glass of pilsner
pint of Stella Artois
pint of pale ale
pint of IPA
pint of murphy's Irish amber ale
glass of dark porter
pint of stout
empty glass

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Well, we have now come to that time in the dead of winter between football and baseball seasons. This is when we all have to try and make do with basketball, hockey and those certain movies in the theaters that get endlessly hyped to the point of being obnoxious.  To provide you with a suitable distraction from these I have decided to give a plug to that wonderful ancient drink known as mead.  It sure beats trying to devote an entire column to discussing the prognostications of the groundhog.

Now, I understand that I may be a tad off subject here.  It is true that mead is not precisely beer per se.  But it shares much of its interesting history with beer (and wine as well) and like those drinks has its origins deep in the annals of time.  What is mead?  In its simplest form, mead is nothing more than fermented honey blended with water.  But it can come in several forms and in all of them, it makes for a fascinating (and somewhat intoxicating) quaff.  Legend has it that in cultures of old, newlywed couples were supposed to share mead each evening for one month following their wedding - hence the term honeymoon.  It is also reported that Viking warriors would often drink copius quantities of mead to work themselves up into a drunken frenzy before marching off to battle.  I can say through personal experience that after sufficient amounts of the honeybrew I would have quite a hard time lifting a sword in the first place, not to mention running off to fight someone.  But I did have a family member who once overdosed on some mead and when he awoke, he was laying flat on the floor with a hole punched through his wall.  So maybe the Vikings were on to something after all.

There are commercial examples of mead out there, but admittedly they are somewhat rare and hard to find.  Often these store-bought meads are very sweet and may be heavily spiced as well.  To the more adventureous I would suggest trying to make some mead at home.  This can be accomplished using  a few simple pieces of equipment available at any home brewing or winemaking store.  As a long time homebrewer I would occasionally dabble in mead making by brewing three to five gallon batches, using two to three pounds of honey for each gallon of must, the honey-water solution that will be fermented.  I would always use raw honey, which still contains various impurities such as bits of bee stingers and wings.   It is acceptable to use regular supermarket honey but these honeys are highly filtered and will not provide the subtle aromatics that “honey in the rough” will give.  I would mix the honey and water in a large pot and heat it to just barely a simmer - I wouldn't want to boil it, just heat it enough to pasterurize the must so that any potentially-spoiling bacteria are killed off. Once the must has been simmered for ten minutes or so and subsequently cooled off, I would run it into a large glass carboy (like those used for water coolers) and would pitch in a few packages of strong champagne yeast. 

This type of yeast will ferment the mead to a high alcoholic strength without being stunned into submission by the alcohol being produced.  I would then fix an airlock on the top of the carboy and then wait for the fermentation to begin, which is usually apparent within a few days.

Once fermentation has begun, bubbles will be observed coming out of the airlock.  This is the carbon dioxide being produced as a by-product of the process.  The key now is to be patient - VERY patient.  Mead can take a month or more to ferment thoroughly.  Some meadmakers will try to speed the process by adding yeast nutrients to the must before fermenting.  If so it is best not to overdo this or the nutrients will add a strange flavor to the mead that would be quite undesirable in the finished product.  It can be tough to determine when fermentation is totally complete.  Certainly there should not be any more bubbles whatsoever coming out through the airlock.  Some will resort to taking occasional measurements in the mead with a simple tool known as a hydrometer to determine when fermentation has totally stopped.  Once I have been satisfied that this is the case it is time to bottle the mead, for which I would use regular twelve-ounce beer bottles, though pretty much any size bottles can be used.  For this I would use a hand capper, conventional bottle caps and a simple bottle filler.

Once the mead has been bottled, the great question arises - is it ready to drink?  The answer to this is that you can drink it whenever you want, but for the best experience patience again is a virtue.  Mead benefits greatly from extended aging, from several months to up to a few years!  During this time chemical processes occur in the mead that smooth out the rough alcohol flavors that are present in  young mead.  If there is any residual fermentation in the bottle, the mead may even carbonate a bit.  Since I am by nature an impatient creature and like to taste the fruits of my labor right away, I would tend to sample a bit of my mead early, and then continue to sample it at regular intervals over an extended period of time.  In this way I can observe how the mead changes and improves with age.

There are also variations of the mead recipe that can make for some fascinating drinks.  Honey mixed with apple juice, for example will ferment to a fruit version of mead known as cyser.  Mixed with grape juice, it produces pyment.  With barley malt added, it makes a drink known as braggot.  Personally, I had the greatest success in my own meadmaking with cyser, though I experimented with them all.  You can also add numerous spices to the honey to give your mead a personal touch.  Ginger, coriander and cinnamon are to name but a few that can add a unique character.

What I have given here is pretty much just a general overview on meadmaking.  There are several books available on the subject  and any knowledgeable person at a home brewing or winemaking store would be able to provide assistance for you.  If home meadmaking is not your thing, you just might be able to spy some out at your local liquor store.  Either way, mead is a potent and delicious departure from the everyday libations that we normally ingest.  But if you decide to imbibe it on Valentine's night with your significant other, I suggest that you go easy on the stuff.  Otherwise, you might not have enough octane left for the evening's main event!

A kiss at Slainte Irish Pub in  Baltimore MD as seen in American Public House review

                                               Photograph by Kathleen Connally

Glenn P. Beck as seen in American Public House Review

Glenn Beck was born in 1962 and raised in Livingston, New Jersey.  He graduated from Seton Hall University in 1986 with a B.A. in Communication.  Glenn was previously the owner  and operator of the Hunterdon Homebrew Shoppe in Frenchtown, New Jersey. While there, he taught an adult education course in the fundamentals of homebrewing beer.  He  won a blindly judged national  homebrewing competition (Memphis 1995) in the German Ale category with a delectable altbeir that he created.  Our resident beer meister was also hired as an accounts representative with the River Horse Brewing Company in Lambertville, New Jersey from 1997 to 1999. Glenn is a passionate scholar of the brewer's art. He has extensive knowledge as to the history, lore, brewing techniques, ingredients, and last but not least, the enjoyment of beer. He currently resides in  New Jersey with his wife Nancy and their faithful malamute, Sam.

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