Say what you will about XPY, but it does have a couple of neat uses. One of them is through @PexPeppers (link), purveyors of the finest of sauces that will make you pray for the sweet release of death. They also do a booming business in fresh, farm grown, high quality honey.
Honey has far more utility than XPY. In addition to being the best possible topping for cornbread, it’s a natural antiseptic, sealing agent, and can even help with a hangover (this will be relevant in a moment). Properly treated, however, it can also be made into a rather strong alcoholic beverage. This, of course, is my primary interest in the substance.
I recently acquired 5lbs of @PexPeppers’ wildflower honey, and set about to converting it from nature’s near-perfect food, into mankind’s perfect drink. First, the tools of the trade:
Back row, left to right: StarSan (sanitizer), cinnamon sticks, honey, oranges, carboy (fermentation vessel, sealed against dust)
Front row: Yeast nutriment, yeast energizer, brew journal, bung, airlock, hydrometer (for measuring alcohol content)
And last, but not least, the yeast:
Contrary to popular belief, you can make alcohol with bread yeast, available at any grocery store, but surprise, it tastes like bread at the end. Wine or champagne yeast is available online, or at your local home brew store, usually for under $1.
Honey is very thick, and filled with all sorts of complex sugars. Mere mortal yeast have a hard time acclimating to it - one of the reasons that honey never goes bad. Adding a teaspoon each of yeast nutriment and energizer gives the yeast that get-up-and-go boost it needs to break the complex sugars down. Like coffee, for microorganisms.
My fancy, high-bred store bought yeast has competition, however, in the form of wild yeast. It’s all around us, all the time. It can be used to brew (as was done before humans knew what microorganisms were, and fermentation was considered a form of magic), but the final flavors it produces are pretty unreliable. I want only my yeast doing the fermenting, so I sanitize all of my equipment using StarSan. 1/2 oz of StarSan in a 10 quart bucket of water does the trick nicely, and 20 seconds contact with this solution kills off any wild beasts that may be living on my equipment.
Making honey wine, or mead, is actually very easy. It’s as simple as mixing all the ingredients together, and waiting awhile:
Mashing up oranges. I think I got more on the counter and the floor than I got in the measuring cup. I’m using a total of 1 cup of juice, unstrained. I could have used off-the-shelf juice, but here in Florida, it’s actually less expensive to just buy oranges.
3lbs, 10oz of Dr. Pecks finest, and a tablespoon each of nutriment and energizer.
Add orange juice and a cinnamon stick, for flavor. This should give a nice, spicy, warm flavor for those cold winter nights.
Topping it up with water. This will be a 1 gallon batch. Brewing purists boil their water first, or use bottled water, but I’ve never had a problem using plain old tap water. I shake it until the honey stops separating from the water. This takes awhile. Afterward, in go the yeast.
Taking a small sample, for science! It’s tough to see in the picture, but I make the original gravity to be 1.140. I’ll take another sample once fermentation is complete, and by comparing these two numbers, I’ll be able to tell what the alcohol content is. If this batch ferments anything like previous batches, it should wind up in the 16% ABV range.
All mixed up, with the bung and airlock in place. Those yeast are going to have quite a party in that carboy, and create a lot of carbon dioxide that will need to escape (or the bottle will explode). At the same time, those nasty wild yeasts would love to get in and settle down, and I want to keep them out. The airlock solves both problems handily.
Pretty maids, all in a row. The mead is on the left. On the right, 2 gallons of my own Belgian saison (beer) recipe, almost ready for bottling. Behind, a gallon of red wine that I suspect will turn out to be crime-against-humanity levels of awful, but I’m content to let it sit and see what happens. The mead will sit here until April or May, and which point I’ll rack (siphon) it over to a clean bottle to get rid of that sediment cake you can see in the beer. After that, it will sit until November or December. At that point, it’s ready to drink, but mead gets better with age. I’ll bottle it, have a few samples (for science!), take the second gravity reading, and put it in the closet for those cold, Florida winter nights.