Samuel Pepys,…his Diary, Thursday 3 October 1667: “The lady I pity, and her family. Having done with her, and drunk two glasses of her meade, which she did give me, and so to the Treasurer’s Office, and there find my Lord Bruncker and [Sir] W. Pen at dinner with Sir G. Carteret about his accounts, where I dined and talked and settled some business, and then home.”
Well, if Queen Elizabeth’s lavender tea is not to your taste, try Samuel Pepys’ mead instead, a fermentation of honey and water – or, more precisely for this website, spice it up into a lavender metheglin. You can justify indulging yourself with this alcohol by referring to the word’s Welsh origin: the healing liquor.
Basic mead is very simple. You will need a clean, lidded pan big enough to take a gallon of water, and a couple of glass jugs or flagons or other containers (enough clean wine bottles will do perfectly well) capable of holding the lot while it is fermenting (try your local stockists of home-brew kit).
Gather 2lbs of raw, unprocessed honey, 3 lemons, and 1 packet of wine yeast. Get 4 or 5 teaspoonsful of culinary lavender ready. How much you use will be a matter for your own taste – but better too little than too much for the first experiment.
Begin with about 4 pints of water in the large pan. Add 5 or 6 teaspoons of the yellow part of the peel of a lemon (the ‘zest’), and the lavender flowers – perhaps 3 or 4 teaspoons to start with. Simmer the water until you judge it has been scented by the spices. Add another 2 pints of water and bring it all back to the simmer – not to the boil. Pour the honey into the mixture, stirring it all the time. When scum forms, skim it off. If yellow scum forms, turn the heat down. When scum stops forming, turn the heat off, cover the pan and leave it overnight to bring it to room temperature.
Next morning, add the yeast, stir it in and cover the pan once more. Leave it fermenting for 3 or 4 days.
A thick foam will form by the end of this time: try to leave it behind when you transfer the mixture to the glass containers (bottles, whatever). Siphoning through a slender plastic tube is worth the time. Seal the new containers – but in a way which lets out the bubbles of fermentation. If you are using jugs or bottles, a few layers of paper towel held in place by an elastic band round the neck will do the job. Otherwise, your home-brew stockist will sell you technical gismos to do the same job.
Leave it all at room temperature for at least another 3 days, and then move it to somewhere cooler – like the fridge, if it is big enough. By now, it really is becoming metheglin.
24 hours after this, transfer it all into a fresh, clean container once more (you used the pan earlier: wash it out for this). Add ¼ cup of vodka or schnapps (a grain alcohol) to kill the last of the yeast. Give it another 24 hours and bottle it.
Your metheglin should be drinkable within ten days and really good after 25 – but don’t leave it longer than 6 – 12 months or it will go off. Remember that you are dealing with the living ingredients of unprocessed honey and yeast so you cannot expect ‘standard’ results. Now and again it might be undrinkable, or, with luck and skill, it might be nectar for the gods. After all, in the original mythology, ‘nectar’ truly means ‘sweet liquid in flowers’. Those Greeks knew their stuff.
Once again, Good Luck!