A method to the meadness — Update after 6 days

The first post in this series is here. Six days in, our mead-to-be is bubbling along nicely. We have reached peak bubbling of about a bubble every two seconds in the airlock, look:

Bubbles in jug and airlock

Bubbles in jug and airlock

To recap, we have put yeast into a solution of honey and water, shaken it, and waited. What is going on in there?

My friend Saccharomyces cerevisiae ICV D-47

Let us get to know this worthy fellow — Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Out of the many single-celled yeasts out there, that is the one we humans have chosen to adopt. This is the yeast that brewers and bakers cultivate; we see it sold on grocery shelves under various labels: active dry yeast, instant yeast, bread-machine yeast, wine yeast and so on.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae -- the brewer's and baker's yeast from MicrobiologyOnline.org

Saccharomyces cerevisiae — the brewer’s and baker’s yeast from MicrobiologyOnline.org

What is so special about it? Beats me, but I got some clues from my obsessive googling. It reproduces quickly — in an hour and a half, it can double its population. It can ferment both in the presence of oxygen and outside it. In the presence of oxygen it ferments faster. Without, it goes slower. But ferment it does. As for reproducing — it can blithely switch between simply diving into two, like a plant, or having male and female babies that have sex to produce babies, the familiar way.

Yes, all of this parade of life is going on in the glass jug while it ferments.

Actually seeing a microbe with a naked eye is not something one usually aspires to (you could fit about two hundred of these, end-to-end, within a single millimeter of your tape measure). But one of the talents this yeast has is to ‘flocculate’. What that means is that individual creatures come together into a ‘floc’, which sounds conveniently like ‘flock’. If only all science words were so conveniently named. Now a flock is actually visible, it looks like brownish residue — as you see below in the picture:

Floc of yeast

Floc of yeast

Another way you can actually see it is: next time you buy some red grapes at the store, dust off the whitish powder that you find on its surface. This is nothing but our friend Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

In fact the exact strain of this yeast that we used — ICV D-47 — was dusted off grapes originally in France by a man named Dr. Dominique Delteil, somewhere in the 1980’s.

Airy fermentation

I think of fermentation as ‘incomplete eating by a microbe’. ‘Incomplete’ because even after the microbes have had their fill, there is plenty of stuff left over for you to enjoy, whether it is wine, beer, bread or dosa. ‘Eating’ because that is what the microbes are doing, gorging themselves silly on your sugars, gaining energy enough to meet, marry and multiply. Why only microbes? Because clearly, you would not look very kindly at bigger creatures gorging on your food — we would call them pests.

Our mead right now is in the process of fermenting in an airy way (aerobic fermentation). Remember we shook the jug to allow air to disperse throughout the liquid? Well the yeast is rapidly using that oxygen to produce the bubbles of carbon-dioxide that we see filling the airlock.

These are the same bubbles that we aim to trap inside a loaf of bread to make it rise. In this case, we allow those bubbles to escape. Because what we care about (the alcohol) will come about after all the oxygen has been used up, and we go into the next stage. Stay tuned….

A method to the meadness

Dear Reader, are you willing to follow me in an experiment?

You will be following along in real time, just like a reality TV show! Suspense, excitement, a slightly risque end-product, and the very real possibility of failure. Hopefully this means high ratings!

We will attempt to make mead.

A goblet of mead, Konstantin Makovsky

A goblet of mead, Konstantin Makovsky, from Art and Faith blog

Mead is the grand-daddy of alcoholic beverages. This past New Year’s Eve when you got nicely liquored up, knowingly or not, you raised your glass to the original makers of mead. Those were the guys about 11000 years ago who discovered that honey diluted with water, when left outside, will turn into a hotbed of yeast infection; those yeasties will eat up the sugars in honey thereby turning the beverage ‘dry’; and clearly yeasties that eat must excrete, which they will do, in great globs of alcohol. Those ancients also discovered that this yeast excretion — namely alcohol — has a nicely happy-making effect, adding zest to New Year’s celebrations.

What a perfect season to attempt mead.

This past Christmas we visited my brother and sister-in-law on the East coast. They own a mead-making set, which they have used once, with moldy results. This post chronicles their second attempt. This time, they are determined to see the bubbles of carbonation arise and sip actual alcohol. The Odd Pantry will be reporting from the field.

Deepak and Shannon’s Mead

Ingredients: 

  • 3.25 lb pure honey (buy from a health/nature type of store. Grocery stores often carry adulterated honey. Check the label. If it says the name of the flower it is probably good. Also if it is crystallized it is pure.)
  • Acid sanitizer (amount according to directions on bottle)
  • Yeast nutrient (urea) — 1 teaspoon
  • Yeast energizer — 1 teaspoon
  • Wine yeast — 2.5 g (half package)
  • 1 gallon distilled or spring water
  • Mix of spices and dried fruit (optional), for example a sliver of orange peel; raisins; cinammon; cloves; cardamom

Equipment:

  • Funnel
  • A large bowl for sanitizing
  • A large bowl for mixing
  • Small bowl for rehydrating yeast in 2 cups water
  • 1 gallon glass jug with airlock, or 1 gallon plastic carboy with separate airlock
  • Rubber stopper with no hole for the jug
  • A thermometer that you can sanitize
  • Weighing scale
  • Spatula

Method:

The recipe that follows is adapted from this source.

In a large bowl, make a sanitizer and water solution. In this, sanitize all the equipment you will be using, including the inside surface of the mixing bowls. You can use the equipment directly without rinsing off the sanitizer.

Sanitizing

Sanitizing

Use 2 cups of the spring water in a small bowl to rehydrate yeast: heat the water in a microwave to between 104 F to 109 F degrees (use the thermometer for accuracy) and pour half the package of yeast in. No need to stir — we will do that in 15 minutes.

Washington DC trip 229 Washington DC trip 231

Meanwhile, weigh out 3.25 lb of honey in the large mixing bowl. If the honey has crystallized, you can liquefy it by first putting the jug in a warm water bath; do not microwave it. Add about 2 cups of the spring water in and stir it with the spatula; we are simply making the honey easy to pour into the jug.

Washington DC trip 233 Washington DC trip 235 Washington DC trip 238

Pour the honey-water mix into the jug using the funnel. If you are using fruit or spices, now is the time to put them into the honey-water mixture.

Add another 1 cup of the spring water in the mixing bowl, and add your 1 teaspoon of yeast nutrient, and 1 teaspoon of energizer. Stir and pour into the jug with the honey-water mix.

Washington DC trip 243 Washington DC trip 242

By now the yeast has been rehydrated; give it a stir and pour into the jug as well.

Add enough spring water to the honey in the pitcher to bring it up to the 1 gallon mark. Put the rubber stopper on tightly and give the jug a good shaking for five minutes.

The shaking is important for two reasons — it not only homogenizes the mixture, it also aerates it. Which is something the yeasties need. So, while you are shaking, put it down at intervals, take the rubber stopper off a couple times and let the air escape; put the stopper back on and resume shaking.

Shaking the jug to aerate

Shaking the jug to aerate

Put your sanitized airlock on the jug and cap it. Place the jug in a cool dark place in the house where it will lie undisturbed. Label and date the jug. As you can see, we neglected to do this.

Washington DC trip 250 Washington DC trip 249

In a few days, we should see bubbles of aeration arising in the airlock. Then, the bubbles should die down in a couple to three weeks. Will this happen? To be continued….

Update: 6 days later.