A couple of summers back I had a first stab at making mead.
I’d been inspired by a couple of things, most notably a radio programme I’d made about honey with Gruffydd of Mel Gwenyn Gruffydd who lives just the other side of the valley from here.
Gruffydd was a spellbinding contributor to the programme and the way he talked about his raw, wildflower honey quickly reminded me of the natural winemakers I’ve met in the Loire. A sense of wonder, reverence and respect – working with nature rather than trying to batter it into a cheap and convenient form for human consumption. Living with the inconsistencies that each vintage brings and tasting the product of all those immaculate variables from the jar or the bottle – no two vintages alike.
What could be more exciting than that annual journey to a mysterious destination?
I thought about making mead in the same way as the natural winemakers went about their business, curating a natural happening like fermentation rather than controlling it. Mead, it seemed to me, as perhaps the oldest of alcoholic elixirs, might be made that way too. I read up on it a bit and had a crack at a small batch using Gruffydd’s honey and some spring water secured from a friends source. That, plus a handful of organic fruit to give the ferment a kick start was the sum total of the inputs, no chemicals, no added yeast, just these things and time.
It was around six months before I bottled it, the fire and froth of the first ferment had slowed to the point where I could observe the formation of a bubble in the airlock and wait minutes for it to pop and I often did. A few swigs during the decant were enough to tell me that there was something worthwhile here and I hadn’t wasted several kilos of Gruffydd’s honey.
I still have a few bottles of that original brew and I remain amazed at how delicious it is, dry, crisp and more in common with a grape wine than I had anticipated. The idea of scaling things up and maybe making something for more widespread consumption sparked early but it has been a slow ferment in the fog of my muddled brain.
In the cellar of Wright’s about 250 litres is underway right now.
Same process, same source of honey but water from the 40-foot-deep well that remarkably remains within the curtilage of the Georgian coaching in that is our home at Wright’s. This stone cylinder into the underworld will be familiar to some of you that frequented the building in years gone by when, for a while at least, I recall the well being capped by a glass dome, lit and visible to all who passed by on the way to the loos.
That presentation was long gone when we arrived and it’s taken some effort to sort out a system of getting the water to the surface, tested and ready to be introduced to an enormous amount of 2020 honey from Gruffydd.
With my accomplices Ilesh and Tony (Dad) we now have a lively and frankly pretty thrilling open ferment underway in the cellar ready to be sluiced into the most beautiful 54 litre glass demi-johns later this week.
Maybe in 5 months or so we’ll have a first batch for sale.
Maybe it’ll be a failure on a grand scale, but I don’t think so.