Tag Archives: mead

Spring is in the Air


I don’t know about anyone else, but sometimes it’s hard for me to get motivated to do much fermentation during the winter. With the longer days, warmer weather, and land turning green again, I have been feeling the urge to get some things brewing.

First Stages of Violet Wine Fermentation

First of all, my yard is covered in lovely violets this time of year. I spent a couple of hours picking some (only about a third. I can’t bear the thought of depriving the bees and butterflies of food) and decided to make violet wine. I didn’t find any real recipes for this, so I’m experimenting. I hope it turns out because I won’t be able to try again for another year.


Next, I made two meads: a plain mead made with local sour wood honey and a vanilla metheglin (mead made with spices) made with local wildflower honey. They should be ready to bottle in another month or two.

Boiling Elderflower Must

Third, I went with my hubby to a conference he attended in Knoxville, where I visited a brew shop. There I picked up a couple of bags of dried elderflowers, as well as some other supplies. I tried a friend’s elderflower wine a few years back and it was one of the most amazing wines I’ve ever tasted! Flavor seemed to burst like little bubbles on my palate (and this wasn’t effervescent, mind you), kind of like tiny drops of sunshine on the tongue. He made his with an elderflower drink he picked up at Ikea. I’ve not been to an Ikea in ages, simply because there’s not one very close to me, so I decided to try to make it from scratch. It was going very well at first, but when I transferred the fermenting must to a carboy the fermentation completely stalled. I tried to rescue it by adding more yeast nutrient and yeast energizer along with mixing in more oxygen. When that didn’t work, I pitched a new package of yeast. Nada. Luckily I have more elderflowers, so I’m going to try again. I have no idea what went wrong.

Finally, I have been begging people to let me come to their yards (if they are not treated with herbicides and pesticides) to pick dandelions for dandelion wine. No one was taking me up on my offer of some minor lawn maintenance, but finally, a friend told me about a city park where there were tons of dandelions. She went with me and we picked about a gallon while racing the park employee on his lawnmower. Again, things went great until I put the wine in its fermentation vessel.

I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s starting to annoy me. It’s one thing to have to start over with dried flowers I can easily buy, but picking a gallon of dandelions is backbreaking work. It takes a LOT of flower heads to make a gallon. I’ve never had issues with stalled fermentations before, however, my husband’s beer has been stalling ever since we moved into this new place. Perhaps there’s something in the air that is somehow contaminating our brews. We are pretty thorough in our sanitation practices, especially with the beer (it’s much more susceptible to infection than wine or mead), so I don’t know what’s going on. I guess I will start over with the elderflower wine and be super careful, taking note of every step along the way. Fingers crossed!

Big Life, Small Space

Three years ago my husband and I bought a lovely three-bedroom home on a little more than half an acre of land. If you’ve read my previous posts you know that we have put a lot of work into our land to bring fertility and beauty to an acidic, parched, sandy lot that had been neglected and abused for decades.

Our lovely house today.
Our lovely house today.

We busted our butts clearing scrub brush and overgrown azaleas, and breaking up the compacted soil by tilling almost the entire yard. I planted fruit trees and blueberry bushes, strawberries and asparagus – plants that will produce every year with a little care. I built raised beds and created soil out of yard and kitchen waste, composted manure, and peat moss. I tossed about 100 earthworms in the beds to eat the organic matter in them and turn it into microbe-rich worm dirt, then started heirloom seeds to grow delicious, nutrient-rich food.

Baby Chickipoos
Baby Chickipoos
Chicken Tractor
Chicken Tractor

We went further in our dream of a sustainable life by getting baby chicks and raising them up. We built them a chicken tractor and moved them to a new patch of grass every day or so. We were happily surprised about how much better the yard looked a couple of weeks after the chickipoos had scratched and aerated the soil,  eaten all the plants & bugs, and left a bit of fertilizer behind them. And at the end of the day, we had fresh, delicious eggs! We also built a worm bin. Whatever kitchen waste the chickens wouldn’t eat (coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc) went to the worms. That worked well for a while, but our worms decided to migrate and left the bin one day. It was kinda weird, but other folks I’ve talked to say that worms do that sometimes.

Along the way I discovered fermentation and took to it like a duck to water. I’ve made all kinds of fermented veggies, brined eggs,  soft and hard cheeses, bacon, prosciutto, kombucha, kefir, yoghurt, skyr, clabbered milk, mead, hard cider, beer, and wine.

Lots of fermentation going on!
Lots of fermentation going on!

When we bought our home we thought we’d be there for a very long time, but life happens. Neither of us were successful in finding employment that we were in the least bit happy doing. I spent many months trying to get our business off the ground, but after failing to get financing we came to the conclusion that we were simply in the wrong place. We had chosen our town because of the lovely little downtown area, but you know what they say about books and covers. There was really very little going on in the CSRA that we could do for recreation other than tending our animals and our plot of land. Those things were great, but we had left an amazingly rich life back in the Ozarks before moving to South Carolina.

Last summer my dear friend, Hope, and I had taken a trip to see Rock City. Both of us are fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and had always talked about going together to see where the battle scene in the book took place. I fell in love with Chattanooga! It reminded me of my old hometown of Fayetteville, AR, but it’s even funkier. I knew my hubby would like it because of the mountains and the wonderful local food culture. So when the opportunity presented itself, I encouraged him to apply for a job there and since he’s super awesome, he got it!

Now we’re living between two places: our house in Aiken and our rented apartment in Chattanooga. We realized a few months ago that we have a big house that costs a small fortune to heat and cool, but we only live in three rooms. The whole time we’ve lived there we’ve had one guest that took advantage of our guestroom… one! We have decided that if we want to seriously commit to a sustainable lifestyle and stop spending all our time dealing with household maintenance, we have to make a big change. In a few weeks we’ll have an estate sale where we will be selling off at least 70% of our belongings. It hurts a bit, but it’s just stuff. Then we are going to sell our house. I’m really hoping that someone comes along that wants to garden and falls in love with our property. The hard work has been done already, they just need to plant and tend the garden. Once the house is sold, we are buying at least five acres of property outside of town and we’re going to build a tiny house!

By selling most of our stuff we’re hoping to whittle things down to a much more manageable state. We won’t have room for a dishwasher, so we decided to cut down the number of dishes we have. Instead of a set of eight dishes, we currently have a set of four. We are thinking about cutting that down to a set of two. That way, I will wash each of my dishes when I’m done with it and not have a big pile of dishes to wash everyday. And if we do have company, they will be told ahead of time about our kitchen arraignment and to bring their own dishes.  With less of our time being spent on things that aren’t really important, we can devote ourselves to the things we really love to do: hiking, dancing, brewing, gardening, raising critters, reading, and hanging out with friends. And hopefully, we will start our business in Chattanooga. The culture here is much better for what we want to do.

I’m sad to think about what we are leaving behind. But I’m even more excited about what lies ahead!

My 15 Minutes… or More like 12

Earthwise Interview

A few months back while I was doing a kimchi demonstration at the Augusta Veggie Food Truck, a gentleman stopped and introduced himself. He produces a little online show for Augusta Magazine called “Earthwise.”  My new acquaintance, Mark, was interested in setting up an interview with me about some of the stuff I make. So a couple of weeks ago he came to my house with his crew and I did a mead demo in my kitchen. It was a lot of fun to do the show and have Mark and his crew over. So much fun that we are talking about doing further episodes in the future.

One of the things mentioned in the show is the development of our business, Thoroughbrewed. We decided to change the name of the business to reflect the heritage & history of our adopted hometown of Aiken, SC, and also to better reflect the main purpose of what we will be doing. While education is going to be a big part of what we do, we want to offer more locally brewed craft beer choices to the residents of the CSRA in a cozy, relaxed environment. We will also offer home brewing/wine making supplies and classes on various kinds of brewing and food fermentation.  This blog will become part of the Thoroughbrewed web presence as we move forward.

If you are curious about mead making you can see me in action by clicking here. Otherwise you can follow the directions below:


1 gallon glass carboy (jug)

cleaning brush

bung or stopper



5/16″ siphon hose

Sanitizer, such as Star San

racking cane or auto-siphon (optional)

bottle filler (optional)


wine bottles

wine corks

drill whip (optional)

Ingredients (makes 1 gallon of mead)

2 ½ – 3 lbs      Honey

Filtered Water

1                      teabag

1 Tbsp            strong tea

½ tsp               Yeast Nutrient

¼ tsp               Yeast Energizer

¼ tsp               Grape or Wine Tannin

¼ tsp               gypsum (optional)

½ pkg             Mead or Wine Yeast

1                      Campden tablet, crushed (optional)

¼ cup             oak chips/cubes (optional)


  1. Wash and sanitize all of your equipment before you get started.
  2. Read yeast instructions and rehydrate or thaw according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Pour honey into glass carboy. If honey has started to crystalize or if it Is flowing too slowly, sit the container of honey in warm water (90° F) for a few minutes.
  4. Add water to carboy and fill to 4 – 5 inches from top.
  5. Add remaining ingredients, except for yeast; put bung on the carboy, cover the hole and shake vigorously until everything is dissolved.
  6. Pitch yeast; attach bung and airlock.
  7. Wrap with a towel or place in a dark room.
  8. Ferment is complete when SG has dropped to 1.000 (about 6-8 weeks). If the mead is not completely clear, rack (siphon) wine off of sediment into a clean and sanitized secondary; reattach airlock.
  9. If you want to stop fermentation before it is finished, you can add the Campden tablet or sit it out in the sunshine for a couple of days.
  10. If you want to add a more sophisticated flavor, add oak chips and taste every day or two until you like the flavor. Since the oak chips have more surface area and can contact more of the mead than an oak barrel, only a few days are needed to add an oaky flavor.
  11. To aid clearing, siphon again in a month and again, if necessary before bottling.


Pitfalls to Avoid
  1. Many sources/recipes tell you to boil your must (the unfermented honey-water mixture). DO NOT DO THIS. It is completely unnecessary and can result in fingernail polish remover-like flavors that it takes a very long time to get rid of. Also, boiling the must destroys the subtle floral aromatics of the honey. If the honey is not flowing out of the jar/bottle very well it is alright to warm it, but never boil it.
  2. Many recipes also call for using champagne yeast. The only reason I know to do that would be that champagne yeast is more tolerant of high alcohol levels. While some people might want this, champagne yeast results in a “hot” flavor that is rather unappealing. If you wish to enjoy a good flavor in a relatively short time span, just do a little research (Ken Schramm’s book is an excellent resource!) to figure out what yeasts might work well for what you want. I am a big fan of White Lab’s Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast.

UPDATE: Since this was recorded, we have come to realize that our business plan would not work in Aiken. We have since moved to Chattanooga, where we will revisit the idea once we get ourselves settled a bit. In the meantime, I am trying to find somewhere to teach fermentation and brewing classes.

Making Mead

I am on a quest to make a mead that my husband will like…. and that I will like too. I know a lot of mead makers, but the sad truth is that most meads are too hot, meaning that there are too many phenols and they overpower the subtilties of the honey resulting in drinks that taste more like fingernail polish remover than the drink of the gods. If you are a mead maker and you are insulted, I mean no disrespect – I’m just being honest. Now let’s talk about the happiness that is mead.

I made my first mead last January in honor of a dear friend who had passed away last year. Ken Stout made some of the most amazing meads I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Ken was like a mad scientist in the kitchen on brew days, throwing random amounts of various spices or fruits in his mead must. Nothing was ever measured nor written down, and no two batches ever came out the same. Once he gave me his basic recipe. I took that recipe and made a gallon of mead from a random wildflower honey I got at the grocery store. The mead came out tasting like fingernail polish remover. It is sitting in a wine rack aging now. I don’t know what Ken the Meadmeister did that made his mead so darned good and I guess I never will. Hopefully after a year or so of aging the phenols will dissipate and it will taste nice, but in the meantime I decided to try something different.

Some friends of mine up in North Carolina make lovely, sweet mead in large quantities that they share at various events we go to sometimes. I called my buddies to get some advice. The first thing they told me was to not bother boiling the must – just mix your honey and water then toss in the rest of the ingredients. The second thing that makes their mead special is that they add tea leaves to the must – it helps clear the mead. And finally, they stop the fermentation after six weeks by adding crushed Campden tablets. By leaving many of the fermentable sugars in their mead it results in the delicate sweetness of their meads.

I tried their method with a local wildflower honey from a source I trust. While that was fermenting I heard Ken Shramm, champion mead maker extraordinaire, interviewed on the Basic Brewing podcast. He had lots of great advice and so I decided to read his book The Compleat Meadmaker in an effort to make the elusive great mead. I learned that two of the things I had read in recipes and had seen people do can have negative effects on the overall flavor of mead: boiling the must and using the wrong type of yeast.  There are lots of other little things he talks about in the book and if you are seriously interested in mead making you really must read it yourself.

My second batch, the unboiled, wildflower mead, came out tasting okay. It was ready to bottle by six weeks without using Campden tablets to stop the fermentation. It still had a bit of a phenol flavor, but was much better than my first attempt. One of the things that Mr. Schramm recommended to make a good wine great was to oak it. I happend to have some untoasted French oak chips, so I put 1/4 cup of them in a muslin bag and let it sit in the mead a few days. Since the chips have more surface area touching the mead than a barrel would have, it only took a few days for the mead to take on a slight oak flavor. I am happy with that mead, but I still wanted something better.

My hubby and I decided to up our yeast game. Until around May of this year we had been using relatively cheap, dry yeasts for our beer, wine, cider, and mead. So we did some research and went to our local home brew store with a laundry list of yeasts we wanted to try, mostly from White Labs or Wyeast. For mead and wine I ended up with White Labs WLP720 Sweet Mead/Wine yeast.  The main difference between the dry yeasts and the liquid yeasts is that the liquid ones are live, active cultures.

For all my little experiments I only brew one gallon at a time. I really don’t want to spend a tremendous amount of money on something that ends up tasting nasty, so one gallon batches suit me fine, at least until I figure out what works best. I didn’t want to use the whole tube of my fancy new yeast on one gallon of mead (it can ferment up to five gallons), so I split it between a single variety mead must (using purple starthistle honey) and a gallon of blueberry wine (using organic berries we had picked at a local farm). Using another bit of advice from Mr. Schramm’s book, I made a yeast starter and let the yeast multiply for 24 hours before pitching it in the mead and wine.  This allows the yeast to multiply and boosts the little critters’ ability to eat up the fermentable sugars and turn them into alcohol.

My blueberry wine was ready to bottle after six or seven weeks, but my mead lingered on actively fermenting. After two months I decided it was time to at least rack the mead off of the sediment. We tasted it and I must say, it is really good! The flavor of the honey is still perceptible with a slight citrus flavor and  no phenol flavor or aromas. Eureka!!!

But how to stop the fermentation? I could go with the Campden tablet thing, but I really didn’t want to add chemicals to this delicate mead. Then I remembered that a friend of mine in Charleston told me that he used sunshine to stop his mead fermentation. Anything you read about brewing or fermenting always includes a line about keeping your precious ferments away from light. I decided to give it a try and it worked!

Stopping Fermentation with Sunshine
Stopping Fermentation with Sunshine

I left the mead out on my deck all day yesterday to soak up the South Carolina sun. It is still nice and warm here and the mead may have gotten up to 90 degrees or so. It was still fermenting away most of the day. Every once in a while I would go by and shake the jug a little to help degas the mead. Then around dark I brought it inside. We have an opossum that visits once in a while and I wouldn’t want him tempted by this jug of liquid gold. This morning I got up thinking I would set it outside again today, but when I looked at the airlock the liquid had gotten sucked back into the chamber closest to the mead. I’ve only ever seen that happen when fermentation is completely finished. So yea for sunshine!!!

The mead still isn’t clear. I had added tea leaves in the beginning, but it is still cloudy. My first couple of meads were clear by this point. So I just added another tea bag to the mead and 1/4 cup of French oak chips. Hopefully I’ll be bottling it in a couple of days!