The next time you open a bottle of wine with your honey, consider raising a glass of honey wine.
Honey wines, or meads, may currently languish on an obscure shelf in the wine store, but this potent beverage long rivaled its grape-born cousin as the drink of gods and royalty. The historical prevalence of mead is reflected in the word “honeymoon.” In medieval Europe, newlyweds were encouraged to drink a glass of mead daily for the first month after their wedding to ensure a long and happy marriage.
Basic mead is little more than honey, water and yeast, but the addition of fruits, herbs and spices offers variety for the budding mead enthusiast. Apple mead is classic, though citrus and berry variants are also popular. For a variation, mead can be flavored with hops to produce a beerlike fermented drink.
For those with a do-it-yourself streak, making mead provides an easy entry into the world of home-brewed beverages. A few inexpensive specialty items are needed: a 1-gallon carboy, an airlock, a funnel and a thermometer.
A simple mead recipe calls for 3 pounds of orange blossom or clover honey, three-quarters of a gallon of water, 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and a package of champagne yeast.
Begin by giving all your tools a good scrub and rinse. If using tap water, boil the water for 15 minutes to remove any chlorine. Cool the water until it reaches 115 F and stir in the honey to dissolve. Further cool the mixture to 105 F, stir in the yeast and nutrient vigorously, and funnel the liquid into the carboy. Cap the carboy with the airlock. Place your setup in a warm, dark place to bubble away.
Homemade mead should ferment until bubbling stops and any sediments settle out, approximately one to three months. The mead can be consumed as soon as fermentation has ended, but typically it is bottled and aged up to three years to improve its flavor.
Siphon the clear beverage into clean bottles using a brewery tool called a racking tube. Mead-brewing supplies are available at MoreFlavor! hobby shop at 991 N. San Antonio Road in Los Altos.
If you would rather leave mead crafting to the experts, many wine and specialty food stores carry the beverage. As with grape wines, you can sample varieties at the source by visiting a mead producer. Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale offers tastings of its award-winning honey wines at its storefront at 1246 Birchwood Drive.
Dry and sparkling meads are served chilled and often paired with a meal. T’ej, a traditional honey wine brewed with buckthorn leaves, frequently accompanies Ethiopian cuisine. This mildly sweet mead complements the tangy injera flatbread and piquant savory curries. Ethiopia Restaurant at 2955 Telegraph Ave. in South Berkeley offers its popular T’ej honey wine by the glass with a meal or by the bottle to take home.
Sweet meads can be served at room temperature to draw out their honeyed aroma. These meads can also be mulled with spices and enjoyed hot like cider.