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Old 01-15-2013, 10:18 PM   #1
damdaman
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Default "Whole hive" mead

This idea comes from the book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner. The book is overall a difficult read (except for the chapter called Alcohol: Aqua Vitae, the Water of Life, which covers the common mythology across the globe surrounding the discovery of fermentation and how, until recent western practices of isolating alcohol from its "whole food" source, i.e. distillation, alcoholic beverages were considered healthy, strengthening, and healing), but has a lot of great ideas in it. The book generally changed the way I looked at my homebrew and set me on the course to learning more about making homemade wines, meads, etc.

For example, once I learned about the health benefits of yeast, I no longer leave the sediment in my bottle-conditioned brews in the bottle. I've started to look at perfectly clear beers and wines (with some exceptions, sometimes the aesthetic of a perfectly clear wine is too much to resist) with the knowledge that the perfect clarity comes at the price of removing a lot of the "whole food" ingredients (yeast above all else) that actually add some nutrition to the drink, as well as possibly containing unnecessary additives to clear it that may or may not be healthy for you.

At any rate, back to the idea of "whole hive" mead. This is based on the theory that original mead-makers would cut down a whole hive and boil the whole thing, rather than trying to isolate the honey. There are a ton of things that would end up in the whole hive mead produced this way that isn't in our modern meads where we just add the honey (also note that wild bees would collect pollen from many different flower sources, diversifying the nutritional content of the honey they produce, so I only use wildflower honey in my meads now).

The main ones of these are:
- bee pollen
- propolis
- royal jelly
- bee venom

Assuming the hive remnants and dead bees are then strained out before fermentation, all of the above would probably have been introduced into the must during the boil. Here is a brief description of these ingredients and their healthy/nutritious properties:

bee pollen: Along with propolis and royal jelly, this product is actually sold in health food stores as a supplement. Bee pollen is the pollen collected from flowers by the bees and brought back to the hive. The bees mix the collected pollen with some digestive enzymes and other secretions when they collect it, and there is some evidence to suggest that bee pollen (as opposed to plant pollen - which is the pollen before it is collected by the bees) is more nutritious. It is certainly higher in protein than honey, thus providing a nutritional boost to the bees' diet that honey doesn't provide.

propolis: Propolis is the result of a resinous substance gathered from trees by the bees and used mainly to hold their hive together. The gathered resin is mixed with the bees' own pollen, wax, nectar and enzymes to make the final propolis mixture. The propolis mixture is anti-viral and anti-bacterial, protecting the hive from infection (a trait that honey and other bee products share). According to the book, "Propolis has more bioflavonoids than oranges... and contains all the known vitamins except vitamin K and all the minerals needed by the body except sulphur."

royal jelly: Royal jelly is the only food the queen bee eats. Again, quoting from the book: "Royal jelly has remarkable effects upon the queen bee. Born no different from other bees, her life is extended from the usual six weeks that most bees enjoy to live years.... The queen lays approximately 2,200 eggs each day (200 times her body weight), more than 2,000,000 in her lifetime - a feat no other creature on Earth equals."

bee venom: I'm not sure if there's any way to obtain bee venom for use in a whole hive mead, but the book does discuss it as a powerfully healthy medicine, and would presumably be present in some quantity in the ancient whole hive mead as the bees would pretty pissed off that their hive was being carried off and thrown into a boiling pot of water.

I am not including links or sourcing material (other than the book I'm discussing), the book itself is heavily footnoted and anyone interested in the research about the healing/nutritional properties of bee/hive products can google it easily enough.

So back to the whole hive mead. I used the recipe in the book as a framework and made the following batch:

5 gals water
12 lbs. raw wildflower honey
2 oz. propolis
2 oz. bee pollen
2 oz. royal jelly
Pasteur champagne yeast

I didn't boil mine, preferring to try and keep as much of the enzymatic activity alive as possible, I warmed the water to approximately 130*, just enough to properly dissolve the honey. The propolis, bee pollen and royal jelly were added during cooling. Make sure the undissolved solids from these ingredients make it into the fermenter.

A note on nutrients: I did NOT use yeast nutrient or energizer in this batch. The whole hive ingredients all contains significant quantities of vitamins, minerals and protein (nitrogen) that honey is lacking in. The mead fermented dry with no problems.

I never racked, and bottled while the mead was still cloudy and before it was fully dry, about 1.004, hoping it would carbonate slightly and finish in the bottles, which it is doing.

I was a little worried about the propolis in particular, as it has a very weird smell and I was concerned it would add an odd flavor to the finished product, but it really doesn't. The mead is very tasty, even unaged, although it has the appearance of lemonade (cloudy), I take that as a good sign for this project, after all, if the concept is correct, that cloudiness is nutrition. My girlfriend is loving it as well, in fact, we're drinking the young mead so fast I'm going to have to put the 2nd case somewhere hidden so we can let it age.

I'm sure some people will disagree with some of what is said here, but I'm enjoying drinking something that I can feel good about putting in my body, instead of thinking of anything with alcohol in it as "bad."

I encourage anyone with an open mind about such things to read the book, as you'll learn a lot.

Thanks for reading!

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Old 01-16-2013, 12:16 AM   #2
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You didnt include the bee larva or whatever they would have gotten from dissolving the beeswax during the boil. I would think the larva would be a great source of protein for the yeast, and even the meadmaker WVMJ

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Old 01-16-2013, 12:39 AM   #3
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Good read....

Wall of text FTW!
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Old 02-06-2013, 08:41 PM   #4
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Just an update on using only hive products as yeast nutrient on different batches. I started 2 batches; 1 high OG pyment (using frozen organic grape juice concentrate), 1 triple-berry melomel (i.e. dragon's blood). I used no commercial energizer or nutrient. No oxygenation after pitching. No rehydrating the yeast before pitching. No additions of any kind after pitching. I used approximately 2oz of bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis per 5 gallons to act as nutrient.

All 3 batches fermented dry.

The pyment went from 1.120 to 1.006 in 17 days using 1 packet of pasteur champagne yeast. The triple-berry melomel went from 1.092 to 1.002 in 17 days using one packet of ec-1118.

I'm very excited by these results, in the past getting my meads to ferment dry was a huge production involving staggered nutrient additions and whipping oxygen into the must on a daily basis. This was simple, easy and (if you believe the principle behind it) results in a healthier beverage. All my meads are going to be whole hive from now on.

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Old 02-08-2013, 12:08 AM   #5
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I would argue you cant call this whole hive mead since you dont have any comb in there, a little comb, maybe from some comb honey would make it more legitimate to call a whole hive mead. You also lack any larva or skins from the larvae that would be some of the comb from the brood area, not to mention no bee poop from the larvae that would really boost your fermentation. Its interesting that including the propolis did not inhibit the fermentation as it is also anti fungal and helps to inhibit the native yeast in the hive. I wonder why you had such a hard time fermenting them before, your starting gravity is a little high so that may have made your yeasts life difficult, but rehydrating yeast and stirring in oxygen in the beginning are not bad things that make mead making harder. I wonder what this will taste like in a few months or so when the yeast lyse, probably it will still be just as good if not better? WVMJ

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Old 07-07-2013, 12:11 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by damdaman View Post
Just an update on using only hive products as yeast nutrient on different batches. I started 2 batches; 1 high OG pyment (using frozen organic grape juice concentrate), 1 triple-berry melomel (i.e. dragon's blood). I used no commercial energizer or nutrient. No oxygenation after pitching. No rehydrating the yeast before pitching. No additions of any kind after pitching. I used approximately 2oz of bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis per 5 gallons to act as nutrient.

All 3 batches fermented dry.

The pyment went from 1.120 to 1.006 in 17 days using 1 packet of pasteur champagne yeast. The triple-berry melomel went from 1.092 to 1.002 in 17 days using one packet of ec-1118.

I'm very excited by these results, in the past getting my meads to ferment dry was a huge production involving staggered nutrient additions and whipping oxygen into the must on a daily basis. This was simple, easy and (if you believe the principle behind it) results in a healthier beverage. All my meads are going to be whole hive from now on.

Hi Damdaman,

This is fascinating and of particular interest to me since my father-in-law is a beekeeper and mead maker as well. He has gotten me hooked on mead making. I am really tempted to try this on my next two batches of blueberry melomel which I plan to do this summer.

I am curious to understand better the exact nutritional requirements of the yeast and how the bee products supply this.

BTW - are you able to cook with the dead yeast that are left over in the lees?

Thanks again,

Will
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Old 07-07-2013, 12:47 PM   #7
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Interesting read. My only comment is about consuming the yeast sediment in homebrew. I have read that it is very nutritious but causes some people to head straight for the bathroom. Although its possible that their system just needs to adjust to the yeast it doesn't sound like fun experiment to conduct. Also too much of the sediment would affect the flavor of the beer.

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Old 07-08-2013, 11:22 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by stappmusic View Post
Hi Damdaman,

This is fascinating and of particular interest to me since my father-in-law is a beekeeper and mead maker as well. He has gotten me hooked on mead making. I am really tempted to try this on my next two batches of blueberry melomel which I plan to do this summer.

I am curious to understand better the exact nutritional requirements of the yeast and how the bee products supply this.

BTW - are you able to cook with the dead yeast that are left over in the lees?

Thanks again,

Will
Yeast need B vitamins and nitrogen (protein) to be healthy, reproduce and ferment well, but honey is noticeably lacking in all these when processed (unprocessed raw honey will be higher in protein).

All three of the above additions (propolis, bee pollen and royal jelly) are high in protein and B vitamins. Commercial yeast nutrient is usually just a mix of nitrogen and B vitamins.

You should absolutely try it, especially if you have access to cheap/free bee products in the family! It seems cost is the only major reason not to, royal jelly in particular is expensive.
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Old 07-08-2013, 11:25 PM   #9
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Interesting read. My only comment is about consuming the yeast sediment in homebrew. I have read that it is very nutritious but causes some people to head straight for the bathroom. Although its possible that their system just needs to adjust to the yeast it doesn't sound like fun experiment to conduct. Also too much of the sediment would affect the flavor of the beer.
Yeah I have a friend who has that response. There's a couple things you can do, you can make a whole hive mead and just let it clear like normal, this will make sure the yeast is out of solution but certainly some of the other good stuff will be left behind.

Or you can do what I do, when you open a bottle that you bottled cloudy you can serve your friends off the top and save the bottom, with all the sediment, for a shot of nutrition later on.

All that being said, I've started bottling my whole hive meads a little later do reduce some of the cloudiness. The first 2-4 glasses you pour out of the bottle are nice and clear though, and then you can consume the sediment if you want to at the end (kind of like bottle-conditioned home brewed beer).

But I think it's worth it to make whole hive meads even if you let it clear completely.
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Old 07-09-2013, 03:48 AM   #10
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Well I personally, wouldn't bottle anything cloudy or unclear.

Just because a lot of yeasts are fine to age on i.e. sur lie/batonage ageing, the amount of time its possible to keep a mead in the bottle, could still give you autolysis off flavours....

I just won't bottle if its got any sediment in it.......

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