What to do with your cappings: why not make Mead?
Pete Barrar, Conwy
I’ve kept bees now for over thirty years, but it’s only in the last six or seven years that I’ve finally sorted out my favoured approach to not wasting anything! I extract my honey, the bees get the wet frames, I wash my cappings and make mead, and I process the cappings through a bain-marie for the beautiful wax.
I uncap into a potting-up tray and then drain off the honey which collects under the cappings through a coarse filter back into the extractor’s settling tank. The honey-wet wax cappings are then put into a 5-gallon bucket along with any honey which remains in the tray. I’m pretty careful not to use too much water, just enough to float the wax and which enables me to agitate the cappings to dissolve the remaining honey.
I then pour the water and cappings through a muslin filter into another bucket and put the cappings to one side.
Using a cut-off 2 litre plastic water bottle as a trial jar, the Specific Gravity (SG) of the liquor can be measured with a hydrometer. The starting gravity needs to be 1.085 to 1.090 for a dry mead, which is what I aim for. To achieve this, I usually adjust the SG of the liquor by adding more honey or more water. I don’t heat or boil the liquor. I know this can let wild yeasts get into the fermentation, but I am prepared to take my chances. All the equipment is scrupulously clean to start with. I estimate how much liquor I have got, and I measure out a teaspoon of citric acid and a teaspoon of yeast nutrient per gallon. Add some hot water to dissolve them and pitch into the liquor. I use a white wine yeast and pitch that into the liquor too. This then goes into one gallon demi-johns and I seal them with a water lock. I always leave sufficient airspace below the top of the demi-john, to allow the initial fermentation to foam and then slow down, after a week or so.
An ambient temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit is fine for starting the fermentation. I then put the demi-johns into a dark cupboard at about 65 degrees and leave for maybe three or four months, until all the bubbling has stopped. The aim is to get the final SG down to 0.990 to 1.000. This will give an alcohol content by volume of around 12% – 13%.
I use proprietary finings to clear the mead and syphon off into bottles. They should then be left in a cool dark place for 2 or 3 years……. if you can wait that long it is really worth the wait!!
A good dry mead should be chilled and drunk as you would with a Fino Sherry.