Tips for Successful, Sustainable Mead Brewing
Brewing mead is a great way to support your local environment and your local bees and beekeeper. At the same time, it is a tremendous waste of water. This batch of one gallon will waste ten gallons of water during the cleaning/sanitizing process. There are ways to mitigate this, though.
Never, ever skip cleaning and sanitizing. Failing to take these steps will result in a flawed batch that you’ll dump down the drain, resulting in eleven gallons of wasted water. Luckily, there are ways to reduce the amount of wasted water by repurposing household water before, during, and after brewing.
Prior to brewing, you will have to clean and sanitize your equipment. Each of these steps requires about five gallons of water for a one-gallon batch of mead. But you can cut down on this considerably. It just takes some planning, and thinking outside the box.
The water you’re using to clean your equipment needs to be hot. Instead of running the tap and watching gallons drain away before it gets hot, boil the water. Allow it to cool to 100-120°F, pour it into your stopped sink, add your powdered brewing wash, and follow the directions on the container. Sounds weird, I know, but this water is just for cleaning, and boiling it is going to kill anything living in it. The detergent will take care of the rest. You’re also going to sanitize your equipment after cleaning, which will kill everything even thinking about taking up residence on your tools.
You just went from more than five gallons wasted to zero gallons wasted. Now, do the same for sanitizing and you’ll have saved even more.
If you’re really ambitious, you can boil rainwater and use it as your brewing water. Boiling water often makes it safer than tap water, but some people get nervous about collecting rainwater because of the things they have to skim off. I get that. Using a fine mesh screen over your barrel is a great way to keep debris out of your water.
In addition to making ethical choices about water use when brewing mead, there are other ways to be conscious of your consumption. One way is by carefully selecting the honey you use. Honey is an ethical dilemma. Most vegans refrain because they do not engage in the consumption of anything produced by animals. Others, however, believe that if the honey is produced ethically, it’s fine. Bees produce far more honey, wax, and propolis than they need.
So, how do you know if honey is ethical? When I started my journey into more ethical consumption, I assumed that if I bought honey from someone who kept their own hives I could check the “ethical” box and move along. Turns out that’s not the case. Here’s how to approach purchasing honey if you wish to be ethical in your mead-making.
First, if it is mass-produced, it’s not ethical. Bees are stacked in huge hives and essentially worked to death to produce commercial honey. Part of this is nature: bees work in order to survive and will try to fill the hive. They don’t have the capacity to understand that it is a large hive with extra bees. Part is nurture: commercial honey producers want to produce as much honey as possible on as small a budget as possible. That’s fine for them; I understand that capitalism is not going anywhere any time soon. It’s not fine for me.
In addition to commercial honey being the product of a terrible life for the bees making it, it doesn’t taste nearly as good. The bees are kept in a smaller area with limited places to collect pollen, thus diminishing the flavor.
Find local honey. That’s the first step to being ethical. Chances are you live near someone who has a few hives and sells honey. Just take a drive in the country and you’re likely to find signs on the side of the road advertising fresh honey. Where I live, these little stands populate the dirt roads; many aren’t even manned. Leave the money, take the honey—add this to your list of proof that yes, Vermont is as idyllic as you thought. If you happen to find a manned stand, ask if you can see the hives. Most beekeepers love to show their hives as well as the plants the bees are visiting. And this is what you want: bees that are free to zoom around and check things out, selecting which plants they visit.
If you’re further along in your journey toward sustainability and more ethical consumption, ask the beekeeper if she loans out her bees. This is where things get dicey for many people. It’s where I recently drew the line in my acquiring of ingredients. Some bee- keepers put their hives and bees on tractor-trailers and ship them down south or even to California to help with almond crops. This makes a lot of sense and keeps cross-pollination alive and well. On the other hand, it is creating a large carbon footprint and exhausts and stresses the bees. I, personally, stick to local bees who get to live as natural a life as possible.
No matter how strict you are in your approach to ingredients, there are benefits to choosing local honey versus commercial, not the least of which is the difference in flavor.
Nancy Koziol is a lover of all sorts of fermented drinks: wine, beer, cider. She began writing about wine for two emerging wine blogs: Winedom: The Wine Dominion and Wine Turtle. She has also traveled extensively through various wine-producing climates touring, tasting, and learning. She works in Digital Marketing as chief content writer for a small firm and is working toward her first fiction publication. Nancy lives in Bennington, Vermont with her husband, two dogs, a cat, and a lot of beer.
More from The Joy of Brewing Cider, Med, and Herbal Wine:
Excerpted with permission from The Joy of Brewing Cider, Mead, and Herbal Wine: How to Craft Seasonal Fast-Brew Favorites at Home (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018) by Nancy Koziol. Koziol’s book guides readers through trying their hands at home brewing. Broken into 3 sections including: mead, cider, and herbal wine readers learn about basic equipment they’ll need, ingredients, and step by step instructions to achieving different homemade brews. Readers have the opportunity to try simple honey mead, apple or pear cider, or a wine from herbs foraged in your backyard, all of which are brewed in a matter of weeks instead of months.Nancy Koziol is a lover of all sorts of fermented drinks: wine, beer, cider. She began writing about wine for two emerging wine blogs: Winedom: The Wine Dominion and Wine Turtle. She has also traveled extensively through various wine-producing climates touring, tasting, and learning. She works in Digital Marketing as chief content writer for a small firm and is working toward her first fiction publication. Nancy lives in Bennington, Vermont with her husband, two dogs, a cat, and a lot of beer. Copyright 2018 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.