I can tell that it is truly summertime. Over the last week or two, my housemates and I have gathered over two pounds of blackberries from the wild brambles on the property. With chèvre on toast, and by the handful, we’ve managed to consume about one pound of those, and we froze the rest for later use. We plan on using those to make a syrup, or maybe add to it and make a small batch of jam.
But that’s not enough…I have other plans for berries. Plans that involve more fruit than our yard currently provides.
So, I woke up early yesterday morning and went to work with my husband. While he mowed beautiful lines into the sweet-smelling, dew-covered grass, I took my time walking around the perimeter of the land and gathered the wild blackberries that pepper those hillsides.
After an hour and a half of work, I had earned arm-scratches, purple fingers, and one hell of an appetite to go along with the two pounds or so of fat, ripe blackberries that I had gathered!
We brought them home, rinsed the berries off, and then I began the process of making a one gallon batch of blackberry mead! This is also known as a melomel, a mead made with fruit.
Blackberry Mead (1 Gallon Recipe)
2-3 lbs of wildflower honey
2-3 lbs of fresh picked wild blackberries (store-bought will suffice!)
1 whole allspice seed, cracked
1 whole clove, crushed
1 inch strip of dried orange peel (fresh zest will work, too)
1 splash of lemon juice
1/2 packet of brewing yeast (but 2 grams of bread yeast will work in a pinch!)
Grab a large stockpot and heat just under 1 gallon of water to boiling. Throw in the allspice berry, clove, and orange peel while it gets boiling really high.
While the water is heating, sanitize a brewing bucket and rinse it well. Add the berries to the bucket along with a splash of lemon juice. Use a potato masher or similar tool to mash the berries up and release their juices.
Once the water is kicking at a steady boil, turn off the stove and remove the stockpot from heat. Let it cool for just about 10 or 15 minutes and then add the honey, stirring it well to blend. If it is unfiltered, raw honey, you may get a foam on the surface, which can be removed if you wish.
Pour the hot honey water (also called the must) over the berries and give it a good couple of stirs. If your brewing bucket has a lid with an airlock, use that. Otherwise, you can cover the bucket with a towel and tie it down to allow the must to cool and to keep curious flies and ants out of your delicious brew!
Allow the must to cool overnight, and in the morning add your yeast of choice to the room temperature bucket. I used a sweet mead yeast…it was beautiful, gave a little bit of a bubble, and then settled down as I stirred everything together. Re-cover the bucket and tie it down again, and let the mixture do its magic in the bucket for a couple of days.
One Week Later…
The bucket full of berries, spices, and honey water had been bubbling merrily for seven days. I made sure that the bucket got picked up and swished around every now and again to keep it oxygenated, and to keep everything from settling. Besides the swishing, the bucket got a good stir once a day with a sanitized spoon.
It was a joy to stir while guests were over. People who have never before brewed really observe the fermentation process with wonder in their eyes. It serves to remind me that I am not only a wino with a DIY complex, but a high magician, a witch, an alchemist. Poof! Alcohol.
After seven days, the sweet, fizzy smell in that corner of the kitchen was delightful – not too yeasty or cloyingly sweet. I declared the mash ready to strain and moved to the secondary fermenter. I could have perhaps let the berries and must sit together longer, but I didn’t want the bitter seeds and skins of the berries to penetrate too deeply into the flavors of the final product.
My housemate Sarah helped, and together we lined a strainer with a layer of cheesecloth or two to catch the smaller floaty bits. The strainer was set into a large cook pot, and slowly and carefully, I poured the bucket out. What a feast for the senses! The color is magnificent, the smell – divine, and once we funneled the brew into the carboy and sampled what was left over, the taste? Absolutely thrilling!
So, with the carboy capped off with a fermentation lock, it took only a couple of hours for the yeast to kick back into action. The lock is bubbling about once every five full seconds. I don’t know when this mead will be ready…but I’ll guess by the bubbling going more slowly, and look for other signs, like the opacity of the mead itself clearing as the yeast dies and settles to the bottom.
After this mead stopped bubbling and cleared, it was bottled, aged for a few months, and enjoyed by all! It was delicious; rich, sweet, and full of the tangy, bittersweet berry flavor from the wild blackberries. I’ve subsequently made a batch every year since!
I’ve also made a few more one-gallon batches of wines and meads, and you can see my technique and recipes there!
Here’s the dream list of brewing projects that I have not yet begun (or written up, as the case may be):
- Peach Mead (Melomel)
- Ginger Mead
- Apple Mead
- Spiced Apple Mead
- BEER! I want to brew Ninkasi’s beer.
I would also like to direct you folks to the blog of a friend of mine, Michael Ruff of Dove and Raven Mead. We made his first batch together a couple of months ago; he learned the basics of brewing, and he tried in vain to teach me hydrometer math. He just started his first cherry melomel, and it sounds amazing!