A Family Builds a Homestead in the Rain

Small-Batch Experimentation

My husband’s first batch of mead was a simple combination of one part raw honey to three parts tap water, boiled and cooled. The natural yeast was activated by tightening the jar lid and shaking it frequently throughout the day until fermentation began.

After two days, he went camping for the weekend. The morning after he departed, it occurred to me to aerate it with a good shake. I tightened the lid and with a mere jostle as I prepared a serious shake, the contents erupted in a violent fizz, straight through the seal of the lid. It’s fortunate that the lid gave, because consequences might have been serious: exploding fermentation jars have been known to maim and worse.

Instead, the worst of it was a sticky mist adorning the walls, ceiling, windows, out toddler, her toys, and me.

Only a few ounces of the mead were lost, but in spray-mist form, a little went a long way. All I could do was laugh, undress, and get the laundry basket.

In spite of the drama, its cause was exciting and positive: the yeast was alive and well, and honey-water was becoming honey wine.

A week later, I decided to try some other quart-sized experiments while my husband made a more serious batch of mead amounting to several gallons. I made another mead with a lower honey content and the seeds of a fresh-picked pomegranate. I added a tablespoon or so from the already fermenting batch to speed activation on the yeast. It worked: fermentation began virtually immediately.

The pumpkin wine I made a few weeks ago yielded gobs of excess yeast, and I realized I’d made a novice error: when I multiplied the recipe I was roughly following, I multiplied the yeast packets. This is never necessary unless the volume is over several gallons, since yeast colonizes and reproduces. The residual yeast was still living, so I opted to keep it and feed it more sugar.

I used this to make another quart-sized batch of mint wine—I have a 4-gallon batch winding down its primary fermentation and smelling delightful—to see if the resulting flavor was good and if nurturing a long-term yeast colony would be worthwhile.

Small-batch projects offer a different pleasure than the teeming carboys have. While it’s wonderfully satisfying to fill an entire case or so of wine from one great effort, the small jars are simple, fast, and low-commitment.

Whichever turn out best, we’ll have to serve in small glasses and keep the recipe.

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  1. December 5, 2014    

    Small batches are nice for experimenting. If it’s bad you just dump it.

    Good luck and have fun.

    • December 5, 2014    

      Exactly! Love it. Thank you.

  2. January 9, 2015    

    Nice post! I was intrigued by what you said about the residual yeast still living. Could you tell by looking, or did you have to add it to something (like diluted sugar) to test its status?

    • January 10, 2015    

      I tested the status in a sugar solution to find out, but since the pumpkin wine was still fermenting, I figured at least some of it would be viable. 🙂 Thanks!

      • January 10, 2015    

        Cool! I’ll keep this in mind for future brews.


I'm Kelly. Writer, crafter, forager, country winemaker, cook. Mama of an awesome toddler and married to my best friend. We recently returned to the Pacific Northwest, where we're setting out to grow, make, and learn as much as we can as the future unfolds.

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