Capsicumel Wines, Sherries, and/or Meads

Capsicumel, or Capsimel (take your pick), is a metheglin, a mead made with chiles (NOT chili, and NOT peppers). It is named for the spicy chemical capsaicin and the genus of chile plants, Capsicum. Making this requires a balacing act — between the heat, the flavor of the honey, the flavor of the chiles themselves, the alcohol, and the residual sweetness of the mead. Conventional wisdom says the mead must be sweet to balance the heat, but not so sweet that the flavor of the base honey and chiles are masked. I cannot tell you how to achieve that, since every batch will differ slightly or greatly depending on the variety and number of chiles used. Balance is a winemaker’s art, and capsicumel is one beverage where it must be practiced. Capsicumel may contain any good tasting chile. Many people do not realize that chiles have distinct flavors — because they do not use enough to bring out the flavor, cannot taste through the heat, or only use dried chile as a condiment and do not cook with the fresh products. This is a shame, for some chiles have exquisite flavor. But they make you suffer for it. You have to endure the heat to enjoy the flavor. The same is true of the mead. But the chile chosen to flavor the mead will determine its character (as well as its hotness), so one should at least taste a few different chiles and attempt to distinguish their individual flavors. Among those which are favored for capsicumel are jalapenos, New Mexico green chiles (Sandia, Espanola, Hatch, Numex Big Jim, Rio Grande), poblano chiles, chile Pequin, chipotles (smoked jalapenos), Tabasco chiles, cayennes, Anaheim chiles (just a California name for New Mexico chiles), serranos, habaneros, cascabels, Thai chiles, or any of many other chile varieties. Depending on the chile variety chosen, the mead will vary widely in heat. The following recipes make one gallon each. Boiling or not boiling the honey is your choice, but boiling the chiles is recipe-specific.

Capsicumel [1]

April 5, 2001
  • 16 medium-sized jalapenos (for less heat, use 8 jalapenos)
  • 1 lb golden raisins chopped or minced
  • 2 1/2 lbs light honey
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 7 1/2 pts water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

Mix honey into 7 1/2 pints water and bring to boil. Boil 20 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms. Meanwhile, wearing rubber gloves, wash jalapenos and cut off stems. Slice length-ways and remove seeds. Place chiles in blender or food chopper with 2 cups water and chop coarsely. Separately, chop or mince raisins. Put raisins in nylon straining bag and, over primary, pour chopped jalapenos in with raisins. Tie bag and leave in primary. Add acid blend, tannin and yeast nutrient. Pour honey-water over ingredients and stir. Cover primary and set aside until room temperature. Add pectic enzyme, recover and set aside 12 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze nylon bag over primary, then discard contents of bag. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up and fit airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (60-90 days). Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack twice more, 45 days apart. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), wait 14 days, then add 1/2 cup light, clear honey and stir well to dissolve. Taste. If heat is too strong, add 1/4 cup honey and stir well. Taste again. Add additional honey if required. Wait final 30 days and rack into bottles. Age at least 6 months. Will improve to 2 years. [Author’s own recipe]

Capsicumel [2]

April 5, 2001
  • 6 large New Mexico green or 6 poblano or 12 large jalapeno chiles
  • 1 11-oz can Welch’s 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 lbs light honey
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 7 pts water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

Mix honey into 6 pints water and bring to boil. Boil 20 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms. Meanwhile, wearing rubber gloves, wash chiles, cut off stems and slice length-ways. Remove seeds (optional). Place chiles in saucepan with 1 pint water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Over primary, pour chiles into nylon straining bag, tie closed and leave in primary. Add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient, and Welch’s 100% white grape juice concentrate (thawed). Pour honey-water over ingredients and stir. Cover primary and set aside until room temperature. Add pectic enzyme, recover and set aside 4 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze nylon bag gently over primary, then discard contents of bag. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up and fit airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (60-90 days). Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack twice more, 45 days apart. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), wait 14 days, then add 1/2 cup light, clear honey and stir well to dissolve. Taste. If heat is too strong, add 1/4 cup honey and stir well. Taste again. Add additional honey if required. Wait final 30 days and rack into bottles. Age at least 6 months. Will improve to 2 years. [Author’s own recipe]

Capsicumel [3]

April 5, 2001
  • 2 fresh habaneros or 6 serranos or 4 large cayenne chiles
  • 1 11-oz can Welch’s 100% white grape juice frozen concentrate
  • 2 lbs light honey
  • 1-1/2 tsp acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp grape tannin
  • 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
  • 7 1/4 pts water
  • 1 crushed Campden tablet
  • 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient
  • Pasteur Champagne Yeast

Wearing rubber gloves, wash and destem chiles. Cut length-ways and scrape out seeds. Dice chiles and place in jar, adding whole milk to cover chiles. Cover jar and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Remove and warm to room temperature, then stain and discard milk. Rinse chiles and set aside. Mix honey into 6 1/4 pints water and bring to boil. Boil 20 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms. Meanwhile, place chiles in saucepan with 1 pint water, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Over primary, pour chiles into nylon straining bag, tie closed and leave in primary. Add acid blend, tannin, yeast nutrient, and Welch’s 100% white grape juice concentrate (thawed). Pour honey-water over ingredients and stir. Cover primary and set aside until room temperature. Add pectic enzyme, recover and set aside 4 hours. Add yeast and recover. Stir daily until vigorous fermentation subsides (7-10 days). Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze nylon bag gently over primary, then discard contents of bag. Transfer liquid to secondary, top up and fit airlock. Ferment to absolute dryness (60-90 days). Rack into clean secondary, top up and refit airlock. Rack twice more, 45 days apart. Stabilize with potassium sorbate and crushed Campden tablet (stirred well), wait 14 days, then add 1/3 cup light, clear honey and stir well to dissolve. Taste. If heat is too strong, add 1/4 cup honey and stir well. Taste again. Add additional honey if required. Wait final 30 days and rack into bottles. Age at least 6 months. Will improve to 2 years. [Author’s own recipe]