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Local Libations: Honey Wine, Part One

2011 September 16

By Sarah A. Maine

Last Friday, when we published Brianna’s recipe for her Melon Melange Margarita, we had unwittingly joined in the celebration of National Honey Month.  Yup, September is the month designated by the National Honey Board to honor all things apian, relating to bees that is.  We hate to miss a party, so we decided to formalize our observation of National Honey Month by using honey in all the Local Libations cocktails throughout September.

Once the celebration was on, I had to bring something to the party, but the question was what?  I am no mixologist, and although I’ve had some happy accidents, I was drawing a blank on building a honey based cocktail.  Just as I was about to turn to the Internet for some help, I realized I needed to go back to basics – I would celebrate National Honey Month by making my first ever batch of honey wine!

CLICK HERE for the full post & recipe.

Since the process takes a couple of weeks, I’ll be splitting my efforts up into two posts.  Today’s post will feature the ‘making of’, and in two weeks (there will be a cocktail break in between) I’ll share the finished product – homemade honey wine.  My guide for this under taking is Wild Fermentation, Sandor Katz’s underground live-culture classic which has slowly bubbled its way into the mainstream food consciousness.

The first phase of making honey wine is incredibly simple: mix honey with water in a large ceramic or plastic container in a ratio of 1 part honey to 4 parts water.  Then cover it with a cloth and let the fermentation process begin.  You create the conditions and then sit back for a few days to see what happens.  I used Ballard’s Wildflower Honey, purchased at their stand at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket.  Ballard’s keeps between 500 and 600 hives in 25 bee yards in Delaware County, NY.

While I was measuring out my honey, watching the golden rope pour into the water, I was struck by the idea that honey is a wild product – made by wild animals, it has wild properties – and yet we have managed to industrialize it along with every other segment of our food system.  Mass production of honey has created an environment in which bees are carted back and forth across long distances to provide “migrant pollination services”, in the process they may be exposed to pesticides, viruses, fungus and GMO crops.

Some or all of these factors contribute to stressful conditions for bees which can, and increasingly do, result in Colony Collapse Disorder, a circumstance in which an entire colony of bees dies off.  I’ve been following the CCD debate for a while, it is often heated and it can be very difficult to keep track of what is going on.  Getting to the root of CCD is an incredibly important issue as honey bees are responsible for pollinating at least one third of food crops in the United States.  Awareness about CCD is rising, complete with celebrity spokespersons and films.  So, while we are celebrating National Honey Month, we should also celebrate the bees by advocating for a safer and more bee-friendly environment.  Healthy bees = healthy people.

Honey Wine – The Making Of – Part 1

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 2-4 weeks
Yield: 6 cups
Tools: 1 gallon ceramic crock or plastic container, measuring cup, spatula, spoon or whisk, clean dishtowel, 1 gallon glass jug, airlock.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups honey
  • 12 cups water

(that’s it!)

Directions

  1. Place the water and the honey in the ceramic crock.
  2. Stir, using a whisk or spoon, until the honey is completely dissolved in the water.
  3. Cover with the towel and set aside for 3-4 days (I used a couple of rubber bands to secure the dish towel).
  4. Stir the mixture at least twice a day (Katz’s directions say “as often as you think of it”).

So this is where I am so far – I have made my honey and water mixture, covered it and set it on my kitchen counter.  I have a spoon standing by, ready to stir.  The idea, and the hope, is that naturally occurring yeast floating around in the air will get a whiff of sweet sweet honey and come on down to join the party.  I’ll know that the yeast is doing it’s job when the mixture becomes bubbly and aromatic.  Then it will be time to move the proto-wine into a glass bottle for the next phase of fermentation.  I’ll bring you all the news from part two of the honey wine making process in two weeks.  For now, keep your fingers crossed that the ornery New York City yeast will come through and get to work fermenting my honey water!

Sarah A. Maine is a Co-Founder & Editor of RecipeRelay, on most Sundays she can be found spreading the good news about organic produce at the Monkshood Nursery farm stand at the Jackson Heights Greenmarket in Queens, NY.  Find her on twitter @smainiac.