The wild blackberry bush in the alleyway behind my apartment was heavy with fruit this weekend, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for mead-making. Mead is wine fermented out of honey instead of grapes. Archeologists have found evidence of mead dating back to 7,000 BCE in northern China.I had never made mead before, but I knew my friend Jason Hovatter, an urban homesteader and professional shoemaker, had gallons of homemade mead fermenting in his kitchen. Fortunately, he was free Sunday afternoon.
It took us a little over an hour to pick four pounds of blackberries. We collected them from the alleyway and from another bush growing on the edge of a quiet parking lot. After rinsing off our berry-stained hands, we went to Jason’s house, where we mashed the berries in a bucket with a big stick (as you see me doing above) until the skins had all burst.
Meanwhile, we boiled a gallon of water on the stove. We then turned the heat off, waited for the water to cool down a bit, and poured in the berries to kill any bacteria and release the sugar. We let the mixture steep for half an hour. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, but can still pasteurize down to 180 degrees.
We measured out three pounds of honey and stirred it into the warm berry/water mix. Three pounds of honey in one gallon of water makes a wine with 12% alcohol.Jason got the honey for free from a student who bartered with him in exchange for a shoemaking class.
We turned the heat back on at a low setting and let the mixture simmer for an hour.
Next, we poured the mixture from the pot into a mesh bag and used tongs to squeeze and strain the liquid into a large plastic bucket Jason had sanitized with boiling water.
Finally, we plugged the top with a little device called a bubbler that allows the carbon dioxide to escape as the yeast do their work. We put a little hot water in the top of the tube to block bacteria in the air from getting into the liquid below. Jason waited for the mixture to cool overnight before adding half a packet of champagne yeast he got from a brew store.
The most active part of the fermentation process will happen within the first week. After three to four weeks, we’ll switch the mixture to another glass jug to separate it from the dead yeast that will have accumulated on the bottom. Then the liquid will ferment for another three months before it’s ready to drink.
Blackberries get a bad rap, but share this post to show what happens when you embrace them!