James has written for various magazines, including Celtic Guide, Mythology Magazine, and Pagan Forest.
I love Halloween and I love making mead, so I figured why not make a holiday-specific mead on Halloween night? A few years ago, once the family Halloween festivities ended and my own Samhain fun began, I brewed a sack mead with special ingredients, adding my final touches right around midnight. I named the resulting concoction Hallowme'ad.
After the costume-wearing, trick-or-treating, and Great Pumpkin-watching were over, I pulled out my honey, yeast, bottled water, and spices. I tend to use a lot of honey in most of my meads, as it makes for a high ABV and a very sweet flavor—the hallmarks of a "sack mead." I also used a sweet mead yeast to further ensure the brew's sweetness, although I have used dry mead yeast in the past with good results.
Because I live in the country and have well water, I chose to use bottled water as my base. Sometimes well water works well (ha!), and sometimes it does not. Rather than risk it, I usually just buy a few gallons of spring water from the grocery store.
My holiday spices for this one included pumpkin pie spice and some pureed pumpkin. Yes, I know pumpkin puree isn’t a spice, but I thought it would be neat to add it in anyway. It gave the brew some nice depth, if not a lot of flavor. All of the holiday flavors came from the pumpkin pie spice. A full ingredients list and brewing procedure are included below.
I had to offer a little bit up to all the ghosties and boggles and shining ones that were out and about, so I poured a snifter full at midnight and left it outside. I also gave a toast to the mead gods using my last Reaper Ales’ Deathly Pale Ale (speaking of which, if anyone reading this is in California, feel free to send me a few bottles!). Finally, of course, I had to give a nod to Urien, the Celtic god of heavy metal and Halloween. Ok, Urien is the god of dark bards and Samhain, but that's pretty much the same thing, right?
- 10 pounds honey (I get mine from a local apiary, but have occasionally used store-bought honey as well)
- 3 ½ gallons water
- ½ can pumpkin puree
- 1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice (for the North American brutes—allspice for the non-American brutes)
- ½ tsp yeast nutrient (optional)
- 1 tsp yeast energizer (optional)
- 1 package/tube sweet mead yeast (or dry mead yeast if you prefer; cider yeast also works fairly well)
This recipe should yield approximately three gallons of mead. I filled up about fifteen 22 oz. bottles when all was said and done.
- Heat one gallon of water to a near-boil, then flash-heat* the honey (pour it into the hot water, stir until dissolved, then remove the mixture from heat—this should all be done fairly quickly).
- Once removed from the heat, allow the honey-water mixture to cool to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. During this cooling phase, add the pumpkin spice first, stirring until dissolved. Then add the pumpkin puree, stirring until dissolved.
- Once the mixture is cooled to 75 degrees, add the yeast nutrient and energizer, again stirring until dissolved.
- Rack the mixture into your fermentation carboy then add the yeast, swishing it around to aerate the brew.
- After a few weeks, rack/move the must (the fermenting mead mixture) over to a secondary carboy. This isn’t necessary, but it helps clarify the final product, as it leaves sediment behind each time you rack it over.
- After a few more weeks, it’s time to bottle!
- Optional step: I made mine a sparkling mead by boiling six ounces of honey in water and adding it to the must before bottling. If you prefer a non-sparkling (that is, a non-carbonated) mead, just skip this step. (Psst . . . I actually used eight ounces of honey to make it really bubbly so that it would resemble a witch's brew, but I also left more room than usual at the top of the bottles to make sure they didn’t explode! Six ounces is what I would’ve used for normal carbonation. Make your mead extra-carbonated at your own risk.)
*Regarding the flash heat: I have a friend who has made terrific meads without heating their water first. They just stir the honey into cold water. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, as honey, in general, is “creeping thing”-free. I tend to flash heat mine because that’s what I’ve always done and it does kill off any bacteria that may have been canned with the honey. I do recognize that the odds of honey contamination are low.
I ended up with a final gravity of very close to one. Making less than five gallons and adding the energizer and nutrients really helps the yeast gobble up as much of the sugar as possible. What was left in the end was a very nice pumpkin-spiced mead with 13% ABV.
I let it sit for a year so that I could have the first bottle on the next Halloween night. It was worth the wait and turned out to be one of my favorite meads I have made to date. Whether this is due to the quality of the recipe or the brew being imbued with the spirits of Halloween, I do not know—nor do I care. For more on mead's history and some additional recipes, I recommend this book.
Slainte and wassail!
© 2016 James Slaven