Baffled by our mead conundrum, Brian and Eric decide to consult our respective experts:
From official The Rituals Consultant, Aunt Marjiann:
Hi, at long last, Eric,
One excuse for the delay in my reply is that I am flummoxed. I have no good advice to give you, which is a unique experience for me—to have to say, “I have no clue!” I have interviewed all my neighbors who make bread (relying at least partly on environmental yeast), and make alcoholic beverages. They use yeast, or starter. Starter might be a clue, now that I mention it…
My experience with making mead involved using brewer’s yeast. I tried champagne yeast, but I don’t like the flavor it imparts. Everyone I know who’s cooking up a batch of anything uses commercially available yeast. I haven’t found a soul who’s tried air-borne yeast to ferment anything, except cider… There are a dozen or so breweries around here, but I’m betting they use commercial yeast; at any rate, they’re not talking.
However, I understand that you are trying to go “old school”, or maybe “old world”. My first thought was: you’re living in L.A. Maybe all the modern by-products of human, mechanical and industrial gasses have displaced or killed any spontaneous yeasts that would otherwise hang out; maybe it gets too cold at night and the yeast dies. On the other hand, mold spores are everywhere and neither metro pollution nor cool overnights is going to deter them.
Aunt Marjiann then goes into eight comprehensive bullet points, broken down into the following subjects: Sanitizer, Ratios and Prep, Dirt=Spoilage, Inside/Outside, Kinds of Honey, Boiling, Alcohol Conversion, and Explosives (!). The “chapter” on boiling is particularly illuminating.
From Brian’s source, a professional brewer specializing in mead:
It sounds like the recipe uses the wild yeast in the air for fermentation. I personally would not try it. There are many types of yeast in the air and most of them won’t produce a good tasting mead. But if you do give it a try, let me know how it turns out.
Everyone (except for Aunt Marjiann) thinks making the mead with wild yeast is a terrible idea. “Just don’t do it” is a refrain we’ve heard more than once. I guess that is what makes it a refrain. Most people don’t realize that “Just Don’t Do It” was actually the long-forgotten runner-up in Nike’s 1988 slogan contest. We do, however. And we are here to revive this slogan because it gives us fuel. And not motivation, I mean. I’m talking about actual fuel. Perhaps T-shirts need to be made.