Thursday, March 21, 2013

Brew Your Own Mead!

Late in the summer of 1993, I flipped through the Lughnasadh issue of Keltria Journal and was inspired to try my hand at mead-making. To be honest, I wasn’t all that thrilled with the few types of store-bought mead I had sampled, but being a pagan of northwestern European descent, I figured I owed it to my ancestors to give it a proper try. It was enough of a success that I decided I liked mead and kept on with the brewing, eventually branching out into herbal meads and fruit wines as well. Twenty years later, I’m happy to report that my cellar is currently stocked with peach wine, medlar wine, half-dry mead, muscadine wine and triple berry wine, all deliciously drinkable and remarkably inexpensive to make.

I highly recommend the mead-making article in the Lughnasadh 1993 issue of Keltria. Steven of Prodea gives excellent instructions and good advice, which I followed way back when. But I thought I’d give you some more specific information, a sort of step-by-step recipe that shares my experience (trial and error, much of it, to be honest). Ultimately, all you’re doing is providing some yeast with good food and a clean environment in which to do its thing. The result, of course, is sublime. And in my case, sacred as well.

I started with very simple equipment: an empty gallon glass jug that originally held apple cider, and a balloon. That’s all. I washed the jug really well with hot, soapy water and yes, I even washed the balloon, just in case. If I could give you just one bit of advice about brewing, it’s to be as scrupulously clean as you can manage. The yeast have to compete with any microbes that might be hanging around the environment, so wash hands, wash equipment, and work only on well-cleaned surfaces.

The ingredients for my first batch of mead were honey, water and Champagne yeast. That’s it. The flavor of your honey will influence the flavor of the finished product, so don’t use honey that you wouldn’t want to eat. If you dislike a particular type of honey, you won’t like the mead it makes, either.

Be aware that honey is often sold by weight rather than liquid volume. A quart of honey (32 ounces by volume) will weigh 48 ounces. So pay attention to labels to make sure you’ve got the right amount of honey. When in doubt, use a measuring cup at home to be sure.

Also, PLEASE use actual wine yeast. Yes, it’s possible to brew mead and wine with baking yeast from the grocery store, but it will taste like alcoholic bread. I don’t recommend it. Wine yeast is not expensive and is well worth the small investment to come out with a tasty product. I order mine from EC Kraus but if you live in a large metropolitan area, you may find a home brewing supply store nearby.

My apologies to the highly evolved folks who use the metric system. I’m American, raised on the Imperial system of measurement, so that’s how my recipes are set up. Please feel free to use one of the great online metric/Imperial converters, and try not to snicker too loudly.


Makes 1 gallon

1 quart honey (measured by volume; 48 ounces by weight)
3 quarts warm water (105-110° F)
1 packet white wine or Champagne yeast

1 gallon container with narrow neck, preferably glass, but plastic will do
Clean balloon, color of your choice
Large bowl or pot, to hold 1 gallon liquid
Spoon for stirring
Funnel (optional, but helpful for getting the mixture into the gallon jug)

In a large bowl or pot, stir the honey and water together well, until the honey dissolves. Pour or spoon a few tablespoons of the mixture into a small bowl. Sprinkle the wine yeast over and stir until it’s dissolved. Let it sit until it foams up, about 10 minutes. This lets you know the yeast is active and ready to turn your honey-water mixture into wine. Gently stir the yeast mixture back into the honey-water, then pour the liquid into the gallon jug. Avoid splashing as much as possible, since oxygen slows down the fermentation process. Stretch the mouth of the balloon over the neck of the jug, making sure it seals well (you don’t want microbes from the air to invade your brew). Set the jug in a place away from drafts, where it won’t be disturbed, and let it do its thing. In one to two weeks, the fizzing will stop and the balloon will deflate. Carefully pour the contents of the jug into a clean container, leaving the sediment in the jug (that’s mostly dead yeast – ick). Clean out the jug, pour the good stuff back in, and fill back up to the neck with warm water. Put the balloon back on and let it sit for a few more weeks, until you’re sure the yeasties have stopped doing their thing. Pour the contents into bottles, leaving any remaining sediment behind, and enjoy!

You can scale this recipe up to make larger batches (I typically make 5 gallons at a time now). You can also throw in any spices you like – cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cloves – just a few pinches in a gallon batch. You can substitute fruit juice (apple and grape are good) for up to half the water for a different flavor, but don’t sub more than half the water or the resulting beverage will be too sweet to drink.

Be aware that yeast is active in direct proportion to the temperature, so if you set your brewing jug in a cold basement, you may or may not get mead. If you set it on a hot porch, the balloon may blow right off. You want a gentle, mid-range temperature (70s to 80s F) for good fermentation, about the same setting you would use for letting yeasted bread dough rise.

If you find you want to brew more and larger batches, you may want to invest in a few items such as 5-gallon carboys, airlocks and plastic tubing. But really, all you need is a jug and a balloon.

If you give it a try, please let me know how it goes. If you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them or point you toward resources that are better-informed than I am.

Happy brewing!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Invocation to the Four Elements as the Body of Life

Many years ago I published an ink-and-paper newsletter called Hephaestos' Forge: The Newsletter for Disabled Pagans. It was definitely a specialty item for a minority within a minority, but I felt it needed doing. You see, my first child was severely disabled. She spent all of her short life in a wheelchair, unable to care for herself. But the pagan community was overwhelmingly supportive and helpful to me and to her, in shocking contrast to the rest of the world (with the exception of the medical and therapy specialists who were so valuable to us).

So I published Hephaestos' Forge, soliciting letters and articles from the pagan community, printing it up at Kinko's and hand-addressing the issues. I met a lot of wonderful people through that activity, and learned much about the challenges many of us face every day. Often those challenges are hidden, not visible, but that doesn't make them any less real.

Eventually my life shifted, interest in the newsletter waned and I stopped publication. But I've held on to a few bits and pieces that I wrote for it, including the one I'm sharing with you today.

You see, one of my challenges as a pagan priestess was to include everyone, even those with physical disabilities, in ritual. It's easy to forget how much movement we require in a typical celebrational circle, until we're faced with including people who can't participate in those activities.

So I wrote up a ritual that allows the mind to flow outward, to move and shift and participate in the wonders of the universe, even when the body cannot. Today I'd like to share the opening invocation of that ritual with you. Regardless of your physical abilities or lack thereof, consider this an invitation to express yourself as a part of the limitless cosmos, as the infinite being you truly are.

Invocation to the Four Elements as the Body of Life
By Laura Perry

Hail, Spirits of Earth: be Thou my feet
That I may stand firm and strong,
Deeply rooted in abundant faith and love,
To weather any storm.

Hail, Spirits of Fire: be Thou my eyes
That I may see through purifying flame
With passion and determination
That which I most desire.

Hail, Spirits of Water: be Thou my legs
That I may follow every path,
However crooked or rocky or rough,
To the clear, deep pool of wisdom at the end.

Hail, Spirits of Air: be Thou my hands
That I may reach out and around me
To touch, caress and gently embrace
All that I hold dear.

Hail, Elements of Life: be Thou my body
That I may strive to learn and grow
In body, mind and spirit
In communion with the gods.