The biddies take a deep dive into two of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages: mead and cider. Mead, or honey wine, has been around for a loong time – learn all about what it is and where to find it. And then the biddies turn to hard cider, which has also been around for a long time and is just now making a craft comeback.
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Study Notes for Mead & Cider:
*Please note some of these lines might be directly taken from sources noted above.
WHAT IS MEAD?
- Likely the first alcoholic drink
- Fermented beverage made of honey, water and yeast
- Ranges from 8 to 20% ABV
- Historians believe it originated 20,000 to 40,000 years ago in Africa
- Feral bees were “established” (?), elephants roamed the continent and weather patterns were seasonal just like today in Africa
- Extreme droughts and and dry season were followed by torrential rains
- This weather pattern would cause hollows to rot out in Baobab and Miombo trees where elephants had broken branches
- During the dry season, bees would nest in these hollows and during the wet season the hollows would fill with water
- Honey, water, wild yeast would create mead
- Chinese pottery vessels dating back to 7,000 BCE suggest evidence of mead fermetnation
- Mead making died out of popularity as people became urbanized about 1700 years ago in India, 1500 years ago in China and 500 years ago in Europe
- Texts show Ancient Greeks consumed honey and water mixture in honor of Aphrodite
- Nordic Vikings may have celebrated battles with mead
- In early England mead was often infused with herbs
- Term “honeymoon” comes from mead
- Honey has always been prized throughout history and was often only available to royalty
- When Marco Polo returned from the Spice Islands with sugar cane, this became the dominant sweetener because it was inexpensive
- Mead making was sustained by the onastaries
- They raised bees for wax to create ceremonial candles and surplus honey was used to make mead
- 1865 – Austrian Major Francesco de Hrushka created the first centrifugal honey extractor while watching his son swing a bucket of honey around his head
- Prior to mechanized extraction, honeycombs were crushed to remove honey and was then washed with warm water to rinse honey out of wax and then boom mead
- Less honey washing, less mead
TYPES OF MEADS – can be like wine, sweet or dry or anywhere on spectrum
- Melomel is a style with added fruit juices. Under this category are the sub-styles of Pyment (mead with grape juice) and Cyser (mead with apple juice).
- Metheglin is a style that adds herbs and/or spices. Under this category are Hippocras meads (Pyment with herbs and spices).
- Braggot could be considered a beer-mead hybrid, where honey and grains are fermented together.
- Acerglyn incorporates maple syrup into the traditional mead.
- Bochet uses a caramelized honey in its blend.
- Mead flavors vary by honey type
- Popular for centuries but fell out of favor in the 1700s due to new tax laws and the availability of sugar (replaced honey)
- Resurgence in the 1960s
- Interstate commerce can be difficult (craft beer & wine have lobbyists, mead doesn’t)
HOW TO MAKE MEAD
- Simple terms: honey mixed with water and fermented with yeast
- Can be flavored with herbs, fruits, spices, or hops
- Source quality honey – try to avoid the honey bears
- Like beer and cider making, clean and sterilize everything
- Mead yeast
- Old but not as old as mead!
- Cider around in Egypt in 1300 BC
- Until relatively recent history, apples weren’t for eating. In fact, they were often too bitter to just munch on. Instead, for thousands of years, people would press them for the juice and leave it to ferment, letting it bubble away until it turned into boozy hard cider, according to the National Apple Museum.
- Very popular in Medieval Europe
- Weren’t enough bees in colonial America to pollinate apple orchards – colonists brought over bees
- Like the horse, honey bees were once native to North America. And like the horse, the species died out, only to be reintroduced by Europeans thousands of years later, millions in the case of honey bees.
- During the late 1800s cider began to see a decline in popularity do to various reasons. A large contributor was the influx of German and Eastern Europeans who brought with them a thirst for beer.
- But now cider is back and growing as fast as it’s grown since the pilgrims first arrived. Like craft beer, interest in making cider again began in 1978 when home brewing was legalized under the Carter Administration. It took a couple of decades, but when taste for craft beer began growing rapidly in the late 1990s, cider began to follow suit.
- Perry – pear cider
HOW TO MAKE CIDER
- Basic process is similar to making beer – adding yeast in sanitized conditions until the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol
- Combine apple juice with yeast in a container to start fermentation
- Many devices have an air lock device or “bubbler” that allows the gas to escap without letting any air or contaminants in
- Fermentation usually takes 1-3 weeks
- Cider can then be moved to a secondary fermentation container to combine with additional flavors such as fruit and spices
- Secondary fermentation allows for adjustment to sweetness, carbonation and flavor
- Only necessary ingredients are juice and yeast
- “Raw” or “soft” cider
- Some apples provide higher sugar levels and others give acids and tannings
- Additional Ingredients:
- Sugar – to increase alcohol, for carbonation, sugar substitute so yeast won’t convert but will be sweeter
- Advanced Ingredients:
- Pectin Enzyme – reduce haze
- Acids – increase flavor profile (malic, tartaric, tannic)
- Wine Tannins – add body
- Yeast nutrient or energizer – nutrients for yeast
- Sanitizing solution – free of bacteria
- Fermentation containers like a carboy, plastic bucket, even the container it came in
- Rubber stopper/airlock
- Bottles and caps!
- Hard cider market has experienced explosive growth over the last decade but has been curbed by volatile supply and demand more recently
- Consumer preferences for hard cider have trended toward smaller, craft cider brands which have been unable to meet demand in recent years
- Additionally, rising competition from RTD cocktails, flavored malt beverages like seltzers and other craft beers have stifled growth
- Looking to increase ABV and introduce bold new flavors