Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

Cherry Melomel

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My first batch of hard apple cider is aging in a reclaimed wine bottle. My second batch is sitting out, slowly turning into vinegar. The jug that I’ve been using to ferment is sitting idle.

Remembering that I still had some cash leftover from my birthday, which I was forced to promise to use on myself, I decided to run down to the home brew store and pick up some new stuff. First things first: a proper sanitizing compound so I can get the involved materials squeaky-clean. I also picked up a packet of champagne yeast and a 2lb jar of honey.

This time I’m making a mead.

Mead isn’t extremely popular anymore, but it used to be extremely so and I hear tell that it’s making something of a comeback. There are many varieties of mead, in part because it has such a long and storied history. It also turns out that mead is fast and easy to make. Simple mead is just honey, yeast and water, but even with so few ingredients there is a whole spectrum from dry to sweet, with different alcohol contents and different tones. By changing strains of yeast, types of honey, or the relative amounts of honey and water, many different types of mead can be made. In addition, there are many varieties to be found with different additives, like fruit, herbs or spices. Mead made with apples or apple juice may be called a Cyser. Mead made with grapes might be called a Pyment. In general, mead made with fruit is called Melomel.

We had a pack of store-bought frozen dark sweet cherries in the freezer that weren’t going anywhere. When I boiled up the honey and water, I tossed in the rest of the bag of cherries into the jug as well. I was planning a simple mead recipe, but now we’ve got a Cherry Melomel [1]. I suspect we won’t regret the decision.

Cherry Melomel

  • 0.5 gallons water [2]
  • 2 cups honey (approx 1.5lbs)
  • Yeast [3]
  • Frozen sweet cherries [4]
  • Yeast nutrients [5]

Sterilize your fermenting container [6], airlock, funnel and anything else that will be coming into contact with your mead. Add the water and honey to a large pot under medium heat. You want to heat the mixture to near-boiling without actually allowing it to boil. Heat it like this for 10 minutes, to pasteurize the mixture and kill any microbes that are hanging out in your honey. While heating, skim any foam off the top.

After heating, turn off the stove and allow your honey mixture to come to room temperature [7].

Add the cherries (thawed), honey mixture, yeast, nutrients and any other additives to the fermenting container. Put on your air lock and set aside in a dark, quiet place to ferment. Depending on a variety of factors, it may take 2 weeks or more for primary fermentation to end.

After two weeks, or when bubbling has slowed to a crawl or stopped completely, rack the mixture to a secondary container [8] for settling and conditioning. Grab a small tasting cup, and try a sample along the way. Some recipes call for racking to a new container every few weeks for a period of months, to help remove all the lees (dead yeast) and sediment, and help keep the flavor pure.

Results

DSC_3608

I’ve just racked the mead to secondary, and grabbed a quick taste along the way. It is wowsers good. Good with a capital ‘G’. There’s a little bit of yeastyness that I think will go away with more settling and another round of racking. There is a raw, funky character to it that I think will dissipate with conditioning. Behind all that the mead is sweet, but not extremely so, strongly alcoholic, and has a great cherry flavor. It really does lose much of the character of the honey along the way, which is disappointing. If I weren’t using a cheap jug of clover honey, it might be more of a loss, but the cherry flavor is so great that I really can’t complain.

I wonder, strongly, whether adding a small chunk of vanilla bean to the mixture might be a good addition?

I will probably rack the mead again sometime after the new year, and give it another taste around then. If it’s good, maybe I’ll try to get it into a more permanent bottle, like a small corked wine bottle.

Notes

  1. I’ve seen, rarely, that cherry melomel may be called “vikings blood”. I don’t know how accurate or common this name may be, and I am not really interested in it. “Cherry Melomel” is a perfectly usable name for this concoction, and it’s what I’m sticking with.
  2. My jug is a half-gallon, a very unpopular size for recipes on the internet. Multiply this recipe by 2 to fill a gallon jug, or by 10 to fill a 10-gallon bucket and carboy.
  3. This time I’ve used champagne yeast. I am looking to make a flat, sweet wine.
  4. I think I used about a cup and a half, but I didn’t measure. I just tossed in whatever was left in the bag.
  5. Honey doesn’t have all the nutrients that yeast need to thrive, so you’ll probably want some kind of nutrient additives to help them out. Without, I hear you can get some off-flavors from stressed yeast. There are other chemicals I’ve seen in other recipes to manage the yeast life cycle: yeast activators, yeast conditions, sodium metabisulfite (to kill the yeast at the end, when you’re done fermenting), etc. I’m starting simple.
  6. I am using an acid-based sterilizer from the local homebrew store. You mix a dollop with a few gallons of water, and soak your equipment in it. When you’re done, rinse it all and let it dry.
  7. At one point I filled the sink with cold water, and placed the container with the mead into the water to cool it faster. Some recipes recommend doing this, others make no mention of it.
  8. I only have the one container. I sterilized two quart mason jars, and siphoned the mead into them. I cleaned and sterilized the glass jug, dried it quickly, and then funneled the mead back into the jug.
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Author: Andrew Whitworth

I'm a software engineer from Philadelphia PA. Sometimes I like to go out to my garden, or step into my kitchen and make a really big mess of things.

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