Liquid Inspiration: Orange Blossom Mead

I’m going to blame this one on Sandor Ellix Katz and his infectious Passion for the realm of fermented food and drink. I have to say, I’ve caught the ‘Bug’! If you think my liquid fermentation experiments started and ended with this recipe here, you are wrong.

Even my beloved wife Lydia is now drinking beer – the herbal home-brewed kind!
While I’m writing this a 20l can of Lemon Balm and Nettle Beer is happily bubbling in our kitchen, see below! Give it a week and then a few more in bottles and our New Years Bubbles will be ready! If you happen to be at Prana on New Years you might be lucky to catch a sample drop of it 🙂

Lemon Balm Nettle Beer

It came to my utter surprise and DELIGHT that one could make beer from any medicinal herb or flower growing around one’s house and garden. The fermentation process actually enhances many of the medicinal properties of plants. For a marvelous introduction to the subject, I urge you to demand this book from Santa: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, by Stephen Harrod Buhner.
I’m not talking of the ‘buy-your-cousin-a-beer-making-kit-for-Christmas’ type of beer. These beers, and meads here, do not require hops or any other German purity standards. Simply put, these are sweet herbal teas fermented by beer yeast. Making tea isn’t that hard, is it?! Neither is brewing your own beer!

In basic terms, the difference in making beer or mead is in the choice of sweetener. While I often use organic golden sugar, malt extract or coconut sugar for my herbal beers, it is honey only for meads. For an elaborate exploration of the mead subject I can recommend the reading of: The Compleat Meadmaker, by Ken Schramm. That is advanced reading though, AFTER you’ve made a few batches 😉

One issue I perceive with most people’s perception of fermentation is the fear of getting the ‘wrong’ bugs multiplying and of dying a mysterious death from it. Your chances of having that happen to you are a million times higher in a hospital near you than from your own alcoholic fermentation experiments!
So stick to the simple rule of ‘cleanliness yes! sterility no!’
On that note: I strongly believe in ‘Simple is Best’, so I bought only one packet of beer yeast ever and just keep the yeast sludge from each brew for the next, beer or mead. Over time this will, in my arrogant opinion, accumulate a much stronger variety of yeasts (with wild additions from your home environment) than any store-bought package will ever supply.
You’ll probably get more refined and sublime flavours from your isolated industrial yeasts, yet self-sufficiency has its benefits too 🙂

What is said above, in terms of simplicity, carries through this whole post. Do not get to hung up in the finest details of beer brewing, yeast and temperature control. Rather start playing in this new (actually: ancient!) medium and allow mother nature to guide you. That will come with a few messed up batches. I’d rather risk that than allowing chlorine bleach into our house.

I could wax on about the finer details and different experiences, yet I feel at this point, you are actually ready to get cranking yourself.
So get your hands on some brewing equipment! At a very minimum that should be:

  • a 20l food grade plastic bucket with lid (recycled coconut oil/mayonnaise buckets from your local health food shop/supermarket deli)
  • a 20l food grade plastic jerry can with srew cap and tap (recycled bulk dish soap or vinegar container from your local health food shop. Rinse well and extensively!) This will be your fermenter, see picture above!
  • an air lock or just some cling wrap with a rubber band
  • a bunch of clean recycled wine or juice bottles with screw cap
  • I assume you have a large stainless steel pot or water kettle

Orange Blossoms

This recipe here was inspired by our orange tree going nuts with flowers (the one behind the bottles in the picture across the top of this page). To lighten its load a bit I picked a decent amount of them, juiced some tangelos from the tree behind our house, took the Auckland city honey from Marie-Christine’s bee keeper husband and went ahead. No orange blossoms in your garden or pantry? Leave them out or substitute with anything else, like fresh turmeric, tulsi tea, fennel flowers… get inspired!

And here is your recipe:

Orange Blossom Mead

Ingredients:
360 grams fresh orange blossoms
1.2 liters tangelo or orange juice, freshly squeezed
4 liters raw honey (5.9 kg )
3 tangelos, outer rind only
3 bags of organic black tea
200 ml lime juice
16 liters hot water

Directions:
Put flowers and tangelo rind in a gauze bag. Place together with tangelo juice and honey into a 20 liter bucket.
Add hot water and stir well to dissolve the honey. Keep temperature at or below 70°C!
Now add black tea bags and let cool down. Once cooled to room temperature take out the bags with the flowers and tea and add beer yeast.
Transfer to your 20l jerry can and let ferment at room temperature for 7-10 days. Taste it occasionally!
Once the intense bubbling/fermentation has ceased bottle directly from the tap of your fermenter, without additional sugar in the bottles (this will be a still drink). Let the bottles sit undisturbed in a dark and cool place to have the yeast settle and the mead mature.
Ready to drink right then! Alcohol probably 8-10% or more 🙂
Keep the yeast sediment from your fermenter with some liquid in a 1 liter plastic container in your fridge till you are ready for another batch of beer or mead.

The mead will get more dry and clear as it sits in the bottle. More flavour overtones will develop over the months to come. Store the bottles in a dark and relatively cool place. I have my collection under our house (no frost where we live).
Should you notice considerable pressure building up in your bottles (bulging lids and the odd exploding bottle), put them in your fridge before opening carefully upside down, over a glass in the sink, to catch the foam, and slowly release the content into your glass. Be safe! 😉

DO NOT SHAKE your finished mead bottles! The sediment is yeast and is best left alone.

Enjoy and don’t worry! Have a home brew!

Happy without mead