Melomel is the fermented result of combining honey, fruit and yeast; Cyser is when that fruit is apple. I already had apple pomace (the pulp left over from making cider) and an active cider fermentation using an expensive yeast: VR 21. It says it’s $3.95 per packet, but the the time it gets to your door it’s closer to $10, and $10 saved is $10 earned. Furthermore, I had some old honey that looked a little dark and funky, an extra carboy, the press was still dirty with apple leavings, and the pomace handy. The recipe is in italics.
Poured water on the pomace (there was about 30 pounds of it) until it seemed appropriately wet and sloppy, added a rounded tablespoon of pectic enzyme — in the hopes it would help break down the cell walls and release more juice — and left it to work for an hour. (I would have preferred two, but it was getting dark outside.) Put the apple slop back into the press and extracted the liquid.
I put added 12 quarts of water to the pomace, and obtained 8.5 quarts of diluted sweet apple cider out, likely because:
- I was impatient. It had been a long day with the apples (if the apple trees produce next year I will certainly buy a fruit grinder!), and it was getting dark. To extract the sweet cider from the apples I had filled the press halfway, squished out what I could, and the finished filling it for the second pressing. This time I just chucked it all in there.
- I put in too much water; a lot of liquid was coming out of the top of the press.
The resulting solution tasted more strongly of apples than I expected, almost like regular apple juice.
Put apple solution into a carboy, and added 2 cups of the cider ferment with the very actively growing yeast. In this way this second batch was made with free yeast. Within a few hours the water-lock was showing increasing pressure inside the carboy, and so the yeasts were happy in their new home.
So, a couple of things about mead and honey. All mead recipes call for using pristine honey, but I don’t do that and I don’t think Medieval mead makers did, either. The Langstroth Hive was patented in 1852, with the familiar boxes filled with frames. Prior to this skeps (woven baskets) and gums (hollow logs) were used to keep bees.
As you can see, one huge difference is the orderliness of the honey comb. In the Langstroth hive the vast majority of bee keepers use queen excluders to keep the egg laying operations distinctly separate from honey storage. I don’t, because I like to let the bees be free to manage their own affairs as much as possible, as I think this lead to healthier hives. The result is that sometimes these two activities — rearing young and honey production — have a bit of overlap. Meaning that small, microscopic bits of insect can be in the honey. This honey will have an off smell, and look dark. (Dark honey, such as buckwheat honey, created with a queen excluder in place is perfectly fine, so don’t worry about buying dark honey.)
“Throw it out!” you may say. Well, but, this is where Medieval mead makers and Irish moss come into play. Skeps and bee gums don’t have queen excluders, now do they?
Before the Langstroth hive, bees were encouraged to swarm and catching the swarms was a very big deal because the way value was obtained from bees was to totally kill off some of the hives. The wax, typically sold to churches, was where most of the profit was obtained. That left dead bees, brood, pollen, clear honey and funky honey. I suspect the first two were used to feed chickens or hogs. It’s my theory that the funky honey went into mead, and here’s why. Irish moss sounds cool, doesn’t it? Well, it’s seaweed, and it makes a fairly stable foam as it reacts with protein, and that would be those microscopic bee bits. When someone selling mead brags about the use of Irish moss, they are either using honey that needs to have proteins removed, or they are simply using the words because they sound cool. Irish moss used on clean honey, or on fruit juices, doesn’t do anything.
Once, when driving with the kids to Ocean City, eager for beach and water, we pulled off along the shore in Delaware, just south from the Delaware bay, which is evidently the dumping ground for nastiness from Philadelphia and New Jersey. The tide was going out. Foam was in solid lines, parallel to the waves, starting higher on the beach and extending all the way down to the water. The foam higher up was brown, shrunken and quite firm, while that closer to the receding waves was tan and about 4 inches tall. Plus, it smelled rotten. We did not go into that disgusting water. Luckily the gulf stream took that mess northward before it hit Ocean City, where the foam sparkled briefly and vanished as all good sea-foam should. The seaweed in the Delaware ocean waters is probably showing the same properties as Irish moss, but Delaware seaweed doesn’t have the same cachet.
Mixed a quart of dark suspect honey and 4 quarts of water with one rounded teaspoon of Irish moss and brought it to a boil. There was some foam, but nothing like the Delaware beach foam. I strained this out and let the mixture cool over night. Added 1 quart of water.
You may think that honey made from funky honey will naturally taste bad. The unfortunate fact is, mead tastes weird, and not in a good way, no matter what honey is used. Mixing it with fruit helps, and letting it age at least two years is critical, but I have not noticed any difference between using clean honey or funky honey treated with Irish moss. The Irish moss works; that’s why it’s kind of famous.
Mead is made from honey mixed with water, typically in a 1:7 or 1:8 ratio. Because the apple juice was diluted with water, I used a 1:6 ratio. I will use my calibrated taste buds 😉 to see if adjustments are needed near the end of the fermentation. If it’s too dry, I can add honey (or if I’m feeling lazy, sugar). If it’s too heavy and sweet, this means the yeast is likely dying-off from alcohol poisoning — if caught in time, adding water will reduce the alcohol content and reinvigorate the yeast.
Mixed in one tablespoon of Penzeys apple pie seasoning, and two cups of lemonade into the honey solution, and then strained it and poured it into the apple solution with the happy yeast.
Now the yeast is ecstatic, and the carboy is bubbling along in a cheery state. The carboy in back is the cider; the one in front is the cyser. The one in the far back is a malt-dark cherry wine that is pretty darned good and ready to bottle.