All-hive mead

An all-hive mead uses all the cappings after harvesting the honey and some old combs with plenty of pollen too; nutrients for the yeast.

Brewing like many old-fashioned activities demands mindfulness, patience and time. In many ways it is closely allied to baking your own bread. Taking copious notes of the ingredients and details of how they were used is imperative. Temperature, pH and specific gravity are all important factors.

These are my first ramblings, so you follow the difficulties I had.

Glass of all-hive mead

The huge advantage of this all-hive mead is that all the nutrients for the yeast are supplied by the natural, lightly-filtered honey and pollen without having to add various chemicals; the rich flavour is unique.

At the Royal Show in South Africa this last weekend, an all-hive mead was awarded the top bottle prize.

I follow the same principles when making my braggart, a honey beer, but that has a much lower alcohol-content; around 6%.

All-hive mead using honeycomb cappings.
  • A large carboy; this one holds 23 litres. You could also use a bucket.
  • Several smaller demijohns that will hold at least two-thirds; in my case I settled for three five-litre glass containers.
  • An auto-syphon.
  • Various bungs for a tight fit.
  • A bubbler.
  • A hydrometer.
  • Thermometer.
  • 10 ml pipette or wine thief.
  • Two five-litre containers of cappings.
  • Two old brood-combs.
  • Extra honey.
  • A small piece of comb with fresh pollen.
  • Unchlorinated water to 2/3 fill the carboy.
  • 1/2 tsp of white-yeast.
  1. Weigh the two five-litre containers of wax cappings, and multiply the figure in kilogrammes by 0.38 to get the approximate mass of honey; about 5kg. Place them in the carboy.
  2. Break up two old brood-combs into smallish pieces and add them to the carboy or bucket.
  3. Half-fill the carboy with rainwater heated in a kettle to 40oC, stir vigorously breaking up the pieces and using the hydrometer, measure the specific gravity; it will be around 1.12.
  4. Add more liquid honey whilst continuing to stir; get the SG up to 1.15.
  5. 12 hours later again check the SG is still around 1.15, note it; measure the temperature and add hot water, getting it back to 40oC.
  6. Do not more than 2/3 fill the carboy. If you do, this is likely to happen.
An overfilled all-hive mead carboy.

7. Add 1 tsp of yeast to 50ml of cold water in a mug; allow to hydrate.

8. Half an hour later, draw off roughly 25ml of the warm carboy liquid and add it to the yeast mixed with cold water. Stir for a few minutes, and then pour it back into the glass container.

9. Fit the air-lock and allow to ferment for about 2 - 3 weeks depending on the ambient temperature; until bubbling ceases. Sometimes it may continue for much longer.

10. Test and note the SG and pH.

11. Using the auto-syphon rack the liquid off into the demijohns.

12. Bottle after three-months if it has cleared; otherwise rack again.

Days 1 & 2: 13 December, 2021.

Dissolve 8kg of cappings in half a bucket of warm water at 40oC. Brake two old broodcombs into the mixture.

Leave the mixture overnight for the wild fermentation to start. Stir vigorously with a long handled plastic spoon and got the temperature back to 40oC, filling the bucket to about two-thirds full.

Measured the specific gravity with a hydrometer; it was difficult due to the thick nature of the wort, but appeared to be about 1.050.

Used a 10g packet of Anchor bread yeast with a few tablespoons of warm water, waited half an hour for the fermentation to begin, and then added a little of the wort; stirred vigorously and poured the mixture into bucket.

Sealed the bucket and fixed the air-lock, with a few millilitres of vodka, in place with a little Prestic. Now we wait for fermentation to start.

24 January, 2022

After six weeks the mead continues to bubble steadily every two minutes or so.

My auto-syphon has arrived and I will soon be testing the SG more accurately.

The page is under construction; I'll be sharing difficulties and joys as I go along. I have realised there are contradictions concerning the specific gravity. Now the wine-thief has arrived I will be able to get much more accurate readings.

All-hive mead ready for bottling.

This is what Eddy Lear's all-hive mead looks like.

9th February, 2022

It's now 10 weeks since I started my all hive mead at the beginning of December. Fermentation has stopped and I used the auto-syphon to do the first rack. It looks like dirty, muddy water but has the kick of a mule!

SG = 1.060 and alcohol by volume 8%.

pH

So the range you want is 3.5 to 4.5. 

Add 1.25ml of bicarb or tartaric acid per 0.5 adjustment on 5 litres. After mixing in recheck pH. I usually do my levels before fermentation, but have needed to do it at racking some times.

Saligna honey tends towards alkaline. So I always add 5ml of Tartaric acid, or lemon juice, if I use it.

If your pH is 3 add 1.25ml Bicarb. If it is 5 then use 1.25 ml Tartaric acid; both in powder form. Stir without adding air into the mix; it may start an oxidisation process, which might end up with a vinegar.

2nd May

Today I did the second rack and tested the pH. The colour on the test strip doesn't clearly match the given colours on the card.

My pH appeared to be about 1.5 so tentatively added 1/2 tsp bicarb powder when doing the second rack. It foamed quite badly and overflowed; next time I will add it more slowly.

5th June

Bottled the all-hive mead using the auto-syphen. It's very good but clearly needs to mature.

Racking

All yeast products have a mind of their own, just talk to bakers, but these are the guidelines for when to rack your mead.

  • I usually do my first rack 6 - 12 weeks after making it.
  • I rack it a second time after it is clear which could be 6 - 12 months later.
  • If it was very clear when I started my 2nd rack, then after a week or two would move to bottling.
  • If still a bit murky then another rack when it is clear, followed by bottling.

You can see from the photo of the first glass at the top of the page that I bottled before the all-hive mead had cleared.

There's a little dilemma to be considered. If you want your mead to act as a probiotic you need live yeast cells; it will not have cleared. Your mead will be a bit murky as above.

If you want a beautifully clear all-hive mead to impress your friends then you have to wait longer before bottling; it will in all probability also taste more mature.

Sweetness


In 23 litres use 8kg of honey for a sweet mead, 6.9kg for a semi-dry.

That is roughly 1tsp of honey less per glass of 125ml; about 6g.


Thoughts

The wax cappings took up too much room so I could not add enough water to the carboy.

In future I will mush the cappings up in a bucket of water using a potato-masher, strain and pour the gleanings into the carboy. The wax will go to the solar extractor.

If you feel tempted to brew your own, this is the basic mead equipment you will need.

An allied field is that your all hive mead will contribute to re-establishing the intestinal microbes in your gut; a subject of great complexity and importance.

Honeybees making new comb.

This photo is in appreciation of the remarkable work of photographer Ingo Arndt[1].

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All hive mead

Now you know why all-hive mead can only be brewed by a beekeeper.

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