Something magical is going on under my bathroom sink.
How many people can say that?
I'm making a batch of mead, and my pleasure in announcing that is only slightly lessened by the fact that the reaction is almost always "What?"
Mead. That ancient brew of fermented honey that made the Vikings trade their horn hats for lamp shades. That Renaissance Faire staple that pairs so well with turkey legs.
If you've tasted it, take heart; according to Gotmead.com, the number of meaderies (yes -- that's a word) in the United States has tripled over the last decade.
Arsenal Cider House in Lawrenceville makes mead. Happy home brewers make mead. And now, thanks to my friend Nic, I make mead too.
Of course, I must give credit to my unpaid interns, the bees and the yeast.
Last Saturday was Mead Day. Not Bring your Mead to Work Day, which would be outstanding, but Mead Day. I celebrated by opening the cabinet door in my downstairs bathroom and peering in at the gallon glass bottle half-full of honey-water and mutilated oranges slowly bubbling a spicy aroma into the darkness.
Mead is a honey wine. It's simple and inexpensive to make, which has made it popular throughout history. The basic ingredients are a lot of honey, some water and a little yeast -- and patience. You can flavor it with fruit or spices (a nice cinnamon stick is in my batch), and it helps to have a special cap for your bottle that seals the opening but lets gas escape. If you don't vent the gas the yeast expels while it's feasting on all that tasty sugar, your little science project becomes a booze bomb.
There's some evidence that mead was the very first alcoholic drink mankind managed to discover -- and at first it was discovered, rather than made. As anyone who's gotten a mouthful of spoiled fruit or very old ketchup will tell you -- after they've spat out the fruit or ketchup -- fermentation happens. It requires very little in the way of encouragement.
Yeast, like germs and dog hair, is everywhere. Rogue Ales in Oregon sells a beer brewed with yeast from men's beards. Beard Beer. To be followed, perhaps, by Whisker Whisky or Stubble Bubbly.
Disturbing? You bet. But mankind is both ingenious and intrepid when it comes to figuring out how to turn foodstuffs into something that will allow us to dance. Going back at least 9,000 years, it's been brewed in China, and in Africa -- and the Greek gods drank it irresponsibly up on Mount Olympus. (Zeus drank enough to actually marry his sister. Wow.)
There's a whole epic poem about an obnoxious party crasher named Grendel, who keeps attacking the king's mead hall until a Scandinavian hero gets fed up and beats him up in the parking lot. Or something. I never actually had to read "Beowulf"; nobody reads it by choice. But I do know that Grendel is kind of a mama's boy, and before anybody can kick back with a refreshing mead, Beowulf has to deal with mom as well. Why? Because mead is worth fighting monsters and even their mothers for.
Maybe the nicest bit of lore about mead is that it gives us the word honeymoon. A medieval bride's father traditionally gave the newlyweds enough honey-based mead to last for a month (moon). By the time they sobered up, somebody was pregnant. Often the bride.
My mead will be ready to drink the first week of autumn, but I'll let it age till Christmas. Don't tell Santa Claus.
He's getting the usual milk and cookies. He's driving.
Samantha Bennett, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.