This is the recipe for Stormbrew. I got it in AS 8 from Eudaimon of Alexandros, and if it has changed over the years, I have forgotten the details. As with baking bread and making soup, I am a natural cook and see recipes as guidelines, and have very few problems experimenting with different flavorings and techniques. This has been shared many times over the years, so feel free to do so. The only reason I can think of to refer to it as Stormbrew is that so people will recognize it. If you change the recipe much, you should probably change what you call it. Willow, for example, adds hybiscus flowers during the fermenation and that turns it into “Willow’s Blood” mead- with a lovely red color.
Original (feast sized) recipe: (120 pints)
15 gallons of water (the size of the original scavenged barrel in which we used to brew)
30 pounds of honey
1 lemon- juiced, but save the rind, you can stick the cloves in it so they don’t get lost
5-6 whole cloves, 2 sticks cinnamon, 1 nutmeg
2 pkgs. or tbsp. bread yeast
Smaller (party size) recipe: (40 pints)
5 gallons of water
10 pounds of honey
1/2 lemon- save the rind
3 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 1/2 nutmeg
1 pkg. or tbsp. bread yeast
Stir the honey into the water. (If you don’t stir, it will sit sullenly on the bottom of your pot while the water boils away.)
If you have a large container of honey not individual bottles*- figure one and a third cups of honey equals one pound, or one cup equals about 3/4 pound. Bring it up to a simmer. Because I do large batches, I usually put a lid on it to hold the heat in while it comes up. Some prefer boiling to get the clearer mead, some prefer to never let it boil because that will retain the subtler flavors of the honey and additions. You can choose, I simmer because it’s faster to get the foam off, and I’m not entering competitions or laying this down for years later. I don’t think clarity matters as much when you’re drinking it from an opaque container such as horn or wood.)
When the water and honey simmers foam will form on the surface. I have a fine mesh tempura skimmer I use to remove it, but you can use any slotted spoon. In order to get all the foam off, put a cloth over it. I use a clean white sock over a spoon, and even use that to wipe the scum ring from around the edge of the pot. You can also use a sock (or a muslin bag) to put your spices in to make them easier to fish out later. (I got into this habit when I had little girls- there are always orphan white socks around.)
While it’s boiling, you put in your lemon juice and spices. It’s easier to find the whole cloves if you stick them in the lemon peel, if you don’t get them out they can overwhelm the flavor. When the scum stops forming, you’ll remove the spices and lemon peel and stop boiling it. If you’ve boiled off too much water, replace that or you won’t get enough mead. (For feasts I figure a pint or two per person.) Put a lid on it while it cools. If you have to re-up the water, I’d use boiled water. I think the point in boiling is making sure there are no live bacteria in there that will affect the mead.
When it’s safe to pour into your carboy or fermentation container without melting or breaking it, do so (these should be sterile also- I use hydrogen peroxide). When it’s cool enough to not kill the yeast, (test so it’s comfortable on your wrist like a baby’s bottle) add the yeast, stir it in, and put some sort of fermentation lock on the container. If you have a carbouy but no fermentation lock, you can slip a condom over the top of the bottle, just burp it occasionally so it doesn’t fly off. (Using a condom WILL result in interesting responses from guests, and can attract unwanted attention from children and pets.)
You can create your own fermentation lock by running a tube from the cork in the bottle into a cup of water. The goal is to allow the created gas a bath to get out, without creating a path for the outside air to get in. With the 15 gallon keg, Ælfwine just opened it a hair so the air could force its way out- I guess we depended on the positive pressure from within.
You may well imagine that people who saw us use the girls socks as spice bags, or condoms on the carbouys, teased us about it, but as long as everything is clean, it’s good.
That’s it- 2 pounds of honey per gallon of water, yeast, lemon juice as a acid, and whatever spices you like. For “long” or “slow” mead, I use 4 pounds per gallon and mead or champagne yeast. The difference is that champagne or mead yeast dies when it reaches the right level of alcohol, and bread yeast dies when you bake it (which one doesn’t do with mead). So Stormbrew keeps fermenting until it’s been consumed, or blows the cork out of the bottle. You can hold it for maybe a week in refrigeration, but don’t try for much longer than that. If you want a still mead, use mead yeast. This is for immediate consumption.
It brews up in 10-20 days depending on the weather. I brew on the first of December for the winter solstice (3 weeks), and for summer events, brew the Wednesday, 10 days before the feast. If you keep your home “summer warm”, you can do it in 10 days all year long. If you want the bubbles- bottle it or seal the keg the day before you serve it- then put it on ice. (For years I used to brew in a 15 gallon beer keg Ælfwine got at MIT. I don’t know what beer kegs are lined with these days, so I prefer carboys. I know many people brew in the 5 gallon white plastic buckets honey comes in, but I haven’t tried that.
For sparkling, or Foamy mead, ONLY use bottles that can take the pressure; if you’re using recycled bottles, only use beer (we like Grolsh) or champagne bottles with wired on corks. Let it sit perhaps overnight, then refrigerate from the morning until the feast. I saw someone who’d left a reused 2 liter soda bottle in the shade behind their tent. During the day, the sun shifted and it had been in full sun. I’ve never seen a soda bottle kidney shaped that shape before. They poured a bag of ice over it, and it didn’t explode, so they could drink it. Learn from the adventures of others. It will still be “foaming” mead if you serve it from pitchers. At our wedding, we didn’t have the bottles in buckets of ice, and we lost about half of each bottle when we opened it. Sigh.
You can get carboys (and fermentation locks, and brewing yeasts) from brewing supply houses. Recycling centers are good places to look for bottles- especially if you can get there the day after New Year’s Day when lots of champagne is consumed.
This is a “quick mead”. It uses bread yeast from the grocery store. Brewers laugh at it, drinkers enjoy it. Like historical mead it is foamy, and you can drink it by the pint rather than wine glass. “Vikings” like to do that because it makes them feel like mighty Thor. There is a phenomenon in the SCA and heathenry I have seen where everyone wants to get a bigger horn than anyone else, and then while the poor lady is trying to take her hospitality horn around to give everyone a drink, each drinker is trying to prove he can empty it. Our “Big Horn” held 6 liters. We lost it in the house fire. (No idea what animal it may have been, we suspect water buffallo, or that it was stretched somehow.) Now my “Little Big Horn” holds only a gallon. I believe that a personal horn needs to hold no more than a pint (with slosh-room), or MAYBE a liter, if you’re buying commercial bottles. “Heroic” drinking is inappropriate when the lady is trying to take the horn around. Also, turn the horn sideways to avoid the back-splash.
We have noticed that drinking this with other drinks is a dangerous combination. I’ve heard that it’s the combination of a sweet drink and strong alcohol that causes the reaction, but for whatever the reason, if you’re drinking pints of Stormbrew, don’t drink anything else. Maybe beer. Even when it doesn’t make you more drunk, it seems to worsen the hangover. You have been warned.
Cleanliness is the critical element to making successful mead. All your equipment should be sterile. If you use bleach, make sure you rinse well with water that won’t recontaminate. You can use also hydrogen pyroxide which sterilizes then turns to gas- (but dump the excess).
Don’t use cast iron or aluminum. Someone called me once and asked why their mead was turning grey. It was the cast iron pot they were using to boil it up. I advised them to take the financial hit and throw it out. (Who knows? Iron-rich “black” mead might have been the next big thing, but I wouldn’t have tried it.) Another call I got once asked how long it took the honey to melt into the water, because they’d been boiling for hours and adding more water, and it was still on the bottom. STIR IT, and the honey mixes in. Feel free to call me with questions, I can’t possibly anticipate the things that you may need to be told. The only stupid question is the unasked one.
You can change the spices if you like. Different honeys produce different flavored meads, but in honesty, this may not be a subtle enough brew on which to experiment. I tried meadowfoam, which has a lovely vanilla-like taste, (and costs half again as much per pound than most honeys), but the flavor didn’t come through the brewing, even though I toned down the spices. The lemon juice is there to acidify- some people use tea or other acidic juices. Gyrth Oldcastle, tried grapefruit once and discoverd that “Grapefruit is RIGHT OUT”; no one would drink his grapefruit mead.
Mead flavored with spices is called Methaglin, flavored with fruit, it’s called melomel (unless the fruit is grapes, in which case it’s pyment). If you use root vegetables (carrots, or parsnips) it’s rhysomel. (I’ve always wanted to try that!) If you want to add fruit- blueberries, strawberries, etc. boil them in to extract the juices after getting most of the foam out, then strain the pulp out before the fermentation (it will have enough flavor left to make a lovely ice cream or skyr topping). Pouring it through cheesecloth or muslin works, but make sure that the cloth is clean or you could contaminate it.
Warm honey and water is a great growing medium, and you can add bacteria by letting dust get in, from the cloth you use to strain it, stirring with a wooden spoon, or all sorts of things. Yeast gives it the flavor we want, not just the alcohol. Stray wild yeast are the culprits for most bad mead. The only time AElfwine tried brewing was for Willow’s birth, and I think some wild yeast may have gotten into that batch, not one mouthful was ever swallowed, we all spit it out. (Come to think of it, that may have been what happened to Gyrth’s Grapefruit mead- it can happen to anyone.)
As a final caution: drink any mead from glass, horn, ceramic or wooden cups- if you put it in metal it does weird and nasty things to the taste. You can experiment with this by pouring the same mead into different types of cup and see what I mean. After we did that we never drank from metal cups again.
* we used 30 1 pound jars for our betrothal feast. We then cut a circle out of the bottom of each of the jars, nailed the lids to the jars onto 3 foot stakes (sharpened 2x2s) and then used those for perimeter lights. You can nail through the metal lid, set a votive candle on it, then screw on the bottle/chimney. Not attractive during the day, but they pass in the dark, and it’s good recycling.