As my friends have no use for raw honey by the gallon, they're willing to pass it off to me. And you better believe I have a good use for it! Recently they gave me some honey that had been sitting in their garage for quite some time... possibly years:
I should probably digress for a moment and explain why honey is a miracle food. It's made primarily from complex carbohydrates, so it's sweet like sugar but contains a large amount of valuable energy, enough for your body to burn for an extended period of time. And like all foods that contain sugars, bacteria absolutely loves it. So why is it that you can keep honey in your room temperature cupboard while your fruit has to be refrigerated?
This is what makes honey so special. Because it's vital for bees to survive (it's their primary food source and the only thing their young can eat), they load it with anti-bacterial protein called defensin-1. This acts as both a natural preservative and powerful antibiotic. How powerful? When applied to antibiotic resistant disease strains, defensin-1 is able to kill the bacteria in a method similar to prescription antibiotics (source). In fact, the protein is so powerful, honey literally has no expiration date - and samples that were discovered in Egyptian tombs were still edible!
Interestingly enough, the connection between honey and antibiotic proteins was only recently discovered, even though honey tinctures have been used in battlefield and bedside medicine for millenia. As honey ages, it becomes more concentrated and crystallized. This is why you often need to warm up honey that has been sitting for a while. The only way to truly ruin honey is to add water to it. This introduce yeast in a partial fermentation process, and yeast provides food for bacteria, eventually to the point that it overwhelms the honey's antibacterial properties.
Ultimately, the art of brewing mead involves dissolving honey into water so that yeast can survive in it, then taking great care in protecting the yeast from bacterial infection. Thankfully, this is much easier to do with honey than with grapes or hops, as the honey helps protect the yeast while it's producing the second natural antibiotic - alcohol.
Anywho, I digress. My newly gifted (and well aged) honey was perfectly fine, though incredibly thick. I warmed some water to 100 degrees to try to soften it up, but in the end, it just took a lot of elbow grease to get it into my fermenting bucket.
Once the honey had been added to 5 gallons of spring water, I goofed and picked out the wrong mug for the yeast. Remember the trick I spoke about my first batch? Well, I accidentally used an insulated mug, so the pot was literally boiling while the yeast's water was still 70 degrees.
I was eventually able to warm it up though. Hopefully I didn't kill it. That would just be a sad day.
Finally, I added peaches, since there were about 8 of them rolling around the bottom of the fridge. They squished easy and were just about to become overripe, so it was the perfect time to clean, core and slice them:
As a result... peach mead has begun! A full 6 gallons! Now I need to get those darn food grade buckets... more on that later!