by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
Gardner mentioned in his writings that every Ritual should have some form of alcohol present. He was referring to wine to be used as a celebratory act of libation as well as a means of relaxation during Cakes and Wine. Plus wine is a means to learn how to relax enough to do magick.
For this reason, as well as others, wine or beer/ale has always been important to modern Wicca. We will leave the arguments about alcoholism to another paper.
I recall back when I was but a member of my first coven, the HP would bring the cheapest wine he could find to the Rites. After a couple of months of this, I insisted that I be allowed to bring the Ritual Wine and would spend the days before each Rite at the local Brookside Winery trying to find a bottle or two that would fit that particular Sabbat. None of the coven would ever return to the cheap s*** that they had earlier drunk after tasting decent wine.
Then, when I was HP of Desert Henge Coven, we, for some reason, decided to start using Mead for our Rites (OK, Ballatore and Mead). But the problem was that Chaucer's Mead was the only kind we could find and that was somewhat rare at times (about $5 a bottle and Rumrunner only kept a couple of bottles on hand at a time and ordered replacements when the last bottle was sold). So a part of our Initiate's quest was to locate a bottle of Mead for their own Initiation.
One day I decided to brew our own so that we would always have a bottle on hand.
Now I was an old hand at brewing, having illegally brewed Mead under the football
stadium back in the early 1970's when I was a college student. We did it mainly because
we were Society for Creative Anachronisms (a medieval recreation group) and wanted
something medieval for our revels. But over the decades I had lost the formulae and desire.
So I contacted the local Asatru group and asked if they had a recipe and was given an unnamed article by a member of the Asatru Free Assembly named Mike.
The article was very good and generated an excellent Mead but it did have a few minor drawbacks. So I simply put my own researches and experiences together and brewed a 5 gallon batch following what the author called either Mike's Magic Mead or Heathen Brothers Mead, depending on if you made one or five gallon batches.
So good was this Mead that the local Pagans would beg or buy a bottle. I made a few modifications to the recipe and became so locally famous that when I donated a bottle to the Tucson Area Wiccan Network's Fall Festival auction one year, it sold for $45. So famous did I become as a brewer that the locals would insist that the Asatru and SCA brewers go to me for lessons.
One day I created a form of Mead that contained rose petals and was charged with a lust spell. So popular was that batch that I actually had women offer to sleep with me for a bottle. I refused the sleep part because I was married to Brenda and why sacrifice the best restaurant in existence for a cheap hamburger.
We also made a coven trip to the Wilcox farms one harvest and bought some apples for a batch of Apple Mead. Not one of my successes I fear though in hindsight, I believe I can do better now.
For the 1992 batch, my daughter, Cerridwen, asked to help brew. I agreed and for her work, she received one bottle to be saved until she was of legal age.
Once people heard about this bottle, she began to receive regular offers to purchase it for some $500 and one person even offered $1000 for the bottle based solely on my reputation as a brewer. Goddess! That was a good batch!
Damn I'm good!.
I may suck at dating and money magick, but no one is better than me at weather magick, fertility magick and brewing mead.
I stopped brewing simply because during my divorce I had a major breakdown and lost interest in everything. Unfortunately, almost my entire stock went down my throat over a few months when I did nothing but drink and carve Brenda's initials into my flesh.
But, for some unnamed reason, people are always asking me three questions: 1) When are
you going to reform your coven so I can join? 2) Will you teach me to be a Witch? and
3) When are you going to brew again?
To the first question, I answer "When I find people who possess the integrity that a coven requires". Since then, Desert Henge Coven HAS reformed and interested people may contact us for details and information To the second I respond that I do classes but it requires the student to be dedicated enough to actually show up. And to the third question, I now reply, "I've already started!"
Ostara, 2002, I decided to brew again.
Shea had collected batches of rose petals for my Lust potion Mead and so I simply bought some honey from the bee-store and water from a Sacred Well in Sedona, dug out my Mead Kit and brewed up a batch. Of course, due to a lack of skilled partners, I had to do the required Lust Spell by myself. But, what the hey! I have a talent for solving problems.
What you see here is a 5 gallon batch of my infamous Lust Potion Mead happily fermenting in a 3-gallon wine fermenting bottle from Germany (why not brew in style?) under my bathroom sink where it is cool enough to bubble away.
I am now divorced and in a position to entertain those special requests for a bottle of
this Mead. But be prepared for the consequences of drinking it... never alone though!
unless you enjoy frustration.
The following Saturday, I brewed up another 10 gallons of my regular mead and in
answer to many requests for my brewing secrets, I have written this page.
Ok, if you learn nothing else, learn this rule about brewing.
Rule #2: Quality Mead requires Quality materials.
I know of one famous Gardnerian HP in Sacramento who is a Mead brewer (and I am being sarcastic here) as well. Difference is that he brews his mead in a 30 gallon plastic trash can and drinks it as soon as it finishes fermenting. He violates Rules #1 & 2 and so I wouldn't consider drinking that stuff which should be named after it's 'carboy'.
Note that plastic breathes and when you mix air with alcohol, you end up with vinegar. That's why any open bottle of wine must be drunk within 2 days at the most. A half-empty bottle of wine will turn to vinegar in 2-3 days because of the air in the bottle.
So I am always on the lookout at swap meets and yard sales for those old 5 gallon glass water bottles that are no longer made. These bottles are called "Carboys". I often find them at a yard sale for $15 because the owner thought that they would make a nice planter. Yes! they are heavy and breakable but quality mead requires quality materials. Fortunately, I was able to find a carboy handle which makes movement safer.
You will also need a one-way air-trap. This can be a plastic hose in a glass of water or, better yet, an air-lock from the local brewing company for about $1.50. This is vital as when any wine ‘cooks’ it produces Carbon-Dioxide as a waste product which increases pressure. Once the fermentation ends, the pressure reverses and outside air is sucked back into the Mead which then turns to vinegar.
Plus a scrub brush, high pressure washer and a tendency to fanatical cleanliness. WASH EVERYTHING!!! Then wash it again!
Next you need 2 1/2 pounds of honey for every gallon of mead you brew (or about 12-13 pounds for a 5 gallon carboy). What you see here is killer bee honey from local hives. The honey you buy in the grocery stores is pasteurized/filtered/boiled crap! The dealer has to do this for health reasons but this boiling and filtering destroys the flavor of the honey. Like the difference between a factory farm egg and eggs laid by happy chickens in your neighbors yard. Once you taste the real thing, you will never go back.
I visit the local bee store which sells materials to the local bee-keepers and buys from them real honey. It is sold by the pound (slightly cheaper if you bring your own container) and contains pollen, bee parts, wax and the most delicious pure honey that you can imagine.
Why Killer Bee honey? No good reason other than the Killer Bees have invaded Arizona and replaced all the European bees. So some 95% of all bee hives in Southern Arizona are Killer Bees. I can't get anything else.
Water? buy it! Avoid the kitchen tap. Spend money for Distilled Water. Avoid the bottled water with added flavors and vitamins.
I was involved in the CAP water suit and after reading the file, I wonder why those involved in bringing CAP water to Arizona are still walking free and not hanging from a tree. Tucson tap water kills people. Don't use tap water for your Mead. Go to a water store and buy pure water. 5 gallons per carboy.
A package of strong plain tea, the peels from 5 lemons and some grape tannin.
Plus yeast! I have tried Mead yeast but by the time the yeast reaches Arizona, it is usually dead. So I prefer Montrachet champagne yeast. This is a low temperature yeast that happily converts any sugar to alcohol. Why low temperature yeast? Because I store it in the back room or bathroom where all those huge bottles are out of the way and it so happens that the places where they are stored are the coldest in the house. If you brew in a warm place, then buy a higher temperature yeast.
OK, now down to the brewing process! Cerridwen, my daughter, loves MASH. But one day while we were watching a show, I commented that the still Hawkeye made wouldn't work. I then covered with her the basics of brewing and distilling and the proper way to do both. Brewing is both a science and an art! Deal with it! And if you know how to brew or build a still, you will be welcome in many a locale (especially one of those Air Force bases in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan).
Step 1: Mix water and honey in a glass or stainless steel pot under low flame. Metal pots add a metallic taste to the mead and I love Visions so use glass. Simmer, do not boil! All you want to do is to thin the honey enough to mix with water and flow through the hose.
Mike (see reference above) tells you to boil the honey but I feel that this damages the honey. I prefer to warm it up to but not at boiling. Stir frequently to mix the water/honey together. This is only to allow the honey to pour easily into your carboys. You will notice that I have a statue of the Green Man over the stove to watch over the process. This is simply because if I am making Mead for ritual, why not ask the blessings of the Horned God? I realize that a statue of Dionysis would be more appropriate but I don't have one so chose the Horned God in His vegetation aspect.
While the honey/water is warming and thinning, peel your lemons, slice the peels and add them to the mixture.
Brew a cup of very strong tea and toss your yeast into another cup of warm water to wake it up.
Add about 1 1/2 tsp of Grape tannin and a about 5 tsp of the tea to the honey/water and stir frequently. This is your "Must" and is the basis of your mead.
The yeast, when added later, will thrive in the tea/lemon peel/tannin and show it's appreciation by eating the honey and converting the sugar to alcohol.
Once the must is warm and thin (the lemon peels will turn a bit soggy-brown), you can pour the must into your carboy. DO NOT add the lemon peels to the carboy! Some people like to do so but I find it lowers the quality of the mead. Add about a gallon of water to the Carboy to prevent the warm must from cracking the glass, add more water to the warm honey to thin it more and siphon.
So I stick a rubber tube into the bottom of the pan and siphon most of the Must into the carboy in the same way as you would siphon gas from your neighbor's car.
When the must level is low, I stop siphoning, add more water and honey to the pan and warm this up. Yes, it takes a long time but remember to be patient.
I always run out of honey before I run out of water but that's ok. When you have used up all the must, toss the lemon peels, foam and bug parts that remain in your pot into the trash, or compost heap if you wish.
By now I find that my carboy is about half full of very warm to hot honey/water. I then CAREFULLY add enough water to raise the level to within a few inches of the top of the carboy, toss a cup over the opening to prevent dust from settling into the must and wait for it to cool to about body temperature. It takes hours people so be patient. Go watch TV or have sex or read a good book, anything to avoid rushing the process.
Is it warm but no longer hot? Good! Move the carboy to its resting place and gather your cup of yeast. By now the yeast is fully hydrated and alive and hungry. Pour the yeast into the carboy of honey/water and top off with more pure water to about the level of the neck of the carboy. The less air space in your carboy, the better. Some people like to leave the must and yeast and tea overnight and mix them in the morning. Your choice.
Now add your water-lock which is a one-way valve that allows CO2 to escape but prevents air from entering and label your carboy with the date you brewed it. Note again that if air gets into the must, it will turn your mead to vinegar which is why you use only glass and never plastic. The air-lock is a simple device that is little more than a rubber tube with one end in the carboy (above water level) and the other end in a glass of water.
In the old days, we shoved a rubber hose and cork we stole from the Chem-lab into the carboy, stuck the end of the hose into a bottle of water and that worked. Today I buy and use real airlocks. Again, your choice. But watching that airlock bubble while I an in the ‘library’ is very relaxing.
as the yeast eats the sugar in the honey, it will produce alcohol (yeast pee) and carbon dioxide (CO2) (yeast fart). The alcohol remains in the carboy and the CO2 fills the air-space of the carboy then pushes through the tube into the water glass. You will see this happens as 'air' bubbles flow from the bottom of the carboy to the top, then along the tube to bubble out the water.
brew little yeasties, brew!
Talk nice to them. Praise them for their hard work. Give them flowers on their birthday and have sex next to the carboy.
A store-bought air-lock is easier to handle and just as cheap though.
I also like to keep a gallon of pure water next to my carboys because every few days or so, the water in the air-lock evaporates and needs to be topped off.
Here is what happens. In an hour or so, the yeast will realize that you have given them a wonderful world in which to live. They will eat the sugar in the honey and, to be crude, fart CO2 and pee alcohol. Yes, you are drinking yeast pee! Hey! honey is bee spit so deal with it!
As the yeast eats the honey, it reproduces and fills the carboy, happily making alcohol as it eats the sugar. As the yeast ages and dies, their little bodies sink to the bottom of the carboy and you will notice that there is a level of scum and sludge growing on the bottom of your carboy. Ignore it! That is simply the yeast graveyard. Try not to shake your carboy as the scum then mixes with the must and no one, neither you nor the yeast, likes to live with the dead bodies of their ancestors. Leave the yeast graveyard where it is.
Now yeast will produce alcohol happily but when the alcohol level of the must reaches 12% (about 24 proof), there is so much alcohol in the honey-water that it kills off all the remaining yeast which will then fall to the bottom. Wine and mead can never be more than 24 proof. (ok, I know that there are some high-alcohol tolorant yeasts that can raise your proof by a few points, but really, is there any difference between 24 and 26 proof?) To get more alcohol, you need to build a still and distill it which I won't describe here.
This process takes from 6-12 weeks or even months depending on the strength of your yeast, amount of honey, outside temperature and how happy your yeast is. Don't rush it!
You will know that this is finished when your airlock no longer has any bubbles passing. Today, my Lust potion Mead brewed 3 days ago passes one bubble every 2-3 seconds. My Spring Mesquite Mead brewed this morning passes a bubble every 10 seconds and my Citrus Mead I brewed this afternoon has yet to start to bubble.
Problems occur when you fail to clean the carboy well enough and bacteria grow to kill the yeast. Or when you use bad water which kills the yeast. or if you have dead yeast.
Ok, if you use dirty materials, then toss it and start over. Consider it to be a learning experience and considering the price of honey, you won’t make that mistake very often.
If, by tonight, my Citrus Mead fails to produce bubbles, then I probably bought dead yeast or added live yeast to must that was still too hot. Easy solution; by then the must will be cooler so I add more yeast! (added note: it took a couple weeks but the Citrus finally started to cook, took months to brew and years to age properly. I blame the high acid of the citrus I used which slowed the process)
Have fun watching the yeast bubble away and in a couple or few months, you will notice that there is no longer any bubbles passing the airlock. It's time to remove the must to a secondary fermenter.
Come back around Beltane to Litha, 2002 when my current batches are ready and I'll tell you what to do next.
Until then, be patient!!!!
To contact me or to request topics to be covered, send to RikJohnson@juno.com
by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451