Costco sells buckets of honey quite cheaply, but you can do better than mass-market stuff. Apiarists told us that the BCB Honey Farm was run by fanatics who took honey extremely seriously, to the point of treating it like a sacrament and a medicine as opposed to a foodstuff.
That might sound like an exaggeration, but it turns out to be the truth: Dr. Iman Tabari came to Canada to produce medicinal honey and help reverse the decline of honey bees. Entering his shop you get a lecture on how most honey is not worth the money, how his stuff is almost perfectly monocultural, and how it is processed to preserve a whole host of innate qualities that are destroyed by traditional methods.
That sort of declaration tends to peg our woo-meter, but looking around we noticed something interesting. All of the honey samples, even ones from crops that have a lot of colour in them, were very light in hue. Most commercial honey has a very dark, cooked-sugar character and a blandly caramel-like taste. Could he be on to something with his processing?
In tasting, the honey is delicious. Far from bland, caramelised goo, it has a light, nectarous and floral character with a very clean, pleasant aftertaste. One other thing about this honey: it is absurdly expensive, $50 for a four-pound jar. Dr. Tabari averred that mass-market honeys were cheaper because of issues with what the bees were fed, and some of them were perhaps adulterated. We can’t comment on that because I have zero knowledge about the honey trade, but given the difference in quality between this honey and every other we've tried to concede that there is something going on.
The Other Ingredients
In addition to honey and sugar we rousted the freezer and turned up rhubarb and raspberries, both from last year's garden. Hitting the produce store we got a few stalks of lemongrass, lemons and ginger, and we started by sanitising all of our equipment.
Putting it Together
Wash the lemongrass and bash it to open the stems and toss it into the fermenter.
Hack ginger into medallions and toss them in too. It's not necessary to peel it.
Zest a whole lemon and toss it in. Just the yellow part, as the pith (white bits) make it bitter.
Squish the lemon and toss it in.
With those things in, it's time to concentrate on the fruit and sugar.
Prep the sugar by dissolving it in boiling water with 20 grams of tartaric acid to balance flavour and reduce pH of the mead. Lower pH helps stabilise colour as well, ensuring that the pink of the raspberries doesn't fade to grey.
When the sugar is dissolved, toss in the raspberries and rhubarb and let the heat to come back up to 160F.
When fruit is frozen and then thawed the cell walls break down and release the juices and flavour compounds, increasing yield.
If this was going to be a higher-alcohol beverage you could simply dump ten pounds of sugar onto the frozen fruit and leave it for a week. The sugar pulls liquid out of the fruit, bursting the cells through osmotic pressure differential, and prevents bacterial growth (too much sugar isn't just bad for people, it's bad for bugs as well).
Take the fruit off the heat and stir in a tablespoon of Fermaid K, our favorite nutrient. Without letting it cool pour it into the fermenting pail on top of the ginger and lemongrass.
At this point it will smell really good, as the hot liquid releases the fragrance from the lemon and ginger.
Add the jar of honey and rinse it out with boiled water.
At this point top up the fermenter to 21 litres with lukewarm water. If using a standard wine yeast you would use cold water to bring the temperature down, to reduce esters. However Belle Saison yeast has a spicy, estery profile which shows off even more when it’s fermented above 25C. Yeast like this is what gives Saison and Farmhouse ales their peppery-spicy zing.
Do some math and check your hydrometer
Honey adds about 35 points of gravity per pound, per gallon.
Sucrose adds about 46 points of gravity per pound, per gallon.
4 pounds of honey: 4 x .035 / 5.5 gallons = 1.025
3 pounds of sugar: 3 x .046/5.5 gallons = 1.025
Therefore, at 15C starting SG should be around 1.050. A reading of 1.044 at 15C corrects to . . . exactly 1.050.
After pitching yeast, close the fermenter and put it aside for five days. It should start within four hours and fizz hard within 12.
Next up: stabilizing, clearing, back-sweetening, filtering and carbonating. Still a ways to go!