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Local Libations: Honey Wine, Part Two

2011 September 30

By Sarah A. MaineReady-for-Honey-Wine-phase-two

Sunnyside, NY – A couple of weeks ago I shared the first phase of making Honey Wine.  I mixed local wildflower honey with water and allowed it to sit for several days in a ceramic crock covered by a clean dish cloth.  At least twice a day I removed the cloth and stirred the mixture.  Right when I started my project, the tempreature shifted drastically – from summer to fall – consequently the initial fermentation process was also slowed.  Instead of taking only two days to develop a thriving yeast culture, my proto-wine (as I have taken to calling it) took five.  It wasn’t until late in the third day that I could really tell something was happening – a sweetly sour aroma had developed and a little island of yeast gathered on the surface.

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Stirring the proto-wine is a very important step, it keeps mold from growing on the surface of your yeast culture (yuck!).  Twice a day should do it but according to Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, more won’t hurt.  After five days my yeast culture was going strong and tiny bubbles were forming – tangible evidence of fermentation!

I decided the time was ripe (pun intended!) to move my proto-wine into bottles for the second phase of fermentation.  I ladled the liquid into two clean wine bottles, filling any empty space with a 1 to 4 mixture of water and honey.  I live in Sunnyside, Queens, not a neighborhood that is known for its craft brewing stores, or craftiness of any kind actually.  We do however have more dollar stores than we know what to do with.  I went down to the one nearest my house and scoured the party aisle (sandwiched in among kitchen utensils and back to school supplies) to find some latex balloons.  According to Katz a balloon will work as a handy substitute for a more sophisticated air lock.  I outfitted my bottles with their fancy silver headgear and set them on the kitchen counter to wait.  Every few days I would give the balloons a squeeze to guage the amount of gas that was collecting inside.  My logic may be flawed but I felt that more gas meant more fermentation.

I then waited two weeks before I peeled off one of the balloons and had a little taste test.  The verdict is that my wine is coming along, but it is no where near ready.  Wild fermentation is subject to individual conditions present at the unique location where the reactions are occurring.  Whether due to the condition of the honey, the weather, or the equipment, my honey wine is taking its time.

I promised you a honey wine tasting today, so to fulfill that promise and to finish out National Honey Month on a sweet note, I tracked down a bottle of Legendary Magpie, a honey mead made from local honey in Bainbridge, NY.

Honey wine, or mead as it is also known, may not be for everyone.  For my tastes honey wine resides firmly in the dessert wine category; Magpie’s mead has a strong caramel-y aroma reminiscent of white port.  The aroma is actually sweeter than the drink itself, and it has a smoky edge which blankets the tongue and nasal passages.  Honey wine would play well with an aged gouda or landaff cheese, their crumbly textures and tangy flavors serving to ground the perfumed liquor.

Magpie-Honey-MeadeSarah 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.