Excellent 2016 Cyser Melomel Recipe

Melomel is a fruit-mead combination, and in Cyser the fruit is specifically apples:  an Apple-Honey Fermented Beverage.  I used honey from my own hives and apples from my trees.  The apples had been pressed to make cider, but the left-over pulp seemed to have a lot of apple umph left, so I added water to it and pressed it again.  I used VR21 yeast from an ongoing active cider fermentation process (turning cider into hard cider).  This yeast is supposed to conserve more of a fruit’s flavor, and so far I’ve been happy with the results.  I started this batch of Cyser on 9/11/16, and bottled it on 11/6/16, ending up with 17 bottles.


Apple Part:

  • 8.5 quarts second pressing from cider pulp (added 12 quarts water to 30# of pulp – this was too much)
  • Added 2 cups of active cider ferment (yeast V21)

Honey Part:

  • 1 quart dark honey (not quite right)
  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 rounded teaspoon Irish moss
  • Boiled and skimmed off foam.  Let cool overnight.

Combined Apple Part and Honey Part, 1 quart water, 2 cups lemonade and 1 table spoon Penszy’s apple pie seasoning.

9/26 – bubbling had stopped but the mixture was cloudy.  Added 1 t pectic enzyme and mixed up (pectic enzyme breaks down cell walls, and I hoped it would do that in the floating particulates so they could be eaten by the yeast and then settle, which seemed to happen).

10/23 – Cleared and settled.

Pleasant mild taste (no distinct apple pie or lemon flavor); didn’t seem to have a high alcohol content.  No need to age in spite of the honey which was a wonderful and unexpected result.


Drambuie Recipe

Homemade Drambuie in a reused bottle
Homemade Drambuie

Drambuie Experiment #2 was a blazing success.  The recipe below is very close to Drambuie and is absolutely excellent.  I used my own raw honey in it, and I’m of the opinion it’s every bit as good as the much hyped heather honey in Drambuie!  The beverage, like Drambuie, is 80 proof (40% alcohol).


  • 1.75 liter (L) Chivas Regal Scotch (blended)
  • 1.75 L 151 Everclear (75.5% alcohol)
  • 1.75 L raw honey
  • 5 rounded tablespoons Fennel seed

(One liter is about a quart)

Mix the alcohol.  Crush the fennel seed in a mortar and pestle and add to the alcohol mixture.  Bottle with as little head-space as possible and leave for three days; invert mixture daily.  Then strain out the fennel seed and mix in the honey.  Mix the alcohol in in small amounts until the honey loosens up enough to add to the bulk of the alcohol.  Bottle with as little head-space as possible.  Mine is a little cloudy, and if this is a concern:  (1) siphon the alcohol mix off of the fennel instead of straining it (with straining fine particulates always get through), and (2) use refined honey.

It’s a pretty simple recipe — much easier than Limoncello — and the cost is much less than buying Drambuie.

750 ml of Drambuie costs about $35.

This recipe will cost about $12/750 ml bottle if the honey is free:

  • 1.75 L of blended Chivas Regal Scotch costs about $55.
  • 1.75 L of 151 Everclear costs about $30.
  • With the honey, this recipe will make about 5.25 L:  7 bottles.
  • ($30 + $50)/5.25*0.75 = $12.  If you pay for the honey, every $14 (the cost for the needed amount of Sue Bee honey at Walmart) will add $2 per 750 ml bottle.
  • Total savings:  ($35-$12)*7 = $161

At 80 proof it will keep forever, and will make nice presents for your adult friends!





(Bourbon) Drambuie Experiment #1 — UPDATED

drambuieUPDATE: True Drambuie starts with a honey flavor, ends with a clean licorice flavor and is underpinned throughout with mild whisky.  What I made had a slight new flavor, and the bourbon knocked out the licorice finish.  While very nice on ice, not what I was aiming for.  Expect to post Experiment #2 by 10/29.

Drambuie is an 80 proof Scottish liqueur made from Chivas Regal Scotch, honey and a secret blend of herbs, that costs about $35 for 750 ml.  It’s very tasty, and since I have honey, I decided to try to replicate it or at least make something similar that is equally tasty.

Most “Drambuie” recipes call for a lot of rosemary, and some also have fennel seed as an ingredient.  When I taste Drambuie I taste only non-peaty scotch, honey and fennel, so I went light on the rosemary.  As for the alcohol, I used Evan Williams 1783 bourbon, which is 43% alcohol, or 86 proof.  Fine Scotch costs so much because it’s imported, and I think bourbon is superior.  1783 is not top-shelf bourbon, but it’s very palatable and reasonably priced.  Since the honey is free, this would result in a liqueur costing 25 percent of the cost of Drambuie.  On the other hand, the Bourbon Drambuie will be 32% alcohol instead of 40%.  Below is the recipe I used:

  • 750 ml Evan Williams 1783 bourbon
  • 1 1/3 cups honey
  • 1 rounded tablespoon fennel seed, coarsely chopped in a blender
  • 1 teaspoon (chopped and pressed down) fresh rosemary

Put the honey and herbs in the bowl first, and then slowly add a little bourbon at a time and whisk.  When the honey’s loose enough for easy mixing, add the rest of the bourbon.  Put the mixture into a quart-sized jar for aging.  As luck would have it, it won’t all fit :).  Strain the remainder and put in a glass with some ice-cubes and enjoy.  Add the strainer leavings to the quart jar and seal.

I’m gong to leave it sit for a month or two to ensure the fennel and rosemary flavors make their way into the liqueur.

The fresh remnants were lovely and I have high hopes for the final result.  My husband thought it was very good, but that the bourbon was a little strong.  I agreed, and thought that was a very fine thing.

2016 Cyser Melomel

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.

dscn0984Poured 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.

langstrath-hive   bee-skep-image-full-size   skep-2   Page, T. C. 1972. Voices of Moccasin Creek. School of the Ozarks Press, Point Lookout, Missouri. 446 pages.   gum-2

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.