Wild Fermented Viking Mead

September 26, 2019

Throughout history, mead has been accompanied by many legends and folklore. Known by the Vikings as “The nectar of the Gods” it is believed to be the very first alcoholic drink ever made, and what gave Norsemen their fierceness and prowess in battle. Crafting your own wild fermented Viking mead is a wonderful experience that can be done by even the most novice brewer. After all, all you really need is honey and water.

viking mead horn

The Legend of Mead

In Norse mythology, two Gods spit into a bowl to form a treaty and of their saliva was born a man named Kvasir. He spent his life traveling the lands and spreading knowledge to others. He was slain by two dwarfs, Fjalar and Galar, who drained his blood and mixed it with honey. This mixture created “The Mead of Poetry” and those who imbibed it became blessed with wisdom and poetic gifts.

Although this is all just mythology, mead truly is the nectar of the Gods. Yes, we all feel a little more poetic when we’ve had some wine, but mead possesses some pretty heavenly medicinal properties. There is a reason why the word “Mead” comes from the Welsh word for “Medicine”.

Raw honey contains lactic acid bacteria from the stomachs of bees. Combine that with wild yeasts and a number of botanicals and you’ve got yourself a powerful infection-fighting beverage full of antioxidants. It’s great to have some of this health tonic around for cold and flu season.

raw honey

Adding Botanicals to Your Mead

The possibilities are endless here. You can add a little lavender, yarrow, juniper, elderberries, and so much more. Think about the healing properties of what you want to add and the flavors that it will create! Use your imagination here. I have learned that with strong flavors like lavender, it’s best to only add a small amount, it will overpower everything else if you aren’t careful.

What is Wild Fermentation?

Wild fermentation occurs when wild yeasts and microbes in the air and on the surfaces of fruits vegetables create a spontaneous fermentation. Most winemakers heat their must (unfermented wine) and add commercial yeasts with the goal of creating a more controlled and predictable ferment with a specific flavor profile and alcohol percentage. Wild fermentation is not as predictable but will result in unique textures and deep complex flavors.

As a traditional woman, I find something special and fulfilling in using what nature gave you to create something as magical as wild fermented Viking mead. Keeping the beneficial microbes intact is a huge benefit as well. Besides, it can be very rewarding to do things the way our ancestors did, before we over-industrialized everything. Let us make mead the way the Vikings did!

If you’d really like to get traditional, use a stick from an outdoor tree to stir your must. Use the same stick every time you stir and do not wash it. Not only will you introduce some wild yeasts from the stick, but you will allow the yeasts from your mead to take up residence on the twig for use in future mead making.

Ancient mead makers would often place a few twigs or a piece of a tree trunk in the bottom of their fermentation vessels and use them over and over to introduce their family yeast strain to their mead. These twigs and parts of a tree were often passed down as family heirlooms. What an inheritance that would be! So go ahead, get some twigs and start your own family heirloom.

Some Helpful Things to Know About Making Mead

You can find the full recipe and directions below in the recipe card, but I feel like I should explain a few things I wish I has known the first time I made wine.

Basic Equipment Needed

  • Sanitizer
  • Fermenter
  • Secondary Fermenter/Carboy
  • Large spoon or stick
  • Corks and Corker
  • Wine bottles
  • A hose to siphon beer, racking cane or an auto-siphon
  • Hydrometer (optional)

It’s much easier and cheaper to just buy a winemaking kit online or at a brew supply store. Most will have everything you need to get started.

How to Check the Alcohol Content

If you’ve never made wine before, then you would probably wonder what the alcohol content is when it’s too late. You need to measure the original specific gravity of your must with a hydrometer before fermentation begins. When your wine is done fermenting, the final specific gravity needs to be measured and both numbers are put into an equation to calculate your final alcohol percentage. Here is an online calculator to help you.

Clarifying Your Mead

Clarifying your wine is an important step to avoid off-flavors, and also to be sure fermentation has finished before bottling. After you have not seen any fermentation activity in your carboy for a couple of weeks and your mead has still not clarified, try re-racking it one more time and watch it for another couple of weeks. If things are still not moving along and you continue to get the same hydrometer readings it may be time to use a fining agent.

I am not fond of using chemicals, so I use bentonite as a fining agent for my mead. Bentonite is a clay formed from volcanic ash. It has a negative electrostatic charge that attracts positively charged particles, bonds to them, and drags them to the bottom of your carboy. You can get it at just about any brew supply store or online. Here is a quick resource on how to use bentonite.

Bottling Your Mead

Now for the fun part, bottling your mead. First, you will need to get ahold of some bottles. You can purchase some or recycle old ones. I usually save my used wine bottles and ask family and friends to save theirs for me as well. You can easily remove the labels by soaking your bottles in warm water and baking soda for about 30 min. They usually come off easily after doing this.

For each gallon of mead, you will need about 5 bottles.

Make sure you sterilize your bottles, you can use a sulfite like Star San to sanitize or put them in the dishwasher. I find that the dishwasher does the trick and you avoid using chemicals that way.

After your bottles are ready, watch this video to learn how to fill them:

Next, you will need to cork your bottles. I have found that lightly steaming them until they are slightly soft works best for me. Some people soak and sanitize them instead.

Here is a short video to show you how to cork your bottles:

Aging Your Mead

This is the part where you will learn some patience. You can drink your wild fermented Viking mead right away if you would like, but it will get much better with time, so it pays to wait! I recommend aging your mead for at least 3 months, but 1-3 years is better. Age your bottles in a cool dark place turned on their side. This will keep the corks from drying out.

There is also no shame in skipping all the steps of fermenting your mead to full maturity and bottling. Some like to drink their mead young. I always have several tastes along the way.

This may all seem like a ton of information to take in, so just take it one step at a time. Fortunately, its a long process with a lot of waiting in between most steps. I hope that I have covered all the bases here so you aren’t scrambling trying to gather all the information you need.

If you have some leftover raw honey, use it to make some Honey Fermented Garlic to add to your cold and flu-fighting army!

Making wild fermented Viking mead is a slow but very rewarding process, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out. If you liked this post or found it helpful, please like, share and subscribe for future recipes and how-tos!

I’d also love for you to say hi on Facebook or Instagram!

Wild Fermented Viking Mead

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By Curie Ganio Serves: 1 gal

Wild fermented honey wine

Ingredients

  • 3 Quarts Spring Water
  • 3 lbs Raw Unfiltered Honey
  • 1 Lemon (halved)
  • 4-5 Raisins
  • A handful of botanicals of your choice (rose petals, lavender, dandelion flowers, etc.)

Instructions

1

Combine water and honey in a crock, bucket, or other open-air container and stir until the honey has fully dissolved. (Do not heat the honey)

2

Add the remaining ingredients and stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes.

3

Check the original specific gravity of your must (unfermented wine) with a hydrometer, and save the info somewhere for later. (optional)

4

Cover with a clean towel or piece of cheesecloth and set in a warm, well-ventilated area.

5

Stir vigorously multiple times per day for about 2-3 minutes, adding lots of oxygen to the must.

6

After 3-10 days your must will begin to get bubbly, and a large amount of foam will form on top when stirred. This means that spontaneous fermentation has begun.

7

Continue to stir multiple times daily.

8

After several days the bubbling will begin to slow. When this happens, pour your mead through a strainer into a carboy with an airlock.

9

Fill to the neck of the carboy, if you do not have enough to fill it, add some honey water to compensate.

10

Add a couple more raisins to give the yeast some nutrients.

11

Place in a cool, dark area and allow to ferment undisturbed for 2-6 months. When the airlock no longer bubbles you are ready to move to the next step.

12

Siphon your mead into another carboy, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the original bottle.

13

If your mead does not fill the container to the neck of the carboy, compensate with more honey water.

14

Place in a cool, dark area and allow to ferment for another 1-2 weeks. This is to make sure that your mead is done fermenting.

15

When there is no more bubbling in your airlock, it's time to prepare for bottling.

16

Check the specific gravity with a hydrometer about 3 times, once every 3 days. If it remains the same then fermentation has finished.

17

Clarifying your mead: If you mead still looks hazy, you can continue fermenting to see if it clears on its own, or you can use bentonite (see blog post above).

18

When you are ready, bottle your mead. It should fill about 5 wine bottles.

19

Age in a cool dark place turned on their side for 3 months to 3 years.

Notes

See full blog post for instructions on checking alcohol content, clarifying, bottling, etc. This recipe yields 1 gallon,

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