Other than writing a report on Erik the Red in the 3rd grade and owning Led Zeppelin’s entire catalog, I’m not well versed in the rich traditions of Viking Age Norse culture. In addition to the oft cited raping and pillaging, a quick Google search for “viking hobbies” revealed that they also enjoyed a game called Hnefatafl, which was similar to chess. However, this week Lucas and I embarked on one of the greatest Viking traditions of all: brewing mead.
Mead is simply honey wine. I’d never brewed mead before. So for this first batch, we decided to keep things simple. Fruit? No. Eccentric spices or herbs? No. We only used 17 pounds of locally produced honey, Lalvin K1-V1116 champagne yeast, and some sort of superpowered multivitamin yeast nutrient to prevent stuck fermentation.
Following a basic recipe we found in Charlie Papazian’s book, we added all 17 pounds of honey to about eight quarts of hot water. Once everything was boiling, we added 1/4 tsp of Irish Moss and 1.25 tsp yeast nutrients and let everything boil for about 20 minutes. We added enough water to top off at 5 gallons in one of our plastic buckets, shook the hell out of it to oxygenate everything, and finally transfered to a 7-gallon carboy.
Compared to beer, I thought brewing this mead was relatively simple. There was no mashing required, the boil only lasted 20 minutes, and the kettle was almost completely free of any trub. The downside is that the conditioning timeline is much longer. Most beers are usually ready to drink after about 6 or 8 weeks. Mead, on the other hand, requires a minimum of 3 months before it’s even palatable, and most of the instructions I found recommended aging the mead for 12 – 18 months.
Overall this was a refreshingly problem-free brew day. We didn’t even have any boil overs! The only issue we ran into was that it took forever to get the must (the wine equivalent to wort) boiling. I’m not sure if the excessive viscosity slows the boiling process, but it took well over 35 minutes for the pot to get rolling.
Our starting gravity measured 1.126 — just a few points shy of our target gravity of 1.130. But I’m certainly not complaining. Weighing in at an estimated 13.2% ABV, failure to limit one’s intake of this beverage could result in an uncontrollable urge to wield a wrought iron battle-axe, don a horned Spangenhelm, and raze countryside villages to the ground.
You have been warned.