The First Ones to Starve, The First Ones to Die.

Like anything that matters, most people don't understand it.

It's deviant. It's antisocial. It's ugly. It's incomprehensible, neanderthal, irresponsible, unnatural, wrong. It's violence for violence's sake. It's pain to know pain, sweat just to sweat and blood because sometimes a life lived cries out for blood. If nothing else, it's just plain dangerous.

My ribs are bruised. My elbow keeps popping. My back and calves are sore so I can barely stand. This headache could drop a man half-again my size. The five inch slash down my right forearm is luckily not infected. Hopefully my ears will stop ringing by the end of the weekend.

That was the best time I've had in months.

If you don't understand the pit, if you've never gone to a punk or a metal show and been drawn into the surge of humanity, towards the tussle of unbridled aggression, into the the throng of flesh and pain and joy, then you're probably just not ever going to.

There are few other comparable experiences in modern day life. I can think of nothing else so visceral, so communal, so organic. From the far walls it's simply pandemonium, a riot. But, from within it's something else entirely. It's a conflagration of human emotion, a place that is simultaneously treacherous as a minefield whilst safer than family Christmas. Where else are there so many so desperate to knock you to the floor yet so eager to bring you to your feet again? Where else does the threat of harm turn so swiftly to the embrace of brotherhood? Where else can you find yourself amongst a teeming, breaking wave of humanity and know, if only for a second, that you are all feeling precisely the same thing?

It's a community that exists almost nowhere else, the violence, the challenge, the athleticism of team sports but without the ego, without the brass ring of victory and the false consolation of defeat. It's common cause and spiritual unity without the complications and manipulations of politics and religion. It's exercise and exhaustion without the preening and pretension of an organized workout. It's one of the fastest educations you can receive.

You keep your feet wide, preserve your space. The crowd presses, protect your midsection. The crowd heaves, protect your face and breathe deeply. Push forward hard - slide left when overpowered. Straight arms mean broken elbows. If you don't scream or sing, you're fucking up. When you go down come up fast; help others do likewise. Take no shit and stride proudly 'cause most people don't have the balls for this.

Scream and lust and sweat and make battle, nothing beats it.

Go forth and bleed.


Clean & Ready

The single most important aspect of mead brewing: more important than your choice of honey varietal or adjunct, more important that fermentation or racking intervals, more important than bottling or aging methods, more important, even, than the oft debated choice of boiled honey versus natural honey, are the methods used in sterilization. While a poor combination of spices can make a mead slightly less than perfect, inadequate sterilization can corrupt a batch to the point of unpalatability.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces uvarum, the two most common forms of brewing yeasts are jealous fungi. They are generally intolerant of the presence of other forms of fungus in their habitat and will force competing yeasts out. A number of other microorganisms, mostly bacteria, can survive easily in the presence of brewing yeast and will contaminate the product and some can even make us humans that consume it quite ill. Preventing the propagation of these invaders is even more important when one remembers that most mead is made with entirely organic, unpasturized ingredients.

Generally, the home brewer has three means of sterilization available to them. Many brewers choose to chemically sterilize with a solution of potassium metabisulfite. This common anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent is available for a few dollars at any brew store.* It is easy to use and performs its function quite well.

Similar to this, although more mundane, one can sterilize chemically with hospital grade isopropyl alcohol. Be sure to read the label carefully, most first aid quality rubbing alcohol is 70 or 80 percent alcohol, while the hospital quality I'm referring to is 90 percent or better. Pour it liberally into and onto all brewing gear being sure to cover every surface and then rinse thoroughly with very hot water. If you have sensitive skin you might want to wear gloves. Be sure to do this with the windows open or the fan on or you run the risk of having your kitchen smell like a hospital for days afterwards.

Finally, the most traditional, and probably the best means of sterilization is the good old fashioned hot kill. Boil all of your equipment for three minutes or longer. Mind you, some gear, like plastic tubing and rubber stoppers may melt at these temperatures so be careful. This should kill all but the heartiest microorganisms. Carboys may be too large to boil, in which case, rinse them completely several times with boiling water being careful to heat the glass evenly lest it shatter.

I use a combination of these two techniques. I clean all of my tools and containers with rubbing alcohol and then rinse them with boiling water.

More important than the means of sterilization is the thoroughness of sterilization. You must sterilize absolutely everything involved in the brewing and bottling process, carboys, airlocks, hoses, dump buckets, mixing devices, funnels and hand tools. Clean your work area and then wipe it down with some kind of sterilizing solvent, bleach based home cleaners like Fantastik work well. Sterilize your bottles when you package your product. If you are bottling your mead in 750ml wine bottles, like I do, always buy brand new corks in the sealed plastic bag. If you reuse bottles, be sure they are adequately cleaned and sterilized exactly as you would sterilize your other gear. And, for the sake of all that is holy, wash your hands. Wash them in the hottest water you can tolerate; wash them up to the elbow and wash with a heavy antibacterial soap.

I cannot stress the importance of this enough. While most of the little beasties that inhabit both your home and the natural products that go into your brewing are harmless, some are not. Some can halt fermentation or produce foul flavors. Some will infuse sulfides and other nasty chemicals into your product. The vast minority are infectious and can make you and the people that drink your mead extremely ill. Be fastidious, even anal, about your sterilization methods and you will be saved a lot of headache.

Remember this and everything else is just technique.

* Personally, I do not use this method. When I stabilize my mead, something I will discuss in detail in a later post, I do so with the same chemical, albeit in a much more dilute form. I am concerned about breeding resistance to the chemical into my yeast strains. Understand, I do not dis-advocate it's use, I simply choose a different method.


Heresy and Fart Jokes

A few years ago I found myself standing in the middle of a melange de faith, one Xian, one Jew, one Muslim, one Buddhist, one atheist, one Satanist and little ol' Pagan me. This was a bunch of amicable types who, upon realizing the religious plurality set about making light of it.

"My God's older than your God."

"My God's more merciful than your God."

"My God's more powerful than your God."

"My God's more personal than your god."

This went back and forth for several minutes in jolly fashion before I piped up with.

"My God outnumbers your God."

And that pretty much put an end to that.


Venn Diagrams Suck.

"So why can't you vote in the primaries?" he asked, putting the political discussion on hold.

"Because I'm a registered independent," I replied. "I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat."

He looked puzzled for a moment, "So why can't you vote in the independent primary?"

"No, independents don't have a primary. You have to be in a political party to have a primary."

"Aren't you in the independent party?"

At this point I threw up my hands.

This exchange is indicative of a certain mode of thinking that pervades our culture in all facets, not just politics. It was just a political discussion that brought this phenomenon to light. Maybe there's something in our brain chemistry that makes us want to categorize things; that would make sense. Language, the hallmark of human thinking, is based in part on the categorization of the world around us. Perhaps it's a failing of the educational system that so many people grow up being unable to handle the very concept of "not classified." It's possible that this is the result of our computerized age forcing us to divide our information into neat folders and that "other" has simply become one more category rather than a title for things that are without category.

I have one colleague that refuses to believe that fungi are not plants. He will not concede that there are any any forms of life other than animals and plants and since fungi are obviously not animals, they must be plants. Despite being shown otherwise, he will not accept that there are five kingdoms of living things, not two, that the system of classification for living things has changed since he first learned about it thirty years ago.

I brew my own mead, this connects, I promise. I have a close friend that, despite having brewed mead with me, cannot understand that mead is neither wine nor beer. I keep trying to tell her that mead is it's own thing, that it is a new category of beverage that she has previously not encountered but any such explanation only leads her to ask, "So it's more like wine (beer)?" No! It's mead.

We have this pervasive need to put ideas into mental bins, like we were sorting laundry or mail. I'll grant that, most of the time, this is helpful. It's helpful to zone property and to define polos from tees from dress shirts. It makes life much easier and the world much more manageable and rational inquiry much more efficient to divide wine from beer and animals from monerans. What it does not do is foster an expansion of personal experience. I think it is essential to apprehend that each of us will encounter, hopefully every day, something that is outside our understanding. What do we do then?

We need to leave that space, that possibility for something that our nomenclature cannot address, that thing that is beyond our system of classification. Perhaps, one day, new and different things will be incorporated into an existing family of items. Perhaps not. The possibility needs to remain open so that our systems of comprehension can expand.

This is the way we keep our brains from rotting.


Disclaimer: What a Litigious Society We Live in.

Here's a quick bit of truth. While I'm happy to write about mead and the brewing thereof, there are certain hazards associated with both home brewing and the consumption of home brewed beverages.

This is my obligatory disclaimer to that end.

I am neither a microbiologist nor a doctor. I pretend no specialized knowledge beyond the mechanics of brewing within my own limited experience. I am a brewing enthusiast who chooses to brew a rather rare and arcane beverage and I have chosen to share what I have learned in the pursuit of this hobby with others. I offer no guarantees or warranties regarding this information. You are brewing at your own risk and I accept no liability whatsoever for the quality of your experience or of your product. Moreover, I accept no liability for your health. It is the responsibility of each reader and each home brewer to research the craft on their own, to understand the risks to health and home and to understand the legality of this practice in their locale.

I do not endorse or encourage the production of alcoholic products by, nor the providing of alcohol to, those who have not reached the legal age of consumption, 21 years in most US jurisdictions.

Let's be entirely honest. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with this pursuit ranging from the mundane to the fatal. Improperly stabilized product can cause bottles to explode violently, making a huge mess and potentially injuring people. Like any other foodstuff, the raw inputs for mead can attract pests to you home including insects and rodents. If the batch is contaminated it can stink up your whole house. Because mead is usually made using organic inputs and adjuncts which have not been filtered, sterilized or pasteurized, there is always the possibility that dangerous compounds and malignant microorganisms are present in your product. This is especially true if you have a compromised immune system, though the danger is present for all people. I'm sure there's a thousand other things that can go wrong with this process that I've never experienced. You're on your own.

In really plain English, don't be stupid. I'm just a guy making hooch in his kitchen and I'm not going to take responsibility for anything you do or don't do. If you take my advice and end up with a mess in your basement, a gulp of nasty crap in your mouth, a killer hangover or a fungal infection in your brain, remember that you chose to do this and that you accepted the risks for yourself. I don't want to scare anyone away from brewing but you need to know that there is always the possibility, however remote, of bad things happening. My ass is thusly covered.

Everybody clear?


I've Never, in my life, used THAT word!

I almost never post youtube,apparently 'utube' has become the popular experession, pieces but I know the people who made this so I ask my readers about the following. Racism is one of those truly intractables. It's something I'm not smart or wise enough to really get a handle on or to provide a solution to. My opinions on the subject are probably still far outside the popular consensus so I'll offer this for debate.

Good satire, flagrant exploitation, expose on the American zeitgeist, painful recitation of sins, hateful bombast or insightful commentary? You tell me.


I Want Neil Gaiman to Drink my Mead.

It's been with us, humans, since the beginning. It's mentioned in hundreds of myths and legends from around the world. In more modern times it has spawned a cottage industry, been the subject of some legal contention in my state and has even been mentioned in the works of acclaimed urban fantasy author Neil Gaiman. It is, in fact, the root of the word 'honeymoon.'

Mead, the drink of the Norse Gods, the libation of choice for kings and commoners through classical and medieval times. It's delicious. It's intoxicating and, infuriatingly enough, nobody seems to know what it is.

I brew my own mead at home. Most home brewers make beer or wine but I decided, from the moment I took up the hobby, that I was going to make mead, partly because so few other people made it and partly because it was not commercially available in Georgia at the time. In the intervening decade I have produced hundreds of gallons of the stuff that, like most home brews, ranges from the disgusting to the sublime. I have tweaked, experimented, studied, conversed and otherwise just set about making this stuff with the reckless abandon of a child with a new toy. I find it hugely fulfilling and a number of people have come to know me simply as the Mead Guy.

What amazes me is that, despite bringing it to parties, family gatherings, conventions and even a couple of professional mixers, despite mead being mentioned in a handful of major market films like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The 13th Warrior, most people don't have the barest understanding of what mead is. "Is it like wine or is it like beer?" They ask.

"Well, it can be like either, depending on how you make it but really, it's its own thing." I always reply before being subjected to a barrage of questions that indicate my interrogator had probably never even heard of mead until I walked up to them and said, "Try this."

This past weekend I had the privilege, quite by accident, of speaking at a Dragon*Con panel on brewing and the chemistry of fermentation. The audience was lively but, despite being full of brewing enthusiasts, seemed to lack a concrete understanding of mead, what it is and how it's made. As a result of that, I promised to post a series about the brewing of my favorite beverage. I start today with a primer on mead, itself. I aim to explain what mead really is, what it isn't and to dispel some myths about it. Here we go.

First, mead is the fermentation of honey. Honey, which because of its high viscosity does not ferment on its own, is blended with some other liquid, usually water or juice, and is then fed to yeast. Over the next few weeks or months, the yeast metabolize the sugar in the honey and the nutrients in the juice. The byproduct is alcohol. Eventually the yeast die off and sink to the bottom. The mead is drained off the sediment, bottled and enjoyed. While this is a vast oversimplification, the actual process can be anywhere from ten to two hundred steps depending on the recipe, all mead making follows approximately this flow.

Mead is not wine and mead is not beer. While there are some grape infused meads, usually called pyment, which would technically be a wine and there are some recipes that call for roasted hops, which might technically be called beer, mead is really its own thing. It's not beer, it's not wine, it's not malt beverage, it is in a separate category of fermentable all its own.

The process of brewing mead most closely resembles that of wine and, like wine, mead has a wide continuum of potential flavors. People often ask, "It's made from honey, so is it sweet?" It can be sweet, very sweet or it can be dryer that the dryest white wine. It can have a sharp, tart flavor, or it can be smooth and easy drinking. Mead is every bit as complex and refined as the most robust wines or beers and is worthy of the same degree of examination and critical enjoyment. Dozens of factors enter into the flavor profile of a batch of mead so any single description of the flavor, texture, color, or experience is pretty much useless.

There is more than one kind of mead, dozens of varieties, in fact. Meads are classified based on the infusing agent into which the honey is mixed before fermentation. True mead, often spelled meade to differentiate it from other kinds, is simply a blend of honey and water. It generally has a delicate, thin flavor akin to a very light white wine. Cyser is made with apple and honey while melomel is made from honey and a sweet fruit like grapes or berries. Metheglin is spiced mead. Sack is mead made with a large quotient of honey, meant to be thick and extremely sweet. It's important to remember that these categories are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. It is very possible to make a cyser-metheglin-sack. There are even sparkling meads that resemble champagne.

Finally, mead is difficult to find commercially. Most honey is produced locally and in fairly small quantities. The quality and character of honeys can very greatly even in the same locale. Honey is extremely heavy, expensive and difficult to harvest and transport. There is a mathematics, a certain predictability in the making of wine or beer that has been easily understood for centuries. Mead, on the other hand, is less deterministic. Potency, time in fermentation, yield loss, sedimentation and a number of other factors vary greatly even between ostensibly identical batches, making the profitability of commercial mead production hugely indeterminate. Additionally, because most people in the US don't even really know what mead is, there's not much of a market for it here so no large enterprise is going to want to take on the risk of producing a complicated, expensive, unpredictable product that might never be sold.

This suits me just fine, of course. I am perfectly happy making it at home, drinking what I make and giving away the rest, knowing that I do something pretty unique that brightens the lives of others.

All that having been said, I will be posting a series about the brewing and enjoyment of mead. If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment or to email me at icarusannolds at hotmail dot com . We will begin in the next few days with an overview of brewing equipment.

Thanks to everyone who came to the panel this weekend and tolerated me pontificating about one of my favorite subjects.