What a nice surprise to discover, about a month ago, that I actually do have a friend living closer to me than the 40-minute drive I make to visit most of the people I know. Turns out my former coworker, Brian, bought a house that is less than 5 miles and 15 minutes away. Today we had plans for a GGA playdate, and it was such a rare treat to have this take place so close to home!
Shortly after arriving at Brian's, I was given a tour of his good-sized backyard, in which all of the following are growing (or had recently been growing) in the ground, in bushes or on trees: artichokes, peppers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, roses, lemons, oranges, white plums, crabapples, persimmons, loquats, calla lilies, and limes. It was like a freakin' farmers market!
I am totally in awe of people who grow stuff. Especially people who grow edible stuff. I think farmers and vegetable gardeners and even flower gardeners are just amazing people who deserve mad props. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to see seeds through to their final, beautiful ends, and anybody who possesses that knowhow and skill is automatically cool in my book.
In addition to having a produce/floral section for his backyard, Brian also composts (of course) and makes at home all sorts of consumable substances that contain alcohol. When I say all sorts, I mean all sorts--from beer to Kahlua to something called Limoncello, as well as numerous varieties of mead, the making of which was a process he was kind enough to share with me.
Today's New Activity: Making Mead
Before today, I didn't even know what mead was. It's basically honey wine. We sampled the last of a batch Brian made back in 2004 as we made this new batch, and I really liked it. It smells and even looks like brandy (that particular version--which also contained molasses--did, anyway), but it is sweeter and with a less brutal taste of alcohol in my opinion.
Additionally, drinking a glass of it didn't leave me with the headache that wine typically does. Brian explained to me that these wine headaches used to afflict him too, before he started making his own wine. Apparently a lot of people have allergies to the sulfides that are often added to wines, and he makes his in such a way that adding sulfides is rendered unnecessary. Bonus!
First we boiled some water to be used later in the process, when we would need it on hand to quickly cool down our cooked solution. We also boiled more water to use in sanitizing the container we would pour the finished mead into. Brian explained that any remnant bacteria in the container would react with the yeast and end up tainting the flavor, or causing mold, or resulting in any number of other undesirable outcomes.
Check out that cauldron!
Next we boiled ¾ gallon of water and added the following: honey, molasses, maple syrup, all spice, clove, ground cinnamon sticks, and vanilla. After letting all of this cook together for a while, skimming whatever came to the surface now and then, we added the mixture to the cooled down water from before.
Then came the science part of the process:
Brian poured a small portion of the mixture into a cylinder and then used a hydrometer to measure the potential alcohol content. This was partially done in order to determine what type of yeast would be best suited for our concoction.
The reading at this point was about 19%, which Brian explained would go down to just about 15% or so when the fermentation process was complete.
After also testing for acidity, we added acid blend, yeast nutrient, grape tannin, and then, just after pouring the whole dang mess into this container (here's Brian), we added the yeast itself.
Brian was a patient and accommodating teacher throughout. And the fact that he is both a mechanical engineer and an Eagle Scout meant he was ready with knowledgeable explanations for parts of the process that included but weren't limited to the subjects of physics, mathematics, thermodynamics, chemistry, and just plain practicality.
After the mead was poured, we corked the bottle with a device called an airlock, which allows gas to escape while preventing oxygen from getting it. Pretty cool! Nothing left to do but wait about a week and a half, when the fermentation process should be well underway, "rack" it once (remove any sediment that is present at that point), and then let it sit for a good two months to make sure the yeast has ceased to react (thereby avoiding any bottle explosions), then bottle it.
I plan to return for the next two steps, just to see the thing through to its end.
This was a really fun new experience. I would never have thought it would be so easy to make wine. Well, it was easy for me because Brian had already done all the reading up on the subject, performed the trial and error, and had a good deal of practice under his belt, which made the process go smoothly and relatively quickly.
It was so seamless, in fact, that we were able to catch up a little on the 6 or 7 years of life that had passed since we last worked together or hung out, in between the mixing and the boiling and the skimming and the whatnot.
That in itself was a pleasant experience. I was telling Brian that it's nice to reconnect with him now, when all this time has passed. It's like the essence of him is the same, but with all kinds of life experience to add wisdom and insight. Not that he didn't have wisdom or insight before, but I don't remember really talking with him about heavy stuff back in the day, and he proved to be an excellent listener. I felt lucky to discover this, as it seems I had plenty to talk about today (!)
To be honest, I was in a pretty yucky funk this morning. For a minute I entertained the idea of canceling today's plans and opting instead to putz around on the internet feeling sad and lame instead. Brilliant, right? But however anti-social I was feeling initially, I was pretty sure going through with the plans would be good for my state of mind in the end.
And having that come to pass just confirmed for me yet again how happy I am to have begun this project. Today, it forced me out of the house, out of my gloomy mood, and into the company of somebody with a friendly and positive outlook, as well as a genuinely cool and very new-to-me skill to share.
It occurs to me that healing is not always a giant arc of a process that involves looking ahead and thinking long term. It is happening bit by bit, everyday. Every joyful experience and every moment in good company and every sip of something tasty moves me further down the road and deeper into the soul journey.