In life you can have many types of friends that each fit into a type of box. I met The Alchemist ten years ago at a French Wine tasting class.The class was composed of five women, who to this day are still in contact, even though we are scattered geographically and politically. I wouldn’t say any of us are best friends, but we are there for each other and always bond over a bottle or two of wine and great food , which is what brought us together in the first place. Out of all the women, The Alchemist is the one I’m closer to and encourages my culinary dreams, when I cant see the potential inside myself. I get so so busy that I sometimes just need to accept an offer of something creative and unique.
“Wanna make some Mead?”, the Alchemist said.
My first thought was , that was the stuff she goes on about at the Renaissance Festivals. And then I started to think of the whole hippy dippy culture that converges onto the annual Renaissance Festival at the border of Wisconsin. I remember tasting the honey based fermented wine once on an extremely hot day with her, and don’t remember being wowed by it.Exaggerated images of her drinking Mead in Renaissance garb popped into my head. It’s hard for me to commit to a lot of things socially , but I blocked off October 31st in my calendar. I really didn’t give a thought to the date having any significance. As the Alchemist has more disposable income than myself, she invested in the wine making equipment. The first Mead was going to be a Pumpkin Pie Mead an I was going to bring the spices of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg along with some label designs. The Alchemist had piles of noted from conversations with Mead experts.Mead making is an exact science with no room for bacterial contamination or error. All of the ingredients were laid out on her granite counter.On her counter sat fifteen pounds of cloudy Wisconsin honey from her mentors own apiary, waiting to be clarified.Earlier The Alchemist had filled cases of old wine bottles, which we would recycle to bottle with water from her parents spring fed lake.We proceeded to boil and sterilize the water, then filter .While clarifying the honey , and heating, and filtering the water, we plotted out a flavor profile and I suggested a few black peppercorns to blend out the flavor.
“Come here”, she beckoned as she stood over the steaming hot water we were about to filter. “It smells like the lake”, she enthused. “It smells like the earth”, I acknowledged.
Mossy and flinty, I understood at that very moment what Terroir in wine making is all about. The flavors of the land infused in your wine. We pondered if filtering would erase that scent that wafted through our nostrils and the sweet pumpkin, honey, and spicy herbs will all converge.
“I will pitch the yeast at the strike of 11:11 “, she said as she sprinkled bee pollen and golden raisins to our Must, the combination of heated water and honey.
The pumpkin would be added later on in the process. She then measured the density of the solution. Still warm from the hot honey, we had to wait for it to reach the proper level. I had noticed she mentioned pitching the yeast at eleven before. But like many things she says I really didn’t gather the significance. The Alchemist then went on to explain the significance of the Samhain or the the date and auspicious Grand Trine timing of the pitching of the yeast. It was all about the Autumnal equinox and this was to be her first series based on the midpoint season of the year. So it wasn’t about cutesy pumpkins on Halloween , but more about paying tribute to our local harvests, resources and respecting the cycle of nature. I took my last appreciative swig of an Apple Mead we drank while working. At the end of the end of day I had new found appreciation for the for the process and the beauty of Mead, the drink of the Gods, and glad I could share a unique moment with my brilliant , scientific, if not quirky friend. I could not wait for the fermenting to succeed and for us to rack our beautiful golden liquid , which be ready by the New Year. We ended up doing a total of three rackings and finally bottled it January 31st to make way for The Alchemist’s new red Mead project. The wine is still young, and a bit dry. By Fall it should be ready to consume befitting it’s theme of Pumpkin Pie. The cycle of nature truly at work. Take a look at the slide show and video for more on the three month process.