I decided to give it a go and strayed from Berry's directions slightly. The recipe calls for 30g Hops, 560g Honey, 4.5 litres water, yeast and yeast nutrient. It's pretty basic but probably a good place to start and I'm sure any eager home brewers out there will be able to tweak and build on it.
I didn't know anything about hops. Not a thing. Now I know a little. But not a lot. There's a huge range of Hops and using them yields different flavours and aromas to suit different beers. I opted for one called Columbus or Tomahawk from eBay. This hop has 14.3% Alpha Acids. I don't really know what that means. Might be important though. It's described as a "high alpha variety" and is "used as a bittering hop with an intense aroma." I actually picked it because the name reminded me of the time I found a toy tomahawk on nightclub floor. At £2.25 for 25g including postage and packaged as a sort of huge tea bag for ease of use it's an experiment with low financial risk.
For the honey I had half a 250g jar of my own set honey I'd been working through and a very granulated jar of liquid honey I'd kept back from a previous year. Doesn't matter that one was set and one was granulated liquid, they'll both melt the same.
|Botchard ingredients minus yeast nutrient|
Berry says to actually simmer the honey for the same 30 minutes the hops are in but I did want to compromise the quality of the honey, I spooned the honey in along with some cold water and gave it a stir then left it to dissolve. Some mead recipes talk about boiling honey up as part of the process which I did with my first batch of mead but after a little more reading I stopped doing it and never had a problem. It does seem a bit pointless using a high quality raw honey if you're then going to ruin it by boiling, might as well use some cheap supermarket honey that's already been compromised by heating if that's your plan.
Once cooled Berry says to strain the liquid into a demijohn, I guess that must be to remove the hops, he wrote the book in 1963 so I guess compressed hop pellets prepared in teabag type things weren't the norm back then, so I decided to skip the straining. As I poured it into the demijohn I did notice some tiny particles in the bottom though. Once in the demijohn I threw in some yeast and yeast nutrient -he doesn't say how much of either so I went with a teaspoon of each, if there's not enough yeast I expect the yeast will just make more anyway, not so sure about the nutrient so I just crossed my fingers. The full demijohn didn't look very impressive to be honest, just a gallon of murky brownish water.
|I appear to have made a gallon of dishwater.|
Berry says to ferment it for 10 days in a warm room before bottling and leaving somewhere cool for a month. I left it in an upstairs room to stay warmish. After 10 days I was seeing about a bubble per second in the airlock and the liquid had lightened in colour to something approaching real lemonade and was starting to clear as sediment fell to the bottom of the demijohn. I topped up the water level a little with more bottled water. In total I used nearly 5 litres.
|Into the fridge, looks like orange juice now|
Berry says to siphon it into flagons which I think are the ceramic cider bottles Windy Miller in Camberwick Green used to drink his very strong homebrew cider from before passing out every week (they don't make kids programmes like they used to) but I don't think it really matters as long as you use a bottle that can contain the pressure of a carbonated drink without exploding or firing off it's closure. That rules out wine bottles but there's plenty of options still, beer bottles, cider bottles, plastic fizzy drink bottles, Champagne bottles, Prosecco bottles -they'll all do the job.
I used a bottling wand I'd removed from it's tap and attached to a regular siphon to fill the bottles. I just shoved the wand onto the end of the siphon's plastic tap. It didn't fit very well though and after it slipping out and losing drink on the floor I decided to hold the thing together whilst I used it. Next time I'll just attach a bit of hose to the wand for a better fit on the siphon tap. When it's working the wand is very easy to use and better than the Buon Vino Super Automatic Bottle Filler I've used before.
I pressed some saved some Leffe Bottles into service and a half litre beer bottle. I could've actually filled 6 75cl bottles is there hadn't been some spillage along the way. Ooops. A note on bottles: they come in a variety of colours but brown provides the most protection from UV light for the contents, green provides less protection and clear provides none. I also gather the darker glass provide mores protection than lighter coloured glass. The proliferation of green bottles seems to be because they're cheaper and easier to make then brown ones.
Corking Belgian Beer style bottles is a little trickier than regular wine bottles or capping beer bottles. The cork only goes half way in and then needs a metal cage attaching, they also use a wider cork than wine bottles. I watched a youtube video on how to recap belgian beer bottles then ordered champagne corks and cages and and a two lever corker online. The corker isn't really meant for wider champagne corks but it works. I had a practice run following the tutorial on an empty bottle and found the cork got pulled up a bit when removing the corker so I wound up putting them a little further into the bottle than required to compensate for that. I just used a pen to twist the wire cage tabs tight. Some labels were hastily knocked up in P-Touch Editor, printed on the thermal printer and slapped on the bottles. Almost got them straight. As these aren't for sale (no alcohol license) I didn't bother looking at legal labelling requirements.
|Can see my reflection in those.|
Berry recommends ageing it somewhere cool after carbonation but I was in a hurry to test it so after thirteen days I popped the smaller bottle into a fridge and left it overnight to cool. Whilst waiting I killed a little time by engraving a beer glass with my Dremmel, idle hands and all that.
In the bottle the Botchard was very clear but there was no way to tell if it was carbonated or not till it was opened. Carbonation was very successful. You probably can't tell in the photo due to condensation on the glass but the botchard came out crystal clear. Whilst it's made with hops it's still a mead rather than a beer. I think it probably qualifies as a Methyglin due to the presence of hops. The finial product is a light refreshing drink a little closer to Champagne than beer. I'm not sure of the alcohol content as I didn't bother checking the specific gravity at all during the making but I gather fermenting honey tends to ferment more completely than regular sugar so yields a higher alcohol content.
|First glass of Botchard! |
I can also cross glass engraving off of my bucket list now.
I now need to put the remaining bottles someplace cool and dark to age. As they're closed with corks they need to be someplace the corks wont dry out and shrink which rules out using a fridge for long term storage. I'll probably put them in the brick outbuilding as my homegrown potatoes, onions, garlic and so on seem to last very well in there without shrivelling up. They'll need to be stored upright as the priming sugar is fermented in the bottle so as with any live beer there should be a little sediment in the bottom of the bottle.
So there we have it. An extremely easy drink to make and another reason to buy Honey, if you needed one. I think you could probably use a single pound jar of honey for a one gallon batch. Now to think about scaling up the recipe for a five gallon batch...