18 October 2009

The Mead Saga

15 days ago, Michael and I set out upon our most ambitious endeavor in Kenya thus far: to make mead.  Drawing inspiration from watching the film version of Beowulf, we decided to learn about and brew our own mead.  All we knew that it involved honey and with 4L of ‘friendship’ honey, we thought it was worth a bit of research.
Thanks to the internet, we found out a few options.  We settled on brewing a few different brews to best determine what flavor we like best.  The first batch was a semi-traditional one with what we had available.  I do not remember exactly what I put in it but the flavor was meant to be subtle.  Batch number two was tea and number three was fruit. 
Filtering out all the junk, we bottled it into 1L Coke bottles and then added bread yeast.  From our research, it was the suggested type.  The yeast reacted with the boiled honey mixture and almost immediately began to bubble over.  I made the mistake of using bottles slightly too small and adding far too much yeast. 
Hoping to control the overflow, I capped the bottles.  With it stinking like cooked honey and stickiness all over the kitchen, everything was in order.   We strayed from the directions due to the volcanic eruptions and decided to allow them to sit over night.  Then open them the next morning to ferment before rebottling.  Over night, the fermentation process continued and pressure built up.
In the morning, I woke earlier than usual.  I wandered out and opened the kitchen.  The door opened to the sound of air rushing out in a relentless insistence.  The culprit bubbled as I gave a closer look.  Taking it in my hands, I attempted to tighten the cap.  Improvement was found, but not a solution.  Wanting to keep the kitchen clean, I took it outside.  With a towel used for better grip, I used all of my strength to close it further.  I accomplished my goal.  Only for a moment.  Then the bubbles, in need of air like a junkie wanting a fix after two days dry, lost control.  The cap blew open and the mead shot all over me.
Frustrated, I cursed a bit to myself and stood in the I-can’t-believe-this-just-happened-to-me-pose.  I thought of how I was going to clean my clothes right away just two days after they had been washed.  I then thought if I would be able to get the smell and stain out.  I then thought…
The explosion was so loud that I though I had discovered a new bomb recipe.  Carefully, I approached the kitchen to see what really happened.  Glass littered the floor as a muddy brown liquid stained the walls.  Dripping still around the glass that implanted itself into the near wall.  The back two bottles exploded and the four in front remained.  Glass bombs sat at the level of my face waiting to detonate.
Using the rag, I ferried the out individually and placed them behind a protective sheet metal shield.  All safely removed and protected.  I cleaned up the kitchen.  It took over one hour to finish cleaning the glass and liquid I could get.  I found glass all over the kitchen for over a week.  Everything that was in the open had to be either thrown away or washed anew.  Being that it was Sunday brunch and I was cooking, my cooking options dropped dramatically.  Fortunately, I planned on split pea soup and had the peas soaking covered overnight.  No worry in regards to the glass. 
I even found glass in front of our house door.  That means it had to take Seinfeld-spit-esque flight to go straight out the door at a nearly impossible angle across twenty feet to the stoop.  It confirms the magnitude of the explosion.  It is possible that the glass was carried across by a shoe, but I found at least three pieces that were far too big to have been stuck on the bottom of a shoe.
Michael was brave enough to diffuse the mead bombs and we allowed them to ferment overnight.  Rebottled the next evening, we put them in the fridge and prayed that the bombs were reactivated.  Luckily they were rendered inert.
Yesterday was the two week minimum before trying it out and we cracked open one of the tea bottles and one of the fruit ones.  The tea bottle was a dark black that looked like a stout beer and had a taste that started off like a sweet wine and ended like Guinness.  It was not quite as good as that sounded, but it was enjoyable.  The fruit bottle was sweet but much stronger.  I did not like it all too much, but the high level of carbonation was a nice change.
We still have a few more bottles to be opened later, but the process proved to be successful.  We learned not to use glass and to allow the fermentation to take place in a larger container.  It is possible we will attempt again to make a new batch this weekend to have for Thanksgiving.  If we do, the recipe will be better documented in terms of photos and specifics.