Homebrewing Corner: Cranberry Orange Mead

Mead, or fermented honey, is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages, possibly even predating agriculture.  Evidence of mead production as far back as 7,000 BC has been found in China, and cultures around the world have consumed different versions of the drink for thousands of years.  Several commercial meaderies operate in Colorado, chief among them being Redstone Meadery in Boulder and Rocky Mountain Meadery in Palisade.

While mead is one of the simplest alcoholic drinks to make, a lot of finesse goes into selecting quality ingredients and keeping conditions right for the yeast to thrive.  The following recipe produces a fruit-flavored mead, or “melomel,” which should be fully aged in a matter of months rather than the typical two years for pure honey mead.  The oranges and cranberries also give it a sweet yet tart fruity flavor.

½ ounce dried orange zest
8 ounces clementine oranges, washed and cut into quarters.
6 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries, washed
2 pounds quality honey
3 quarts water
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient (Fermax brand)
1 envelope Lalvin EC-1118 yeast, although other brewer’s yeast can be used

1 one-gallon glass wine jug, cleaned and sanitized
1 airlock and stopper
1 empty beer bottle (preferably a swing-top Grolsch bottle), cleaned and sanitized
Star-San or dilute bleach for sanitizing

Start by making a yeast starter the day before.  Boil a few ounces of honey, a cup of water, and the teaspoon of yeast nutrient in a stock pot for about 10 minutes, then cool to room temperature.  Add this to the sanitized beer bottle along with the yeast, cap with the airlock (filled with water), and shake to mix.  Leave this overnight. 

The next day, boil the 3 quarts of water and orange zest in a stock pot for about 15 minutes and then let it cool to about 100F.  Weigh out the honey and add it to the glass jug, then add the water on top.  Shake the jug to mix and dissolve the honey, then add the cranberries and clementine oranges.  Add half of the yeast starter, then move the airlock to the wine jug. 

Reseal the beer bottle and keep it refrigerated.  If you don’t have a swing-top bottle you can use a resealable plastic water or soda bottle.  Let the mead ferment in a dark place at 65F for about seven days, or until the bubbling starts to slow, then add the rest of the yeast starter.

When fermentation slows and the mead becomes clear, decant into another sterile glass jug, being careful to leave behind the dead yeast and any pieces of fruit left on the bottom.  If any fruit is still floating you can either strain it out or transfer it into the clean jug for extra fruit flavor.  Leave to finish fermenting for at least two months, then store in sealed and sanitized wine or beer bottles.

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