Quite frankly, I am astonished by the mead that I currently have in my fermentation closet. While my inclinations to go off script is fairly strong, this project raises (lowers?) the bar in this regard. Although it points to a very important lesson: brewing need not be the exact science that many home-brew websites would have you believe.
It all started two months ago when, at a farmer’s market, I purchased a pound of local, raw avocado honey. This was, for me, a new honey but I was taken by its sharp and somewhat earthy flavor, reminiscent of buckwheat honey, my perennial favorite. Having just gotten hooked on fermentation as a hobby, I thought this would be a tasty honey to attempt to make mead with.
Having read several blogs which indicated that berries and grapes are just covered with yeast, I decided to go with a wild ferment, rather than purchasing a yeast more specialized for the job. Since I knew that the honey would need to be diluted a bit to get the show on the road, I decided to make my first excursion away from canon and tossed the honey into my BlendTec with a fistful of black organic table grapes, which had the frosty look that is apparently due to yeast. The resulting slushy was poured into a large, pint sized mason jar.
And then I waited.
And then decided that perhaps this plan wasn’t working because there was no yeast on those grapes after all.
Around this time is when I had my first experience with fermented rice and learned about yeast balls. As a regular visitor to my local Asian food market, I decided to perhaps try one of these yeast balls to get things going.
Within a week or two it became clear that besides adding sediment to the honey/grape mix, the yeast ball did not advance the cause one bit.
At this point, I decided that perhaps the sugar concentration was too high. Thus the content of the pint jar was transferred to a half gallon mason jar, along with a comparable amount of water. And some rice wine from the fermented rice… possibly with a few grains of said rice falling in.
Covered with cheesecloth, the jar sat in the fermentation closet undisturbed. After about a week I looked in and saw what I thought was a telltale sign of mold forming on the surface. Due to scheduling (and lack of strong aroma), the jar remained in the closet, waiting to be taken care of “at some point.”
That some point was last night. But as I brought the jar into the light of the kitchen I realized that what I was seeing on the surface was a thick layer of bubbles, not mold. A quick sniff revealed a very distinct smell of alcohol. Through a fresh piece of cheesecloth, the content was poured into a fresh jar. A taste test confirmed that what I had was, in fact, a nice light mead, still semi-sweet but with a non-trivial alcohol content (~8% as a rough guestimate).
What’s more, the brew tastes quite smooth. This is quite unexpected as mead making sites suggest that the mead would need to age for at least six months, but probably a year or two before it mellowed. If this were to mellow much more than this, I’m not sure how much flavor would be left.
And thus, as the day winds down, I sit here with a glass of some slightly fruity mead, realizing that yeast will be yeast and when presented with sugar, it will make alcohol. And that perhaps the yeast found at 25 cents a ball in the Asian market is quite well suited to the pursues of home-brewing, potentially more-so than more specialized ones given that these mead need not be aged to be consumed. And the whole process can be far simpler than one might fear.