Just when I thought I was out, the mead keeps pulling me back in.
It was less than a month ago, now, that I bottled last year’s strawberry melomel. With Sarah’s invaluable help, there was a flurry of sanitizing and syphoning, filling, corking, cleaning, and trundling boxes of bottles down into the basement.
The strawberry mead came out just right: pale pink, with a definite and delicious fruit flavor, and a hint of oxidation that adds toffee complexity at the back end of every sip. It will need to age for a year or two. It’s still a little hot, alcoholically speaking. But I’m pleased. No doubt — one of the better meads I’ve made.
It’s time for Wassail, the celebration of cider and orchards on the 12th Night of Christmas, which according to different calendars can be either the 5th or the 17th of January. This custom, which almost died out in England, happens in the dark period of winter when the nights seem to become interminably long. People bearing torches process into an orchard lit with twelve bonfires representing the twelve months of the year or the twelve apostles. They sing to the trees, scare away evil spirits with gunshots or banging old pans, and share a drink of good health from a communal wassail bowl.
Wassail is an old word from Anglo Saxon meaning “Good Health,” and throughout the celebration, participants frequently shout it with lusty exuberance to toast each other and the health of the orchard. Contemporary wassails often include members of the local Morris group, who lend performances of traditional music and dance, as well as outlandish costume and rowdy humor, to the event.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term inspissated is an adjective meaning: brought to a thick consistence; thickened.
I mention it because in the 1777 volume, A Voyage Toward the South Pole, Captain James Cook speaks of having been given several barrels of inspissated wort — syrup of unfermented beer — to carry aboard the H. M. Bark Endeavour as it sailed to the South Pacific and around the world. It was thought, he writes, that the syrup would require to be fermented with yeast, in the usual way of making beer.
But things do not, apparently, always go as planned at sea. So active was this inspissated wort — because of the heat of the weather, and the agitation of the ship — that it reached the highest state of fermentation all on its own, and evaded all our endeavours to stop it.
If this juice could be kept from fermenting, Cook writes, it certainly would be a most valuable article at sea. But alas. It was not to be.
Those same shipboard conditions that proved so beneficial to the aging of Madeira wine made this particular fermentation experiment a spectacular, perhaps explosive, failure.
And the sailors — poor sailors — were left with a sticky, beery mess to clean.
It wasn’t my plan to start a new mead this past week. On Monday, I thought to myself that this summer might be a good time to test the waters of melomel, fruit mead, a style that I had never attempted before. But later in the summer would be better, I thought, when blackberries were ready, or even once pears had come into their bloom. Definitely, there should be melomel sometime this season. But definitely, that sometime was not now.
And then there were strawberries — buckets and buckets of the best strawberries in the greater Philadelphia area, ripe almost to bursting, at a price that was far too good to be refused.
I am tardy. Once again. In part because, over the past few weeks, my culinary focus has shifted away from recipes that are easily translated in words and pictures, and toward a massive experiment in — lacto-fermentation. My friend (and urban forager extraordinaire) Hana got me onto it when I visited with her last month. […]
I love spent grain bread. It’s one of my very favorite things about brewing. You see: brewing is sort of a wasteful process. You take eight or ten or twelve pounds of grain, soak it in water, and convert the runnings from that little bath into five gallons of sweet wort, and then eventually into […]
So I’m making a new beer, probably next weekend. It’ll be a Special Bitter — largely minimalist in hops and grain, and as true to the style as it exists in Britain as I can manage. That means British hops, which I prefer anyway. And it means Maris Otter malt, which has, for the past […]
I have been absent. But I have not exactly been remiss. Real life — academic obligations, travel to parts Midwestern, the lack of a working kitchen — has kept me from posting here for the past two weeks. But this blog, and you, dear readers, have never been far from my thoughts. Regular posting will […]
So where have I been, you might ask, friends of the blog that you all are. I haven’t seen you ’round much, you might say. Have you been avoiding us? Have you stopped writing? Have you cooked at all this week? The answer, dear friends, is that no, I have not abandoned you. But life, […]
** Update: The answer, dear friends, to the question of whether my yeast problems would kill this beer, is a big, resounding yes. I bought some additional yeast this morning, thinking that I would re-pitch. And when I opened my fermentation vessel, what I found was kind of horrifying: colorful, clearly bacterial colonies floating on […]