It's been a while since I've posted a blog or sent a newsletter to my mailing list. I have an excuse though...I've been busy!
Yeah I know, lousy excuse. For someone accustomed to do doing things when I durn well please, I still have to meet deadlines, show up to events on time, etc., etc. Thus, things like newsletters and blog posts tend to get pushed back to "I'll definitely get to it in the next day or two." Or, as it seems these days, in the next month or two.
All apologies aside, it's been a wild ride over the past several months. Make Mead Like a Viking continues to have solid sales, at least according to Amazon, and the positive reviews (as well as a few critical ones) continue to pour in, both on Amazon and through my various social media presences (see links at the bottom of each page of my website). If you've read it and have something to say, please do share your thoughts on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.
Although I will focus primarily on my trip to the Pacific Northwest in this blog entry, I would like to give a shout-out to Asheville, North Carolina, the homebrew and craft beer mecca of the Southeast. In April, I traveled there with my family from our home in Kentucky for the Mother Earth News Fair (MENF). I've presented at a few of these fairs now but my first was in Asheville. I made sure to give myself a few days extra to check out some of the many local (and I do mean local) food and craft brew venues. There are far too many to list here, as I always try something new whenever I visit, but the Wild Yeti in me particularly enjoyed Wicked Weed Brewery (or more specifically its Funkatorium). For an earlier rundown of my travels to Asheville see my 2012 Earthineer article.
I was hoping to find more time to visit some meaderies but sadly, meaderies are still far and few between in the southeast. Some are so small that they don't even allow visitors. One that did, Fox Hill Meadery, was in the mountains surrounding Asheville. The drive was beautiful, but as the owner warned us, GPS systems exit reality when they get close to his meadery. With only a few turnarounds we managed to find the aptly named meadery. Climbing up the steep driveway, we turned into what appeared to be someone's home. Turns out it was, although the mazer Jason Russ had recently had a building constructed specifically for his mead. Jason warmly welcomed us into his tasting room, where myself, my wife Jenna and my brother Zach (AKA the chainsaw juggler) sampled each of Fox Hill's seven mead varieties. Although we all enjoyed something about each mead, I will say that the range of flavor and styles available paled in comparison to what I discovered in the Pacific Northwest. This is not meant as a criticism of Jason and his meadery. This region of the country is simply not quite at the level that the west and east coasts are in regards to how seriously mead is taken as a contender to the craft beer movement. To be fair, it sounds like Fox Hill is well on its way to bringing greater variety in mead to North Carolina. Jason showed me some kegs which contained some session meads he was experimenting with. Essentially, a session mead is a mead with an alcohol level akin to beer and that is carbonated in a similar manner to beer. It uses less honey than the more wine-type meads and has a much shorter aging time. I'm working on my own session mead recipes currently, so stay tuned.
Fox Hill had a nice selection of melomels (fruit mead), metheglins (herbal / spiced mead) and traditional (simply honey, water and yeast), as well as a Special Reserve Mead. An off-dry (between dry and semi-sweet), this mead is made with a unique blend of buckwheat honey and some lighter varietals. It comes in at a solid 16% ABV (alcohol by volume). It is also aged in oak for a "long period of time" (I'm not sure exactly how long). Due to the strong flavor imparted by the oak and buckwheat, Jason adds ginger, as he feels it can handle it. I believe it also has apricot in it, but I don't see that noted on the meadery's website. For more on Fox Hill, read this AleHorn interview. All in all, it was an enjoyable visit. We brought back with us a couple of bottles of the Special Reserve and peach melomel, which we enjoyed (responsibly of course) along with one of my own metheglins. Other North Carolina meaderies include Bee & Bramble, Starrlight Mead and Black Mountain Ciderworks (which has both mead and cider).
Inspired by Fox Hill's Special Reserve, I picked up a local honey made from summer wildflowers. It was dark and rich but not nearly as much so as buckwheat. For my MENF presentation, I started a one-gallon batch of mead with dried apricot and ginger. Thus far, it has performed admirably in taste tests, even after passing the "sweet spot" most meads reach (meaning they taste lovely while "young" and sweet but reach a point where most of the sweetness has fermented away and they need time to age out harsh flavors). If you want to give it a try yourself, here's how I recommend you go about it:
Ginger-Apricot Mead Recipe
- Prepare a yeast starter through wild fermentation. If you don't have my book, my method is outlined here and here (scroll down to "weed mead").
- For a semi-sweet mead, blend approximately one quart (2.3 pounds) of honey and one gallon of slightly warmed spring water.
- Add three to four dried apricots or as many fresh, whole apricots as you'd like.
- Thinly slice a chunk of fresh ginger and drop in 3-4 slices (about 1 in. in length each).
- Add 5-6 organic raisins.
- Ferment in an open-mouthed container covered with a dish towel or cheesecloth for 1-2 weeks, stirring 2-3 times daily.
- Rack (transfer) to a narrow-necked jug with an airlock or balloon over the opening.
- Rack off lees (yeasty sediment on the bottom) after about a month and 1-2 times every couple of months thereafter. It should be ready for bottling or even drinking within 4-6 months. I highly recommend bottling and aging at least a few bottles.
- At any point in the process, if you taste and the apricot or ginger doesn't stand out enough for you, add more and continue to taste test until it has reached a level you like. Keep in mind that some flavor subtleties won't come out until the mead has aged in a bottle for six months or more.
- Don't forget to toast to your friends with a hearty "skal!"
As usual, I enjoyed meeting all of the sustainable living and modern homesteading enthusiasts, as well as converting some new wild mead makers at MENF. The passion at these events always amazes me. It really does feel like a family; a family that is working to change the world for the better. Up next, my Pacific Northwest tour of all things Vikings and mead!
The Great Pacific Northwest, where the mention of mead and Vikings rarely gets a "huh?"
I said this many times during my travels, but this area really is my second home. From the moment I glimpsed Mt. Rainier rising from the clouds as our plane descended into the Seattle-Tacoma (SEATAC) airport I felt at home. For a while, this was my home. Although I'm a Kentucky native and currently live in my home state, I spent what seemed at the time like a good portion of my life (7-8 years) living in various parts of Seattle and in Bellingham (near the Canadian border) and traveled a great deal throughout Washington, Oregon, western Canada, and the Southwest US.
This time I was on a mission: to spread the good word of Vikings and wild-crafted mead! My wife and I chose to arrive before Memorial Day weekend to catch a bit of personal travel and do some camping and beach combing before the tour-proper started. We also chose to leave our five-year old and one-year old at home on my mom's farm (hallelujah!) so that we could, well, recover some of our sanity. I will certainly be bringing them with me the next time but this particular trip would have been trying on all of us. Not to mention that Jenna and I have barely gone a night without kids for quite some time now.
After visiting some of my old haunts in Seattle and trying out some of the new breweries that had popped up since I lived there last, I had my first workshop before our official vacation started, on Friday evening of Memorial Day weekend... Despite the insane traffic we had to navigate to get to the venue on time, I and the workshop attendees had a good old time. Ironically, three attendees were Kentucky natives. I learned that there is a strong interest in all things Viking and Norse in Tacoma. There's even a Scandinavian Cultural Center. A hearty thank you to the staff at Crescent Moon Gifts for hosting the event. If you're in the area, check out their Spring Fairy Festival and Fall Fantasy Faire.
Following a weekend spent attending the Northwest Folklife festival and camping at beautiful Deception Pass State Park, it was time to head to the Fremont area of Seattle for a reading and micro workshop at The Book Larder. I love the concept of a community cookbook store and hope more communities give this concept a try. The turnout and reception were solid and the staff even picked up some mead for a tasting. They chose Chaucer's which is one of the earliest meads I tried and still one of my favorite dessert meads.
Next up was Village Books in Bellingham, one of my favorite bookstores to visit when I lived there. Some of my old writer friends from the area...and I mean old (or at least they claim to be, given that they refer to their little group as the Grumpy Old Writers) arranged a potluck before the reading and came along to cheer me on. The turnout was a little smaller here but Bellingham is the "city of subdued excitement" after all. Perhaps their excitement was a little more subdued than usual. Regardless I got to pay a visit to my favorite English-style pub, Archer Ale House, during my visit, so it was well worth it.
After Bellingham we figured "why not head to Canada?" Given that the border is just over 20 miles from Bellingham I figured I may as well pay a visit to one of my favorite cities in the world (and I've been to a few), Vancouver BC. The crossing was fairly painless, although it is certainly much less lax than when I used to visit during pre 9/11 days. We were going to camp that evening but a downpour convinced us to stay at a hotel in Langley BC and catch up on some laundry.
Next morning, we drove into beautiful Vancouver and went straight to the Granville Island Public Market, still one of my favorite markets in the world, with a stellar selection of fresh, local and unique food offerings. Of course, the very first stop at the market was Granville Island Brewing, where I tried a lovely flight (sampling) of freshly made craft beers.
After picking up a quart of local, raw thistle honey we headed into town for my reading that evening, at Barbara-Jo's Books To Cooks, another cookbook book store. Although Barbara-Jo and staff were hoping I could bring along some of my own mead for a tasting, the facts that I had flown out for my trip, crossed the border, and still only brew on a very small personal scale, made that rather difficult. Still, I picked up some local meads, as did Barbara-Jo's, so we got to enjoy a mead sampling along with a reading and mini-workshop! The group that attended seemed to enjoy themselves quite a bit, particularly since I emphasized that we toast with a skal! after each sample.
The next day was going to be a tough one, as our next stop was in Portland, Oregon. We elected to drive that night back to Seattle to make the next day's drive less painful. As we had the rest of our time in Seattle, we crashed on our dear old friend (and fellow Berea College graduate) Moriah Cayenne Dailer's couch in her cozy Fremont apartment. Here's a hearty skal! to her for making us feel at home while away from home.
For the last leg of our trip, we headed to Oregon for a workshop at the Portland Homebrew Exchange (HBX). Before the workshop, I had to brave the rush hour traffic to make time for visiting a place I had only just heard about, The Mead Market.
What an incredible idea. Why doesn't every town have a mead market? Originally (and still) a beekeeping-supply store, they had so many customers asking about mead that they decided to open a retail store with a workshop space and regular tastings from local meaderies. They had literally just moved into the retail space when I visited and were finalizing their workshop space. The staff members and I felt a meadly gravitation toward one another immediately. I will almost certainly bee (ha-ha) back to host a workshop and book signing in the near future.
After the workshop (finally, a workshop in a homebrew store where I had plenty of items on hand to demonstrate!), we headed to Albany, Oregon for the Big Event, the reason we were out there in the first place, the Oregon Mother Earth News Fair. For this event, I did both my Make Mead Like a Viking workshop and my Ferment the Harvest workshop. In addition to mead, I ferment vegetables and lots of other stuff, and teach about other types of fermentation when I have the opportunity. Both were well attended by the typical passionate MENF crowd full of passion (and questions).
Conveniently, I was set up right next to Bee Thinking, the beekeeping-supply store that also runs the Mead Market. I didn't realize this until the next day when I saw they were sharing a photo of my presentation on social media. I made sure to stop by and chat with them and take the opportunity for a photo-op. If you're wondering about the walking stick...well, I had some old foot injuries come back to haunt me during the trip and spent most of it hobbling around. I'm still recovering but I'm a Viking. I'm not going to let some old battle injury slow me down!
Seeing as I did both of my workshops on Saturday, I decided to make the rounds, visit friends (authors, editors, publishing folks, etc.) from previous fairs--including the Chelsea Green Publishing and New Society Publishing booths and the Backwoods Home / Self Reliance magazine booth--and then play hooky.
Seeing as it was nearly 100 degrees on our side of the Cascades, Jenna and I located a beach (Nye Beach in Newport) about an hour across the mountains and headed there for an afternoon walk on the cool, misty beach. Did I mention I couldn't seem to avoid running into Vikings on this trip? When I felt an urge for coffee, a coffee shop magically appeared before me called Carl's Coffee. I was intrigued by the Mjolnir (Thor's Hammer) in their logo and stopped in for a macchiato (the real kind, not the Starbucks kind). In querying the staff I discovered that Carl had Viking ancestry and I would "know it if I saw him." Sadly I didn't get a chance to meet Carl but I did pick up a t-shirt.
You would think this would be the end of my trip, wouldn't you? While we were scheduled to fly out early Tuesday morning (we're currently at Sunday), I had one more event Monday evening. On our way back to Seattle, we stopped at Olympia for a reading at the lovely little indie bookshop Orca Books. This reading was also highlighted with a sampling of mead purchased by the staff. Although I was about worn out and hoarse in the voice at this point, I made it through and met some more folks passionate about Vikings and mead. It would be heresy of me not to mention the stop I made before the reading. The folks at the Mead Market had informed me of a little neighborhood hangout called the Skep and Skein. Yes, this is a bar and mini-meadery that serves its own mead, mead from other meaderies, and a nice selection of craft beer...and hosts groups of knitters, spinners and crocheters for weekly mead-ups. Knit, purl, drink, repeat! ...I have no idea if that is their logo but it should be. They were unfortunately out of their house mead but I enjoyed some Redstone mead from Colorado and a couple samples of craft beer.
Next up: drive to North Seattle (I was my typical cheaparse and rented a Prius hybrid far from the airport), drop the car off after hours, take a cab to nearest Link light rail stop, and hobble to the room I rented (again, not quite as close to the airport as it should have been). We pretty much had time for a shower and couple-hour nap before getting up to catch our flight. It was an exhausting day but well worth it!
Before I close out I'd like to share some photos from the Nordic Heritage Museum in the Ballard District of Seattle. I've visited there many times but this time made it a point to chat with their events director and gift shop manager. Their gift shop now carries Make Mead Like a Viking and Don't Fall in the Mead Hall. I will mostly likely be back to present a workshop there, likely in May or June 2017. Also, I have high hopes that I'll have a booth at their Viking Days event in August. I highly recommend this museum if you're interested in Scandinavian culture, arts and history from any era.
Well folks, thanks for reading. I know this was long but I felt like we had a lot to catch up on. Stay tuned for future (and hopefully shorter and more regular) updates chock full of recipes, Viking lore and other fun. In the meantime, be sure to follow my Facebook and Twitter pages:
And, check out my website's Portfolio page for semi-regular updates on articles I've had published that appear on the web. Also, my Media page has links to media appearances and podcast / radio interviews, including a recent discussion I had with Jack Spirko on his Survival Podcast.
As always, Skal!