Forget the bubbly – Pass the mead

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News item: French authorities predict worldwide champagne shortage when the planet rings in 2000.

I’m tempted to say it serves ’em right. That’s what wine-sippers get for toasting the new year with the alcoholic equivalent of Tang.

But in the spirit of the season, I’d instead like to propose an alternative that should satisfy everyone, from bubble-swallowing dilettantes to beer-chugging joes like me.

It’s called mead.

It’s neither wine nor beer. It’s fermented honey.

It’s a smooth, pleasantly high-alcohol (12-15 percent) treat that, 1,000 years ago, was the Budweiser of Europe. Everyone drank it.

This nectar of the gods may be mankind’s oldest alcoholic beverage. The Vikings kicked back with the stuff and so did Beowulf.

Legend has it that the newly married couple that drank mead for a month would be blessed with a baby son. That’s where we get the word honeymoon.

Maybe parents grew tired of raising boys, or maybe brewers decided it was easier to harvest grain than steal honey from angry bees. In any case, mead production has dropped so low that I believe Pennsylvania state stores now stock it on shelves directly behind rancid bottles of peach eggnog.

But here’s the good news: You can make mead yourself, and it’s very easy. You’ve got to brew it a year before you drink it, though, so if you start now, it should be ready for New Year’s 2000.

Here’s a recipe I snagged from George Hummel at Home Sweet Homebrew (2008 Sansom St., Center City), where you can pick up the ingredients.

Boil 1 gallon of honey (12-15 pounds) in 1 gallon of water for 15 minutes with 5 teaspoons of yeast nutrient and a teaspoon of Irish moss. Make sure the honey does not contain preservatives; those will kill the yeast.Add fruit juice or spices like cinnamon or cloves if you like.

Turn off the heat and add enough water to bring the volume to 5 gallons. Cool down (below 80 degrees if possible) and add champagne yeast.

Allow to ferment for one month, then transfer to another container, leaving behind sediment. After three months, mix in a quarter-cup of corn sugar and bottle. Let it sit till New Year’s Eve, then toast the gods and thank ’em you’re not drinking champagne.

Beer Radar

The Khyber (56 S. 2nd St., Old City) has lined up a heavy lineup of winter brews for its Big Ass Beer Festival, starting at 5 p.m. Wednesday. They better hope Joe Sixpack’s mom doesn’t show; she’ll wash their mouths out with soap. . . Yes, those are new labels on Stoudt’s big bottles. That lovably goofy photo of Spring Garden restaurateur Michel de Notredame in monk’s robes is now a collectors item. . . . Michelob’s new five-liter can won Best of Category at the National Metal Decorators Association Annual Convention. Next up: the International Brotherhood of Purified Water honors Bud Light.

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