Eighth Batch of Home Brew: Paw Paw Mead

This may be better classified as home brew batch 7 and 1/5 (a la the Mad Hatter…. or the Mad Brewer). I decided to do a micro batch that I could ferment in my handy 1 gallon carboy. I’d been wanting to experiment with mead, and was all set to try a dry-hopped mead with some palisade hops I had left over from another batch, when one of my friends came to the door this week with one of the world’s most bizarre fruits: paw paw.

Believe it or not, paw paw is the largest edible fruit in the United States. It was eaten by native Americans and introduced to European settlers, and it is rumored that one of George Washington’s favorite desserts was chilled paw paw. It’s the most storied fruit you’ve never heard of. Slow Foods has put it on their “Ark of Taste,” their list of endangered foods

Er, so what is it, exactly? Well, for those who live down here in southern Illinois, and for many others who live near a river, you will usually find paw paw plants with enormous flat leaves (looking a bit prehistoric) littered in the fields and forests. The problem is that often they produce no fruit, due to the difficulty of their pollination. You’ve got to catch a lucky paw paw plant with fruit, and you’ve got to catch it right when the fruit is ripe enough to drop. If you wait more than a couple of days, the fruit will already be overripe.

The fruit looks like a green potato on the outside, like custard on the inside, with big dark brown seeds that almost resemble teeth. The flavor is somewhere between a banana, a mango, a papaya and a pineapple–very tropical.

It’s hard to love paw paw initially. The texture is mushy, stringy near the skin, and the flavor, while nice tropically speaking, has an odd after taste. But the sucker grows on you. I could see how George Washington would like it chilled. It would be a fantastic addition to a custard or even gelato.

Of course, my first impulse was to put it in an adult beverage.

So, suddenly, my desire to make mead meshed seamlessly with the small bag of paw paws which had just been delivered to my door (and had come straight out of the forests here in southern Illinois). So, I bought 3 lbs of honey from one of our local honey producers in Pinckneyville, Master’s Touch, and prepared my mead. Here’s the recipe:

Paw Paw Mead

Ingredients for 1 gallon

  • 2 ripe paw paws
  • 3 lbs wildflower honey
  • 3/4 gallon water (or enough to top up to 1 gallon after the addition of the honey)
  • 1 tbsp champagne yeast

Bring 1/2 gallon of water up to 170 degrees, then turn off the flame. Stir in the honey and let dissolve.

Peel paw paw and cut into chunks. Drop into the bottom of a sanitized 1 gallon fermentation vessel.

Put about a cup of the honey mixture into a sanitized bowl and cool to about 85 degrees. Add the champagne yeast and stir. Cover with Saran Wrap. Cool the rest of the kettle until the honey mixture gets down to 85 degrees. Transfer the mixture into the fermentation vessel with the yeast mixture. Top up with the rest of the water until you hit just over 1 gallon.

I like my wines dry, so I’m going to wait for this to ferment pretty thoroughly. Master’s Touch wildflower honey is wonderfully fruity. Hopefully the tropical fruit flavors of the paw paw will be a nice complement. I may cut the fermentation off a little early in order to keep some of the sweetness. This may make a lovely sauvignon blanc-style wine, in terms of flavor. I will update when I have my first sip!

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8 Comments

Filed under My Home Brews

8 responses to “Eighth Batch of Home Brew: Paw Paw Mead

  1. Kathleen

    So how was it? Just stumbled on some paw paws myself and have bewed many types of meads.

    • Marika Josephson

      Hi Kathleen,

      Funny enough I just had someone e-mail me the same question. I guess it’s burning on everyone’s minds since paw paws are falling (just gathered some myself last week for a beer).

      I was a bit bummed by what happened after bottling this. It was my first attempt at something other than beer so I learned a few things. I guess I hadn’t let it ferment all the way, even though it seemed to be done when I bottled it, because within a month or two the corks started to pop out of the bottles and sprayed mead all over my rug. I hadn’t caged them (which would have been nice, as it would have resulted in some sparkling mead). The last one popped about 6 months into the process and tasted pretty good, but definitely needed another 6 months or more to settle.

      I’d love to hear other people’s suggestions for recipes. Would you put these into a fermenter or into the boil (if you boil, or just when it gets to temperature)? I just skinned and seeded the ones I gathered last week and ended up with about a pound to a pound and a half. I’m either going to put them into a beer at flame out or into the secondary.

      Marika

      • Kathleen

        Hi Marika,
        I’m going to try your recipe tonight and will be putting it in the fermenter.
        I am trying ale yeast since that’s what I have on hand. That might keep it sweeter and not as strong alcohol wise.
        Thanks for your input. Kathleen

  2. Marika Josephson

    I think ale yeast will be good for some residual sweetness. Especially one that can handle high gravities. Might make a starter for it… Let me know how it goes!

  3. I am interested in trying this recipe out. How long do I leave the mead in the carboy before I transfer to bottles? Is there a length of time that this should sit in bottles before they are opened? Thanks!

    • Marika Josephson

      Honey fermentations take longer than beer in my experience. The best way to track your fermentation and decide when it’s ready to transfer to bottles is by taking gravity readings. Once you have a fairly stable final gravity over the course of a few days you’re likely nearing the end of the fermentation. The final product should be quite dry. The best meads I’ve had have then sat in bottles for over a year. It’s a long time to wait but it’s worth it!

  4. Great, that is very helpful! Is there a specific gravity range that I am looking for, or simply a consistent one over the course of several days?

    • Marika Josephson

      Your gravity should be quite low. Less than 1.005. Closer even to 1.001. But it depends a little on how healthy the yeast is.

      Also, honey can ferment slowly so if it’s moving a point or two over 3 days it still may be slowly chugging along. So just kind of keep an eye on it. Ideally you want it to be stable under about 1.005, I’d say. I’m not really a meadmaker, so someone out there with a lot of experience might have some more thoughts. Those are my thoughts as a beer maker who’s done a little mead and a few braggots!

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