Saturday, April 28, 2012

Recipes From the Celtic Crow Meadery!

As some of my long time readers and friends know, Doctor Zombie dabbles in making some mead now and again. Deep in a special annex to my laboratory, in the bowels of the Midnight Theater of Terror, there’s a special room where resides the innocuously named Celtic Crow Meadery. Get it? It's a play on my alter-ego's last name? And I'm Irish/Celtic? Get it?

Anyway, it’s here that I make concoctions and potions that – besides being downright tasty – also give you a wicked buzz.

I love making mead. It’s easy, although you have to be patient. A batch of mead can sometimes sit for 6 months to a year before it tastes good. But, when it is made, it’s wondrous!

Why mead? I’m not sure how I arrived at mead making. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. I imagine part of my decision was because nobody else I know was doing it. I’m, if anything, an iconoclast and revel in being ‘different’. I have always been that way, and this little endeavor was just one more way I could do that. I have friends who brew beer, and I know some people who brew wine; so I had to find something different. I will also admit to really, really liking the idea of making something really old and traditional. That Vikings and Celts loved it and were known for drinking mead from the skull of their enemies was an added bonus! It appealed to the ancient Celt that dwells within my undead soul.

So I started making mead.

This’ll be a short post, but I wanted to share with you my recipes for mead in the hopes that you too can enjoy the wonder of mead. I also wanted to add some historical info because I’m hoping to get a few visitors from my British Literature class at Baldwin Wallace College and they too can share in the simple science and deliciously intoxicating after product that comes from honey, water, and yeast.

I do need to add this legal disclaimer:

The information herein contains details for making homebrewed mead, a fantastically high alcohol content adult beverage. It is for informational purposes only, and not intended to be used by anyone under the age of 21 – no matter how easy it would be to mix a batch of this up. In other words, Doctor Zombie’s overworked and underpaid legal team says, don’t do anything stupid. If you do manage to do something stupid, you agree that this is an entertainment blog and you further agree to hold Doctor Zombie, The Midnight Theater of Terror, and Dr. Z’s undead minions harmless in all respects, free of any liability, and will get Doctor Z.’s back if any SHIT GOES DOWN.

So, with that out of the way, on to the first thing about mead.

Mead was probably discovered by happenstance when someone left some water with fruit and honey in it laying around. Wild yeast got into it, they drank it, and it rocked their world. They then spent several centuries refining the process. The addition of honey was a stroke of brilliance.

History is rife with mentions of mead. Virgil and Plato mentioned it in their writings. It plays a HEAVY role in Beowulf. It’s mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Some famous examples include:

"So his mind turned to hall-building: he handed down orders for men to work on a great mead-hall meant to be a wonder of the world forever; it would be his throne-room and there he would dispense his God-given goods to young and old - but not the common land or people's lives." line 67

"But when dawn broke and day crept in over each empty, blood-spattered bench, the floor of the mead-hall where they had feasted would be slick with slaughter." line 484

... and about a hundred more times.

The Hobbit (J.R.R Tolkien)

"They sat long at the table with their wooden drinking-bowls filled with mead." pg. 126

"At last Gandalf pushed away his plate and jug - he had eaten two whole loaves (with masses of butter and honey and clotted cream) and drunk at least a quart of mead - and he took out his pipe." pg. 129

"Seek the sunlight and the day, Back to pasture back to mead, Where the kine and oxen feed!" pg. 184

The Mabinogian

"If I thought you would not disparage me," said he, "I would sleep while I wait for my repast; and you can entertain one another with relating tales, and can obtain a flagon of mead and some meat from Kai."8

TheTáin Bó Cúalnge

"He shall be recompensed for the loss of his lands and estates, for whosoever has been slain of the Ulstermen, so that it be paid to him as the men of Erin adjudge. Entertainment shall be his at all times in Cruachan; wine and mead shall be poured out for him."
Mead’s been around a long, long time, and there are recipes for it in all sorts of forms.

For example, here’s the recipe for Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite mead (Called ‘Queen’s Metheglin’):

"First, gather a bushel of sweetbriar leaves, and a bushel of thyme, half a bushel of rosemary, and a peck of bay-leaves. Seethe all these (being well washed) in a furnace (not less than 120 gallons) of fair water; let them boil the space of half an hour, or better: and then pour out all the water and herbs into a vat, and let it stand until it be but milk warm: then strain the water from the herbs, and take to every six gallons of water one gallon of the finest honey, and put it into the boorne, and labor it together half an hour: then let it stand two days, stirring it well twice or thrice each day. Then take the liquor and boil it anew: and when it doth seeth, skim it as long as there remaineth any dross. When it is clear, put it into the vat as before, and there let it be cooled. You must then have in readiness a kiv(e) of new ale or beer, which as soon as you have emptied, suddenly whelm it upside down, and set it up again, and presently put in the metheglin, and let it stand three days a-working. And then tun it up in barrels, tying at every taphole (by a pack thread) a little bag of beaten cloves and mace, to the value of an ounce. Such was the mead of good Queen Bess." N.B. "It must stand half a year before it is drunk." (1)

For the record, I imagine this would taste like shit. One gallon of honey to six of water, and all of the savory spices must have made one hell of a sickly sweet, funky mix. Yuck.

For my part, I decided to get into mead brewing the easiest way I could. The following recipe, stolen from the website, is the quickest, easiest way to get started making mead. For about $25 dollars spent at the local Kroger or Giant Eagle, you can have a tasty mead that can be made just about anywhere. It’s crazy stupid how easy this is. Again, the biggest impediment here is your impatience. Believe me when I say that the longer a mead sits, the better it tastes. Be patient, and this recipe will serve you well.

Simple Beginner Mead

  • 1 Gallon Spring Water
  • 3 Pounds honey
  • 1 bag of balloons (I’ll explain in a minute)
  • 1 packet of Fleischman’s Yeast (usually found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 box of raisins
  • 1 orange
  • A six pack of beer to drink while making this. I recommend Hobgoblin by Wychwood Brewery

Pour about half of the water into a clean container then slice up your orange into eighth’s and put the slices, honey, twenty-five raisins, and the yeast into the jug. Pour some water back into the jug so the level is a couple of inches from the top then put the cap on it and shake it up well. If you can, you should shake it for a good five minutes. This will aerate the mixture. The yeast really needs lots of oxygen to grow vigorously.

Now poke a pinhole in the top of the balloon, remove the cap from your jug and put the balloon right over the mouth of the jug. Stretch the open end of the balloon right over the jug so that as the gases form inside the jug they will inflate the balloon. Put a rubber band or tape around the neck to keep it firmly in place -if it feels like it might come off. Leave it out on a counter for the first day so you can monitor it.

Note: The balloon can age and oxidize over time so you should inspect it regularly to make sure it doesn't break down and develop cracks. If it seems like it is breaking down replace it with a new balloon!

Somewhere between an hour and twenty-four hours later the balloon will start to inflate. This is a great sign and it means that your yeast is transforming the contents of the jug into wine. Gases are forming inside the jug and are escaping through the pinhole. This setup insures gases escape but no contaminants get into your brew. If the balloon is getting big you may need to poke another hole or two in it. You don’t want it to burst. It would leave your mead open to contamination. Once you are satisfied that the gases are escaping and the balloon is not under unusual stress you can set the jug in a cool dry place like a kitchen cabinet or closet shelf. Check on it every day if you can just to make sure it is ok and the balloon hasn’t popped off.

After two to three weeks the major portion of the ferment will be done and the balloon will be limp. At this point you can taste a little bit to see how it is coming along but it isn’t really a tasty wine at this point. It will need another couple of months to start to get delicious. Over time, as you check on it you will notice that the cloudiness disappears and it slowly clarifies and transforms into wine.

The orange and the raisins can stay in the mixture for the whole duration but if you want to make the mead a little milder and help it clarify faster you can transfer the liquid into another gallon jug and place the balloon on that one. This would be after the two to three week ferment period has completed. This process is called racking and it will move your mead along nicely. (2)

Believe me, this is a great recipe. My first batch was received wildly by my friends and, as a bonus, it seemed to be slightly carbonated. This made it appeal to both my wine drinking friends, and those of us with a penchant for the bubbly goodness of beer. By the way, one gallon makes 8 wine bottles worth of mead. That’s actually a lot if you think about it.

I was hooked. After that first batch I had to make some more.

I adjusted my recipe to try something a little different. I made two batches this time. I prepared them the same way as above, just changed the recipes. Here are those recipes:

Batch 1 (Celtic Meadery Spiced Metheglin)

  • 1 Gallon Spring Water
  • 3 Pounds honey
  • 1 packet of Fleischman’s Yeast (usually found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 box of raisins
  • 1 orange
  • 4 Cinnamon sticks
  • 4 Vanilla pods
  • Tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • A six pack of beer to drink while making this. I went with Newcastle because Mrs. Zombie went shopping and that was what was on sale. It was cool though. I LOVE Newcastle.

  Same prep as before.

Batch 2 (Celtic Meadery Half Ass Metheglin) 
  •  1 Gallon Spring Water
  • 3 pounds honey
  • 1 packet of Fleischman’s Yeast (usually found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 box of raisins
  • 1 orange
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon Nutmeg
  • 1 apple
  • Still the same Newcastle. Mmmm… Newcastle.

 Same prep as before.

These both came out well, although I really liked the first batch better. Still bubbly too. Interesting!

So, after these first few batched, I decided to go large scale.

I tracked down a 5 gallon glass carboy and a 5 gallon plastic water jug (for a water cooler), and scaled things up. These cost me nothing, so I decided to spend the money I’d saved on bottles and bought a real fermenting airlock. I also decided that I wanted to make something special for Doctor Zombie’s annual Halloween bash. So, I decided I needed to make something unique. To this point I’d been making mostly metheglins, which are spiced mead. I decided to try my hand at a melomel, which is a fruit based mead. I did this for one reason mostly, I wanted something blood red that would look good in a wine glass on Halloween, and that was sweet to boot. So I went with the following recipe. You’ll note that there’s some difference in this one in that it involved actual stove time and boiling and such. It also involved some chemicals used for brewing. I tried to offset that with natural ingredients. I think I struck a nice balance. This is a more advanced mead and, I think it turned out well; however, I also like the cold brew method better. It seems more natural to me and produces a nicer tasting, carbonated mead. This had no carbonation at all.

Batch 3 (Celtic Meadery Raven’s Blood Melomel)

  •  10 lbs. Organic honey bought at the local farmers’ market
  • 1 tbsp. gypsum
  • 4tsp. acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp. Irish Moss
  • 1 1/2 lbs. corn sugar
  • 5 Gallons Spring Water

Boil the above for 15 min. Scrape sides

Add the following fruit just after boiling stops. Crush it well first:

  • 4 pounds variety of fresh organic strawberries, blue raspberries, blackberries, red raspberries

Pull it from the heat and let the brew steep for 20 minutes. This, by the way, will smell HEAVENLY.

Stir every now and then, and then pour into your carboy. The Carboy should already have 3 gallons of cold water in it.

Add 15 grams of champagne yeast when the mix hits 70 to 78 degrees. Warning: Champagne yeast means higher alcohol content. Be warned! Also add 1/2 oz. yeast nutrient.

Let the mix ferment for a two weeks then rack it into a secondary fermenter (and get rid of the gross mashed fruits) and don’t touch it for 3 months. When it is clear, bottle it. It may ferment for a little while longer so watch out for pressure in the bottles.

 Don't forget: Drink a six pack of beer while making it. I went with New Holland Brewing’s Ichabod Pumpkin Ale.

This turned out well, and was blood red. The only problem was I wasn’t patient and started it too soon before Halloween. See where it says "don’t touch it for 3 months!"? Well I waited about 2 months and got into it on Halloween night. The night did not end well for Doctor Zombie. I was very ill. I think it was because it was still fermenting, it had the high content champagne yeast, and I drank quite a bit of Great Lakes Brewery Nosferatu on top of it. I ended the night sick as a dog and throwing up like a college freshman at his first kegger. It was a night that will forever be remembered with shame and a hazy recollection of throwing up into a plastic Halloween pumpkin in my backyard while watching Night of the Living Dead on Doctor Zombie’s outside movie screen.

Learn from the Doctor. Be patient with the mead!

And now, go, make your own. Before you know it, you'll be running around, pillaging villages, and wearing a viking helmet! Don;t say I didnt warn you!

Hopefully you found this helpful. Also, watch for another update soon because I think I’ll be whipping up another batch in the coming months. I also think I might try my hand at some beer brewing. Enjoy, dear faithful reader!


(1) Charles Butler, Beekeeper for Queen Elizabeth I, The Feminine Monarchy (1609)
(2) Storm the Castle Website (

No comments: