The very first time I tried mead, I was hot, sticky, exhausted, and exhilarated. We were finally “on land.”
Back in July 2010, we had just crossed Russia on an 88-hour train journey from Irkutsk to Moscow. We had planned on de-boarding at a little town northeast of Moscow called Vladmir to tour the Golden Ring, until we realized (about 68 hours into this journey) that we were on a train that went south–not north–to get into Moscow. So we arrived in the capital at 6am, and somehow–through sign language, broken Russian, and pointing at an inadequate script in a guidebook–we managed to get to another train station, purchase seats for a train back to Vladmir, get on a bus from Vladmir to the town of Suzdal, and find our hostel.
But Suzdal was a magnificent place to finally land. The tiny walkable town is studded with spires and minarets as there are churches dating as far back as the 11th century. We bought pints of raspberries and bags of fresh pickles from grannies at the farmer’s market and watched kids chase geese and splash in the river.
Sometime before arriving, we’d heard about their famous locally brewed mead. It didn’t take us long to find it (though we were warned to watch out for fakes).
It was such a beautiful drink. I remember a surprising punch of cloves and cinnamon and a really refreshing sweetness. I haven’t tried a mead like it since, including the recipe I am sharing below, but making mead always reminds me of Russia and the feeling of tapping into some folk tradition much older than I.
So here’s our ginger-citrus mead. It’s a *small* nod to Suzdal, but I still want to go back and give theirs another swig.
Homemade Ginger-Citrus Mead
1 two-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 clementines, quartered (or similar quantity of orange)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup of raisins
3.5 lbs. of honey
1 gallon glass carboy (we use an apple cider jug)
Yeast (1 tsp. of bread yeast works fine, though we used Nottingham, a dry beer yeast, for a cleaner, sweeter finish)
Sanitize the carboy, the airlock, and the funnel. Drop the fruit and spices into the carboy.
With the sanitized funnel, pour in your honey.
Top off with water and leave about 2 inches of headspace. Shake up the carboy as best as you can, mixing everything up. This mixes the honey and the water and also aerates the mixture, which helps activate the yeast.
Drop in your yeast. Seal up the carboy with a sanitized airlock. Store it in a cool, dark place and watch it start bubbling.
Here’s the mead after 1 week. You can see that there’s a little bit of bubbly activity at the top and that the mixture is still pretty cloudy.
Over the next few months, the mead will start to clear as the yeast drops to the bottom of the carboy. The mead should be ready in 3-4 months. We let ours sit in a cool dark place for around 5 months. At any rate, when you have a translucent, golden liquid, and see that the yeast has dropped to the bottom, it’s time to rack the mead.
Sanitize a few glass bottles and their caps. We had some resealable bottles and some clean liquor bottles. You could siphon it, or pour it off carefully. We have a siphon, so we used that to fill the bottles, being careful to not let too much yeast slip through.
And here they are: four bottles of liquid sunshine. Our own homemade honey wine.
As I was looking through photos, I realized I had completely forgotten about this:
Yes, this is the evening of our first day in Suzdal. I’d forgotten that our hostel wasn’t even finished yet. We sat on the back deck, amidst construction, playing cards and getting tipsy on mead. Great memory.