Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pesach Mead, the Ezzie way

Disclaimer: This is NOT a technical article nor is it meant to be.

I haven’t made much beer lately, what with working full time, taking a college class in SQL, participating in the HBin5 bread braids, surviving a long snowy winter, etc. And worst of all my SQL class is EVERY Wednesday. This means I am missing my South Central PA Homebrewer's Association meetings which take place on the last Wednesday of every month! Wah, big WAH!

But this weekend I had to get busy with a special libation I call Pesach Mead (Passover Mead). I made this brew 2 years ago, and while it was OK, it wasn’t great. So I decided to work on the recipe a bit and give it another go this year.

My interest in this began when Ira, one of my fellow brewers in our Central PA Homebrewers Club (and Jewish) mentioned that he had found out that Jews in Eastern Europe made a form of mead with hops for Pesach. Well, that’s all it took for me!

On the internet I searched high and low for references and recipes. I really didn’t find much information! But I did find a microbrewery in NY called Ramapo Valley Brewery that made a Passover Mead. Unfortunately I had no idea where to find it here in York, PA and didn’t have time to go to Philadelphia or Baltimore to look further for it.

So I plunged in and found what sounded like a decent mead recipe on page 338 in The Complete Joy of Home Brewing 3rd Edition by Charlie Papazian. I’ve used this book since beginning to make beer about 4 years ago.

In the ensuing 2 years I’ve found some good discussions and a great article that appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice that actually gives a recipe for Pesach Mead! But I’m sticking with Charlie’s recipe although I kicked it up a notch. In the original recipe it calls for a light honey which is what I used 2 years ago. But this time I decided to use a full flavored raw Buckwheat honey. I also only used 1 ½ oz of hops and ½ oz of that was dry hopped the last time. This means that the ½ ounce was simply added to the fermenting beer, not during the boil. (If you have not made beer this will make sense soon I promise.) This time I put all the hops in the boiling brew. Also instead of using leaf hops I used pellet hops. These look like little rabbit pellet food. But the pellets in this case are dried and compressed hops. Thanks to Marty at Mr. Steve’s Homebrewing supplies for the help in picking out the best hops for this!

But let me briefly explain why I wanted mead for Pesach. During the 8 days of Pesach Jews do not eat anything that is leavened. This means no bread, pasta, etc. Grains of any kind are completely off the menu for these 8 days. We do eat matzah but to be completely kosher for Pesach it has to be made within 18 minutes so that the matzah does not rise.

Since grains are off the menu, so is beer. Now, yes, we can certainly go without beer for 8 days. We do it frequently without even thinking. But for me I love to try traditions of our forefathers/foremothers and I was quite intrigued with the idea of making mead to replace beer.

When I make beer and wine I often tease my mother-in-law, Bea, that I am channeling her father. He owned a malt and hops store in Boston for many years. Sadly, no one saved the recipes he gave his customers and made for himself! I’ll bet he had a great mead recipe too! Darn!

So here is what I did today. But before I give the recipe let me explain the one thing that is the most important thing that brewers do. Everything that will be touching the brew must be cleaned and sanitized, I mean everything. So I spend an hour or two cleaning all my equipment, the buckets, the siphon, the stirring spoon, the hydrometer, the steel kettle I use to boil it in, etc. I also clean the counters, the sink, etc, with a mild bleach solution. Then I am finally ready to start.

I have a great big sink in my laundry room which I use for cooling down my wort (the boiled solution of beer or mead). I put in 1 or 2 bags of ice just before finishing up the boil on my wort. But because the boil on the mead is only 15 minutes I went ahead put the ice in the sink and then started on the recipe.

Pesach Mead Recipe

Ingredients for 3 gallons:
7 pounds raw Buckwheat honey
1½ tsp gypsum
1/8 tsp Irish Moss
1 ounce Amarillo hops
1 ounce Hallertau hops
1 tsp bitter orange peel (dried)

1 package Red Star Champaign yeast (approximately 1 tsp)
2 gallons spring water (you can use tap water, but I prefer spring water that has no chlorine taste or smell)

I had to drive to Sonnewald health food store to find this great raw Buckwheat honey! 
It is very dark and so flavorful! 

Add the honey, gypsum, Irish Moss and Amarillo hops, and bitter orange peel  to 1 ½ gallons of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Add the 1 Hallertau hops and continue boiling for another 10 minutes.

After turning off the stove I immediately put the pot into the ice bath and covered it loosely with foil to keep the wort from being contaminated by anything in the air. I let the wort cool to below 80 degrees.

Once the wort had cooled I siphoned it into a beer brewing bucket, then I added enough spring water to bring the mixture up to 3 gallons. Ken aerated the wort for me by using a long rod with a cross piece at the end of it.  By the way Ken made this device for me.  The rod is attached to a drill. He started the drill slowly and then got faster with it to stir the air back into the wort.

When that was done, I drew off about a cup of the wort and put it to the hydrometer test. I’ll take another measurement when the brew is done fermenting. This will help me determine the alcohol content.

I next “pitched” the yeast, which just means I sprinkled the yeast on top of the wort. No you don’t stir it in like you would into dough. It will slowly soften and begin devouring the sugars in the honey.

I put the lid on the bucket and added the airlock which allows the bubbles to escape and prevents the fermenting brew from bubbling out of the bucket. 

Any wine, mead, or beer takes patience.

Now I wait for about a week for the yeast to eat up all the sugars. Then once it stops eating and forming bubbles, I will bottle it and hopefully it will be ready for Pesach.

I’ll update this post when I am ready to start bottling the mead.

If this post has intrigued you enough to want to learn more about making beer you can locate your local brewery supply store. Also I would suggest watching Alton Brown’s episode on how to make beer. Here is the link to his recipe:

Special Note about the yeast. Red Star does make kosher for Pesach yeast. But you have to buy it in 1 kilo and more bags. Their champagne yeast that I used is kosher, but it doesn’t say it is Kosher for Pesach. I used it anyway. I wouldn’t know what to do with a kilo (2 pounds approximately) of Champagne yeast!

Note the kosher symbol in the lower right hand corner. 

They have a great website at
which gives the history of yeast, how it is formed, and how they manufacture it for brewing and doughs.  Yeast used for doughs is the NOT the same as yeast used in brewing. Even the yeast used for beer is not the same as the yeast used for wine. Don’t ask me to explain…go to their website and look at the information.

Some great links to learn more:
Good discussion on yeast certified Kosher L’Pesach (although from 2007)
another good discussion but again, old.
Great article from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, dated April, May 2009 contains recipes for Mead, Concord Grape wine and Wine, all for Pesach. Also some standard Pesach recipes for potato knishes, Carrot Candy and Beet Preserves.
Ramapo Valley Brewery in Suffern, NY. RVB is the only kosher certified brewery in the United States, and certified to produce Kosher for Passover beer.


  1. This is WAY over my head! But my husband's eyebrows went up when he heard that you make this. Do you ship? :)

  2. LOL. Sorry. Per federal law I can not sell any alcoholic beverage I make. Great reason for him to take up the hobby! He can email me any tme he wants.

  3. This is to see such good work aftr long time...
    i hope u love works.

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