Introduction: Redwood Vinegar
On a recent trip to Joaquin Miller Park in Oakland, I gathered some redwood needles with the goal of somehow capturing their scent. As a way of extracting their aromas, I infused the redwood needles in fermenting mead.
When exposed to air, acetic acid bacteria will convert any alcoholic liquid into vinegar. Through this process, the redwood infused mead turns into a redwood vinegar. (Left exposed to the air for a prolonged time, however, this vinegar will then oxidize, undergoing a number of interesting changes in flavor but eventually destroying those most desirable.)
Begin by heading outside, to wherever trees grow freely, and gather some artifacts of a particularly aromatic plant. Though I collected redwood needles, this method would work with any conifer; it may work with some deciduous leaves as well.
Step 1: Mix Honey and Water
If you have a scale, weigh out water and honey at a 4:1 ratio. If not, this ratio works out to be roughly a pound of honey per half gallon of water. Make enough to comfortably cover whatever quantity of redwood (or other conifer) needles you've gathered.
Put a lid on and shake until the honey has evenly dissolved.
Step 2: Reactivate Yeast
If you've used raw honey, adding (distilled) water will have activated natural yeasts, and the solution will begin fermenting as is. But to get the mead fermenting more energetically, I added half a packet of D-47 wine yeast, which needs to be reactivated in warm (approx. 110°) water.
Step 3: Infuse and Ferment
Evenly distribute the redwood needles between two jars and cover with honey solution. Push down needles so they are totally submerged.
Step 4: Strain Redwood Needles
Taste the infusion daily to get a sense of how the flavors are changing. When the redwood aromas are clearly present but still light, and before they turn bitter or woody, strain the liquid through a few layers of cheesecloth into a clean jar.
Step 5: Age to Taste
Secure some cheese cloth to the top of these jars. Continue tasting the liquid as it ages. This period could take anywhere from a couple weeks to a month or more. When it reaches a flavor you're pleased with, transfer it to a narrow-necked bottle and seal, or seal off the fermentation jars.