Mead Making and Milking the Squirrel

wine rack 002We have a phrase here at the Tropical Homestead. It’s called: Milking the Squirrel. Aside from the disturbing visual it invokes, it has grown to mean a few different things. First it was meant to convey how flash-bang thrilled we were about self-sufficiency. Example: “I just designed and built a wine rack, canned some banana peppers and weeded the garden. I’m so excited I could milk a squirrel!”

IMGP0907As our newborn enthusiasm morphed into something more realistic and sustainable, it came more it became more of a cautionary question regarding effort versus reward. As in: “You want to spend $500 in materials for a greenhouse to protect a banana plant that yields $40 in bananas? Isn’t that kind of like milking a squirrel?”

Then as we eased into our third year of homesteading, setting priorities and finding what we enjoy, the phrase had a more nuanced meaning. One that a more mature and responsible couple would have figured out the first year: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Mead making seems to be falling into the third category. Clay and I never drank mead before we started keeping bees. My brother insisted we must make mead if we had bees. We tried a very expensive bottle from Total Wine and were less than impressed. But we like our wine more than store-bought versions, and we had great year with the bees, so we committed to giving up 9 pounds of honey for a 3 gallon batch.

mead ingredientsI found a recipe from the great mead making site, Storm the Castle for Orange Clover Mead, a recipe that was suggested for a first batch. We had honey, oranges from our tree and a spice rack full of all the fixin’s.

mead pot

The best part about preparing anything for fermentation is the boiling and simmering process. Mead is no different. The combination of oranges, honey, cinnamon and clove was magical, like I was a powerful wizard capable of blocking out all the terrible odors in a Yankee Candle Store to smell a blend of only the most fantastical scents. A powerful wizard, indeed.

 We waited for the oranges to sink to the bottom of the jug which was to signal the completion of fermentation. We waited. And waited. And waited. Our bad-ass oranges weren’t the type to be held down by The Man. So after three and half weeks we just racked and bottled the stuff. It was clear and golden and tasted like honeyed turpentine of the gods. Blech.

grapes 023Fast forward six months. We opened our first bottle last weekend. It was…OK. The base flavor was fine, the color and clarity perfect, but the clove and cinnamon was too much. We’ve had many people tell us to give it more time, but my wine is drinkable after four months AND I don’t have to use 9 pounds of valuable honey to make it. We milked the squirrel.

But we haven’t given up mead making completely. I recently bought a one gallon jug and we plan to use that to experiment on small batches. We also are going to hold onto a few bottles of our first batch to try at a much later date. We’ll keep you posted.

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5 Responses to Mead Making and Milking the Squirrel

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  2. Liz says:

    By all means if you don’t like it, don’t drink it – save it for us! :) I know that whatever is made in this house (no matter what he says it is not mead), it definitely takes a lot longer than 6 months to age properly.

  3. Russ Perry Jr says:

    Mead is definitely a beverage of patience… The trick is to have enough OTHER beverages in ready-to-drink form that you don’t MIND putting that carboy of mead away for 3 years. Seriously, do one with like three parts honey to one part water, mix in some berry juice when you put the yeast in, hide it, and find it 5 years later. It should be fairly awesome!