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Brewing a holiday mead requires timing and planning

The holiday season may feel a long way away, but when you brew beer or make wine, you have to have an eye to the future.

This year I wanted to make a holiday cyser: a mead drink made with an apple cider base.

Mead is one of the oldest fermented beverages known to man — Beowulf enjoyed a mug of mead — and is a drink in which a majority of the fermented sugar comes from honey. Apple cider is simply unfiltered juice from apples and is only available during apple harvest season.

Fortunately, I’m a beekeeper so I had plenty of honey on reserve; I needed to use 11 pounds of honey per five gallons of apple cider. Unfortunately for my dad, our apple harvest wasn’t particularly fruitful this year, so we didn’t have to battle over who would get the apples for making fermented drinks — there were just enough for me.

Originally I wanted to use our apple press to juice the apples, but I only needed 10 gallons of juice so my dad suggested a smaller scale option: the electric juicer. It took about three or four hours with three people — my dad washing apples, my mom slicing and me juicing — but the freshness was unbeatable.

My cider had a bit more sediment than I was hoping for, so I had to rack the cider — gravity siphoning — into a new carboy and let it settle out for a day before I was able to brew.

The recipe itself was one that I found and was simple to follow: 5 gallons of unpasteurized apple cider, 11 pounds of honey, three cinnamon sticks, six whole cloves and a teaspoon of orange peel.

I added all of my ingredients — minus the orange peel — to the brew for the beginning of the boil; I added the orange peel with 15 minutes left in the one-hour boil. I considered adding two crushed nutmeg and two chopped vanilla beans for additional flavor, but of course that lightning bolt didn’t strike me until I was midway through brewing the second five gallons.

My mom was, during the second brew, a little annoyed that I’d occupied her kitchen for seven hours across several days, but the brewing process made the entire house smell like apple pie so I think she forgave me at least a little.

After boiling for an hour, I crash cooled the mead in an ice bath and then siphoned it back into a glass carboy, along with a packet of Red Star Côte des Blancs yeast, to ferment in a cool dark place. My original gravity ratings were at 1.110 and 1.210 respectively, which will likely make them slightly below the anticipated 14.7% ABV.

Ultimately I’ll have to wait seven weeks before I’ll know for sure where the flavor ended: the mead will spend two weeks in the primary fermenter, three weeks in the secondary fermenter and two weeks in the bottle.

Fast forward to bottling day to see what happens next in the mead-making process.

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