First Mead

18 March 2016

Well, after many years of talking about it with a friend, I finally did it. Brewed my own mead, I did.

For years I’ve joked around with a friend, Bob (no kidding), about wanting to try mead, not finding it anywhere, and about brewing our own. I’m not talking about one or two years, I’m talking something like 7 or more years. We’d joke about it or talk about it seriously, but neither of us really did anything.

Until now.

Why mead? Because I have an interest in Vikings and…well…um, maybe that’s all the reason, really. Honestly, I can’t think of any other reason now that I try. Drinking horns and all that, you know?

So, back in December I went online looking for brewing tips, processes, whatever specifically for mead. What I found out was that it’s ridiculously simple to brew a basic honey mead. Water, honey, yeast, and above all time. That’s it, really.

I only wanted to brew a gallon, just to see how it went, and not jump in with a 5 gallon batch to begin. So, I went looking for what seemed to me the most important piece of gear…a glass gallon jug. They say online you can brew in a plastic pail or jug, but I decided to go with glass. Brewing in plastic just didn’t seem right. Actually, two gallon glass jugs, for reasons that will be evident later.

I had thought it would be easy enough to find a one gallon glass jug. Apple juice or the like, right? Not around here, apparently. I wound up buying two gallons of the cheapest wine I could find. I was going to dump them down the drain just for the glass jugs, but wound up transferring the contents to plastic gallon milk jugs. It may have been cheap wine, but it turned out to actually still be good drinking.

So, now I had my two one gallon glass jugs. Scrounging around, I found pretty much everything else I needed to mix up the must (technical term for the initial honey and water mixture) and consign it to a gallon jug.

After sterilizing the jug and the funnel to be used, I was ready to start brewing. The total contents of the mead must were somewhere north of three quarts of purified water, two pounds of honey, and a packet of yeast. I heated some of the water and mixed in the honey, itself heated up to flow easier. When that was thoroughly mixed, I poured it into the glass jug. Then I added the yeast to some warm water, mixed it thoroughly, and added that to the jug. Finally, I topped off the gallon with remaining room temperature water and made sure it was all mixed thoroughly.

And so, on the 7th of December, 2015, I had brewed my first batch of honey mead.

First batch of honey mead.

First batch of honey mead.

The balloon is my airlock, to allow carbon dioxide to vent but not allow oxygen or other impurities back into the must. Before attaching the balloon to the bottle, I ran a sterilized needle through one side, creating a small pinhole. The pressure building up will inflate the balloon and at a certain point will open the pinhole enough for the pressure to vent and re-close the pinhole. Simple and elegant. Then I stored it in a dark, comfortable location: under the computer table, back in a corner. That keeps it out of the way, out of the light, and in a steady, temperate zone good for the yeast. As you can see by the inflated balloon, fermentation has started.

First batch of honey mead stored away and fermenting. Note the simple airlock, a latex balloon with a pinhole.

First batch of honey mead stored away and fermenting. Note the simple airlock, a latex balloon with a pinhole.

A little over a month later, on 10 January 2016, I did what’s called racking. In this, you transfer the liquid from one glass jug to the other, leaving the dregs behind. Oh, and the glass jug is called a carboy. I put the full jug on the counter and used a clear plastic tube and some suction to siphon out the mead into the other jug sitting on the floor. Both the empty jug and the tube were sterilized prior to use. You need to be careful the tube doesn’t suck up the dregs at the bottom of the full jug. I have no pictures of that, unfortunately. I did make a slight mess while getting the mead to flow through the tube and transferring the free end of the tube into the glass jug on the floor. Once that was done, then a fresh balloon with pinhole was installed and the newly filled jug returned to the storage spot.

After letting that sit and ferment for another month, 11 February 2016 was bottling day. On the 9th I completely vented the balloon and left it on to see if it was still fermenting or had stopped. If it was still fermenting, I was going to leave it and check each week. Over the next two days the balloon didn’t re-inflate much, so the afternoon of the 11th I assumed it had stopped fermenting and got ready to bottle.

I like the re-usable clamping bottles and jars, so earlier I had gone looking for such bottles to use. Eventually I found some nice, thick bottles of lemonade at the local International Market. The lemonades were different flavors so I tried a couple. They weren’t bad, and being on sale at $2.79 or so per bottle, they were a good price for the kind of bottles I was looking for.

Everything assembled for bottling.

Everything assembled for bottling.

Remembering the mess from racking, I wanted a cleaner way to get the honey mead from the glass jug into the bottles. I knew that otherwise I’d make a mess every time I swapped out the filled bottle for an empty one. Fortunately I discovered my wife had a plastic water/lemonade/whatever dispensing jug, so with permission I decided to use that as an intermediate step.

Everything sterilized and ready to bottle...almost. Not enough height for me.

Everything sterilized and ready to bottle…almost. Not enough height for me.

First, of course, everything, tube, bottles, plastic jug, all had to be sterilized. Boiling water took care of that quite nicely. Then came bottling and I had to figure out how to rack the mead from the glass gallon jug into the plastic gallon jug with the valved spout. Ingenuity and sheer insanity came to the rescue. It ain’t pretty, probably not the steadiest way, but hey, it worked!

Bottling started, got enough height now.

Bottling started, got enough height now.

 

Almost done with transfer to plastic jug. Note the dregs at the bottom. Far less dregs than when first racked.

Almost done with transfer to plastic jug. Note the dregs at the bottom. Far less dregs than when first racked.

Once it was racked into the plastic jug, getting the mead into the individual bottles was simplicity. Doing it this way also had the advantage of getting rid of the dregs that had formed on the bottom of the glass jug after the initial racking a month ago.

So much cleaner than trying to use the tube for each bottle!

So much cleaner than trying to use the tube for each bottle!

 

First bottle done!

First bottle done!

I got more than I expected from this one initial gallon of basic honey mead. I expected to lose some through racking so I had figured four bottles would be enough. Silly me. I should have checked what size the bottles were or something. Clearly they aren’t quart sized.

Complete output: four bottles and almost two full glasses of honey mead.

Complete output: four bottles and almost two full glasses of honey mead.

 

Bottled and labeled. One glass left to sample.

Bottled and labeled. One glass left to sample.

At least it gave me an excuse to sample it. I had to do something with the two glasses of mead, right? It’d certainly be a shame to toss it, and I was curious about how it would taste. It turned out I like it. I also found out it had more punch than a bottle of beer.

My readings and web search had led me to a site that mentioned how to tell what “grade” of mead you had by the clarity, among other factors. You test clarity by trying to read newsprint through the liquid. As you can see from these pictures, it’s clear enough to read. The pictures don’t do justice, but you really could just make out the small text and read it. The final picture at the bottom of this blog entry actually shows the clarity best. To be honest, I have no idea if that means this is a good brewed mead or just that it came out right. I’ve no idea what the original Viking mead looked like, anyway. I got my mead!

You can see the text, it just didn't photograph well.

You can see the text, it just didn’t photograph well.

 

A little better example of clarity, the text is more visible in this photograph.

A little better example of clarity, the text is more visible in this photograph.

 

One more shot through the glass at some fine print.

One more shot through the glass at some fine print.

I wanted feedback on this basic honey mead, so I handed out the bottles to a select bunch of people. The feedback was interesting, to say the least.

I’d tasted it right after bottling, since clearly I had two glasses of mead and no fifth bottle. As I said, I liked it. It was different, a little dry, had a definite alcohol content, and had a kind of grassy aftertaste, much like a freshly cut yard smells.

The feedback I got was across the spectrum, from ugh to swoon.

My wife smelled it and had no desire to even taste it. I talked her into taking a sip and she didn’t like it.

Bob said it was like a fine white wine, which really surprised him. He tried it first at room temperature, liked it, and then a week later tried it chilled. With the chilled version, he filled a 6 ounce glass with cold mead and dropped in a tablespoon of honey. The honey clumped and fell to the bottom of the glass due to the coldness of the mead. He didn’t stir it but instead let the drinking motions roll it around. Result: the mead was sweeter with each drink and that last little bit of honey in the bottom of the glass was the nectar of the gods.

Out of curiosity, and because of the other feedback I got, I asked him to try a second bottle to see if there was any difference between bottles. The engineer in me says there shouldn’t be, and the engineer in me says it needs to be verified. Unfortunately, it’s been a couple weeks since he finished the first bottle, and I have no idea what the extra time is going to do. I’m not sure the comparison will be valid now.

My daughter said it tasted like it needed to have sat bottled for a while, as if it hadn’t finished fermenting. There was a slight refilling of the balloon in the two days leading up to bottling, but not enough to fully re-inflate to the level in the picture above of the jug stored away.

Her husband said it wasn’t bad, but that he preferred beer and doesn’t care for wine. He also said he’d had better home-brewed beer. Mead ain’t beer or wine, buster.😉 No mention of it not being completely fermented.

My daughter’s sister-in-law said that when she smelled it, it gave her nose a yeast infection. Smart ass. Nothing about taste, so I guess she didn’t taste it after smelling it. Another mark in the not finished column.

I’m still waiting on the feedback on the remaining two bottles. They’ve been sitting over a month longer, so I suspect the result is going to be different than earlier results would have shown anyway.

I’ve already just started my second batch.

Second batch of simple honey mead ready to store away.

Second batch of simple honey mead ready to store away.

This time I’m doing two different batches, brewed a week apart. The first is a repeat of this simple honey mead for process verification and the second will be a peach melomel, or a honey mead with fruit added. I’m adding peaches at the start, as opposed to after fermentation. Doing them a week apart, I only need to get one more glass gallon jug for racking. I can rack the first batch into the new jug, clean the used jug. Then a week later, I’ll rack the second batch into the now empty jug.

I’m also going to do two rackings, each a month apart, so this will take me three months instead of two before bottling. That should be better able to ensure that the mead fermentation completes, or completes even more. It’ll be interesting to see what difference, if any, this makes.

And yes, I did get more bottles. I found nine of these at a local thrift shop at 99 cents apiece.

New, beer-bottle like bottles. Still with my favorite clamp system for capping.

New, beer-bottle like bottles. Still with my favorite clamp system for capping.

Uh, oh. Be right back.

Whew! I just filled and measured one with water. I got nine and they’re each a pint, 16 fluid ounces. There’s eight pints to a gallon. So I’m set. I do plan to get a couple more lemonade bottles, though, just in case. I clearly need at least one more, so two should do nicely. Then I can do each gallon into three big clear bottles and the rest in the smaller brown. Any left that won’t completely fill a small bottle gets drunk by the brewmeister, me, on the spot.

I'm happy with the result. Note the clarity in this picture!!

I’m happy with the result. Note the clarity in this picture!!

Pa’adhe Sails Again

17 February 2016

After a long hiatus, I’ve begun writing another tale of the Pa’adhe. This resumption in writing includes an interesting discovery about both my writing and my personality. Or at least of my writing preferences.

Maybe a month ago, I felt the urge to write a new blog entry. I actually sat down and over two days wrote an update on my Vardo project. I even went so far as to identify the various photos I wanted to include and to revise the post several times. Then, rather than post it and the pictures, because I wasn’t quite ready yet and I was having trouble finding my albums on Google Plus with their new layout, I let it slide. So, I have that post ready, but just haven’t felt like finishing it and actually posting.

Then a couple of weeks back, I was drifting off to sleep and a new Pa’adhe story began to form in my mind. Excited by the story and unable to sleep, I got up about 12:30 AM, logged into the computer, and began typing it in.

By 2:30 AM I had finished writing the opening and crawled back into bed. I had written about 500 words of the new story and about 250 words in a new Encyclopedia entry providing background to the people of the story. 750 words plus a little bit of back and forth tweaking.

Now, when I had stopped writing about a year ago, I had been trying to write a story providing Scarle’s background. I had gotten as far as 1,870 words, and then I just quit writing. I didn’t know why, but I just suddenly had no urge to write either blog or story.

So, what changed?

Interestingly enough, nothing. My subconscious solved a problem with Scarle’s story that I didn’t even realize existed, until now.

When I started writing this new story, I hadn’t figured out this part yet, but it include a visit to the Sea Gypsies for help. Part of my writing is intuitive, and it was here that I realized I could pull in Scarle’s history as a way of furthering the Captain’s journey to…well, I’ll not reveal where yet.

In hindsight, after I decided to pull in Scarle’s already written background into this new story and so provide, finally, history on all four main characters in Tales of the Pa’adhe, I realized what had happened and why I hadn’t been writing for so long.

At least I think I know what happened.

You see, if you read my other posts on the Pa’adhe stories, you know I write by coming up with an idea, that I write by the seat of my pants, and it is my characters that dictate what happens, not this author. That’s how I describe my writing style, and I know it’s not truly the characters, but my subconscious directing what gets written. But it’s more fun to say the characters take over.

In writing Scarle’s story the way I did, my characters didn’t like it being done that way and rebelled. I had been writing it not as part of a story, but as if merely sitting down with his family and visiting. That just didn’t fit and as soon as I had the basics down, the Captain and crew decided not to co-operate any further on that story. For each of the other characters, if you read the Tales of the Pa’adhe listed on the right of this blog page, you see that their three backgrounds came out in the course of solving a problem. Scarle’s was being presented as a mere family get-together and that just wasn’t my usual style. I had actually been writing Scarle’s background just to provide the fourth crew member’s background and for no other reason. It just didn’t fit with the structure of the other Pa’adhe tales or the way I write and clearly I recognized that, at least subconsciously.

Now this part I’m guessing at, but it seems to match my personality and how I dealt with the other time this happened. When I am blocked like this, I don’t want to work on any other writing until I get this fixed. Apparently, if I have an unfinished writing task, working on some other writing is just something I don’t want to do.

Wait, that’s not completely true, so maybe it’s related to the size or type of problem. If I’m just having a wordsmithing problem, I have no problem taking a break and working on something else. But when it’s something fundamentally wrong like this, a major structural issue that looks complete but isn’t, something that my subconscious calls a halt to, then all writing shuts down.

The interesting discovery I made about myself is that apparently if I’m not true to the structure of my tales, I won’t finish the tale. This is actually the second time this has happened, but it’s only now that I think I understand what happened both times. My subconscious, aka the Captain and crew, recognized that while what I was writing was something I needed, I was going about telling it the wrong way. Thus, my writing got hijacked until I figured out how to make it fit the proper structure. The previous time, I had about half the story written before I tossed it. I still have the story, as is, but it’s since been incorporated into one of the other tales and indeed gets presented much better that way than the original writing.

I think this time it took much longer because shortly after I hit the wall on Scarle’s background tale I also entered the stressful period of prepping for retirement. Then after that, I focused on building my Vardo for a while, actually getting the construction started. Then came the various holidays and a certain amount of ennui.

A couple of weeks back the Captain and crew decided enough was enough and started a new tale, one that would allow me to pull in Scarle’s background story. It’s a story that makes that background relevant to not only the question of who Scarle is and where he came from, but also provides some more history of the Sea Gypsies. Then I can use that to let the Captain…but I get ahead of myself. That tale is not yet complete and though I have an idea where it’s going, I don’t yet know the details so I better not say anything.

Besides, I know the Captain and crew of the Pa’adhe will hijack the storyline if I do and take it somewhere else. And I want to see…um, never mind.

The weather is starting to get good again, albeit not yet stable, so I will be working on the Vardo once more. Soon I will actually post that already written blog detailing the work thus far.

The time spent on the Vardo build and exploring the Owyhees as the weather improves may cut into my writing time. However, the Captain, Xinu, Scarle, and Cook are insistent that I tell this new tale so I feel that I’m back, writing-wise, and that the Pa’adhe is indeed once again sailing.

Fair winds and a following sea!

A Return to Camping

20 August 2015

It has been almost since my kids were born, around 35 years, since the last time I’ve actually done what I would call camping. I’ve been out and spent the night in a tent or in the car, as you’ve seen in my other posts and pictures, particularly the astrophotography posts. But it’s been decades since I’ve actually gone camping as in the family going up in the hills and spending the weekend in a campground.

That’s what we did this last weekend. And that’s when I discovered just how much I missed it. The really cool thing about it, though, is my wife even said how much she enjoyed it. That gives me even more motivation to get the Vardo done.

So, on to the camping….

We left Friday morning and headed up, planning to go to Warm Lake and stay in one of the campgrounds there called Shoreline. We stopped at the gas station south of Cascade to get some treats and so found out about the Cougar fire in the area. For those unfamiliar with “Cougar fire” and the like, fires in the US NW are usually named after a creek, mountain, or other geographical landmark in the area and this one was named after Cougar Creek. We called the lodge for a status, discussed the situation and decided to go on in to Warm Lake if we could. On the way in we saw some side roads off Warm Lake Road that were blocked off, including one with the sheriff sitting there to keep people out but still keep it open for the firefighters to access the Cougar fire.

The Shoreline campground was full when we got there, which didn’t really surprise me. Around here, during the summer, unless you reserve a campsite in advance, some places a year in advance, it’s hit or miss whether you’ll be able to stay in any particular campground. However, we had noticed a really nice campsite along the road to the campground, and wound up staying there with room for all of us in “one” spot: my daughter’s family (7), my son’s family (4), my sister-in-law and one of her sons (2), and my wife and I. Fifteen of us in one camper and three tents, as you can see in the picture below. No services, just campsites, but it was a few minutes walk to the lake and outhouses and water was available at the lodge just a few minutes away by car so it was really pretty convenient. Happily, the temperatures were cooler there than at home, as well.

A full circle panorama showing the campsite in the woods with the trailer, tents, hammock, trees, road.

Campsite panorama

We set up a canopy over our tables near the firepit and that served as our kitchen for the weekend. The firepit was our communal center. And of course, we had a hammock to relax in, when we could get the kids to quit playing in it.

Shows the yellow canopy we set up over the white camp tables with my daughter and her husband by them and my wife in the hammock in the foreground, playing a game on her phone.

The kitchen and the hammock.

Naturally, since it is camping after all, both nights had campfires and S’mores. We also cooked a few trout and hot dogs over the fire. One of the funny highlights was when my nephew roasted six marshmallows on his trident and crammed them between full-sized Graham crackers on top of a bar of Hershey’s Chocolate. Boy, was that one huge, messy S’more! I wish I had a picture of that to include here.

SHows a little red flatbed trailer, 4' by 8', with wooden side rails behind a blue Geo Tracker. Grey tarp creates a dome over the rails to provide a sleeping area.

The little red trailer rigged for sleeping in.

We even managed to jury-rig a small “camper” out of a utility trailer, some tent poles, and bungie cords. For a cot we had a reclining camp chair. The railing at the back was removed to provide access.

We had a blast! It was a really dusty campsite and also smokey from the Cougar fire two to three miles west of us. Because of the fire, either a sheriff or firefighter would come by each evening to advise us of road conditions. Friday night, the sheriff said we didn’t have to evacuate, but he wasn’t sure that he would personally remain camping in the area. We discussed that and decided that if we had to leave, they’d come by and let us know, so we stayed put. The next evening we learned that the fire had jumped the road and so the road was currently closed. The next morning it was opened up again, so even with the fire related conditions, we actually had a really good time and no problems getting back out Sunday afternoon.

Dutch oven cooking was supper Saturday. My son fixed up a chicken stew around noon and we maintained coals and fire throughout the day.

12" Dutch oven in coals in fire pit with lid off showing chicken stew comprised of 1" pieces of corn on the cob, baby carrots, chopped onion, chopped potatoes.

Dutch oven chicken stew

Paper plate in my lap loaded with chicken stew as described in previous picture.

Chicken stew served up! YUM!

Shows tripod created from long poles found in the area over the fire pit with a 12" Dutch oven hanging from a hook made from a small stick. Also shows other 12" Dutch oven in coals to side of fire pit. Chairs in background around the fire pit with the little red trailer and Geo Tracker in the background.

Field assembled tripod with proper lashing at top and a field made hook for the Dutch oven and coffee pot to hang from.

This was the first time in about 50 years that I made a tripod and only the third hook I made. It worked really well and we even used it for coffee in the morning. We did have one problem with the Dutch ovens that we initially blamed on the tripod: the bail on the one hanging from the tripod apparently got pulled out of shape. We couldn’t lay it over and just lift up the lid, we had to slide the lid out the side. Later, when cleaning up we discovered we’d swapped the lids when we prepped and put the food in the Dutch ovens. When we switched the lids, the bails on both ovens worked just fine. Now we know what to check next time.

Playing in the lake, Saturday, I discovered muscles I hadn’t used for decades. For that matter, I only survived three swings on the rope before I was afraid I couldn’t hang on for the next one. Come the next morning, I found I had sore muscle under the sternum and my underarms. It was a good feeling, though, and made even better when I realized I had gained back another notch in my belt by the end of the weekend.

Rocky ground with a big crack in the rock. Red Bocce ball in the crack.

That was NOT where he wanted it to stop!

One of the games we played was introduced by my nephew: Cross Country Bocce. We only played to 5 points per game, and we got a real workout. The rules were simple: start from one point and the person going first throws (yes, throws, not tosses!) the little white target ball anywhere they want. Then he or she throws his Bocce ball (one per person playing) to try to get closest to the white ball he just threw. Then the person that threw the white ball has to go find it and point out to the rest of just where the white ball was. Sometimes we could see it on the ground, but a lot of the time we couldn’t and had to try and guess what was there to deflect our balls into the right spot. Whoever gets closest (and sometimes that’s a couple of feet or more away) gets the point and throws the white ball for the next round. Repeat until someone has 5 points. With all the rocks and trees, there was no guarantee that the white ball or your Bocce ball would go where you aimed. After all, that little white ball fits between trees better, for one thing and bounces off rocks more. So we were up hills, through brush, on the road, and watching our balls roll or carom all over the place as we tried to allow for slope, rocks, trees, bushes, and so on.

Little target ball and several red, blue, yellow, grey Bocce balls on the ground around a tree. Ground is covered with twigs, sticks, rocks of assorted sizes.

One of the very few times most everyone got to the white ball.

The above is one of the few times most of the balls were clustered around the white ball. It is a picture of the type of ground cover we were playing in, too! One of the throws of the white ball was hilarious: It hit a tree, bounced off to hit a tree close by, bounced off that second tree back to the first, rebounded back to the second, once again off that back to the first…I think there were five or six bounces between the two trees before it fell to the ground. Kind of like a Japanese Pachinko game, I think. There were many more hilarious throws, too, but this one was particularly funny.

Shows my son bent over his son's shoe taping the front half back together with silver duct tape after he walked the sole off. Granddaugther stands to the side watching.

Thank heavens for duct tape!

We had at least one casualty that required major treatment. Fortunately, there was some duct tape to hand and we were able to properly ensure the continuity of the weekend. As a matter of fact, when we left for home the next afternoon, this shoe was still going strong after playing all over the place in the rocks, hills, sticks, and riding bikes.

Like I said, we all had a blast and we’re looking forward to more camping. I’m eager to get the Vardo done and get out camping with it.