. Skim off anything that rises to the surface.
Let the must cool, putting the pot with it's lid on it in a sink of cold water. Once the must has cooled to the same temperature as the yeast starter pour the must into the sanitized fermenting vessel and then add the yeast starter. Top it up with some warm water and seal with an airlock. Put it somewhere dark and cool and wait for 1 -2 weeks until there is about a 2.5 cm yeast layer on the bottom of the carboy. If you don't have somewhere dark cover it with a towel.
Images: Beer bottles with sani-brew sanitizer, sanitizing a 1 gallon carboy, the mead pitches and topped up in a 1 gallon carboy.
Step 3: Rack the Mead
Sanitize another 1 gallon carboy or fermenting vessel, a siphon hose, and the airlock setup. Cover the top of the carboy with aluminum foil while the equipment sanitizes. If you don't have a second carboy then sanitize a container that can hold the mead while you clean up the original fermenting container.
Put the mead somewhere a couple feet off the ground and siphon the mead into a new carboy. Leave the spices and chili behind with a little bit of mead and the lees. Lees are the dead yeast cells that pile up on the bottom of the fermenting container and are a normal part of the process. They're pretty good for the garden if you water it down before you use it.
Once most of the mead is in the new fermenting vessel, top it up with a bit of water, if necessary and pop the airlock on. Wait for another month or so, giving the mead a soft kick every week or so to loosen up the CO2.
Images: Lees and leftovers from racking fire mead, Siphoning out the mead.
Step 4: Bottling Time
To bottle we need to sanitize the bottles, the siphon hose, and the bottle caps. Give the kitchen or wherever you'll be bottling a good clean and clean the bottle capper too.
If you have a bottle filler you should sanitize it but if you don't making a kink in the siphon hose works well too.
Once everything is clean and sanitized add 3.5 ml (3/4 tsp) sugar to each bottle and siphon the mead in. Cap the bottles and get ready for the hard part. Store it somewhere cool and dark and wait for 3-6 months for the mead to become carbonated, and age a while.
When you can't wait any more, pop one open and enjoy!
Images: Siphoning the mead into bottles, siphoning the last bits of the carboy, the final product.