I managed to get a batch of mead to ferment using only naturally occuring yeasts. This was achieved by diluting 1 lb. honey in a half-gallon of water then fermenting in a growler bottle. Used sterilized fermenter/airlock/water/etc. with honey right out of the jar. No heating or added sulfites, etc.
I don't know that I will try it again as the flavor of the finished product was akin to honey-sweetened band-aids. Not very appealing.
That was an interesting article from the NY Times on a modern brewery replicating traditional saliva-processed South American corn beer--chica. But as the article mentioned the result was hardly authentic; the brew was made with so much barley (unknown in pre-Columbian America) that the end product came out more like a standard beer.
South Americans used a variety of starchy starting materials to make beer. Here are Lewis Cotlow's impressions of nijimanche, a traditional yuca based beer, quoted from his book "In Search of the Primative."
"One of the women walked from the other end of the jivara, took up a gourd or bowl, and filled it with a liquid from a very large pottery jar that stood on the floor. As I watched, I realized how thirsty I was. 'This is nijimanche,' I told myself, 'beer made from the yuca, chewed by the women, spat into a bowl, fermented by their saliva. Can I drink it?'
The woman brought the bowl to me, and I took it in both hands. I wanted a drink badly and I thought I should drink anyway, for the sake of courtesy. I put the bowl to my lips and took a tentative sip. The taste of nijimanche wasn't bad at all! It had quite a rich, malty flavor. I took a deeper drink, not even thinking about how it was made. People are silly about such things anyway, I told myself. What's wrong with saliva? "
I think Cotlow was off about the beer being fermented by saliva. The enzymes in saliva break down starch into sugars, but the yeast converts these to alcohol.
I was just wondering if yeast in honey might be able to ferment if diluted with water. In any case it makes good sense that fruit might have been added to initiate fermentation or, as you suggest, mead were produce in or very near a baking area where yeast might be carried to the honey by insects. Airborne yeasts do not seem to be able to make a palatable beverage. An experiment was done a while back using airborne yeast to ferment a barley wort, and the results were not good: http://www.brewingtechniques.com/library/backissues/issue2.5/hitchcock.html.
Thanks for the link. It looks interesting. I haven't had a chance to look it over but will soon. Here is a nice little paper by the late Bob Mortimer on the evolution of Saccharomyces (with an overview of its relationship with humans): http://genome.cshlp.org/content/10/4/403.full.pdf+html.
I've had the Theobroma, and the Sah'tea too. Both are interesting and different, and worth a try. Here's a paper by McGovern, et al. on the analysis behind the DF brew, if anyone is interested: http://www.pnas.org/content/104/48/18937.full.pdf+html.
Thanks for the info on honey yeast, Brian, that's interesting to know. See the link above I posted to an article in Brewing Techniques, where an attempt was made to ferment barley wort using airborne yeast. Your result sounded better.
Here's a comparison of different yeasts including 'wild' yeast in the fermentation of cider.
The Wild Yeast scored very well, but of course this was a fruit borne yeast not an 'airborne' opportunistic yeast (though such a thing may be mythical from your recent post).
In my experience, letting fresh apple cider (cold pasteurized but not chemically stabilized) ferment without the addition of yeast let to a pretty bad result. Possibly some bacteria crept in besides any re-activated yeasts.
Sadly, I have had 'band-aid' Meads too even when pitching with good commercial yeasts. Band-Aid flavor seems to be related to the formation of chlorophenols, usually from residual bleach that was used as sanitizer. My band-aid Mead vessels and ingredients never saw bleach, so I'm not sure where it came from. I have well water, so no chlorine from there either.
I had high hopes for my Band-Aid mead, made with a juice that Apple and Eve used make which had Mango and Passionfruit juice. They seem to have stopped making Mango-Passion juice, but probably not because too many mead makers ended up with bad batches
Some say it can come from fermentation at high temps or over-stressed yeast, which may increase the phenolic character and may be band-aid-like even without the chlorine.
After the success I had with grapes fermenting from the yeast on them I was encouraged to try the same with apple cider. The result was horrible.
Reading "Red hot stones and rainwater" reminded me of this experiment:
Hey! Finally something to update the Sumerian Beer Thread:
CLEVELAND — The beer was full of bacteria, warm and slightly sour.
By contemporary standards, it would have been a spoiled batch here at Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft beer maker based in Ohio, where machinery churns out bottle after bottle of dark porters and pale ales.
But lately, Great Lakes has been trying to imitate a bygone era. Enlisting the help of archaeologists at the University of Chicago, the company has been trying for more than year to replicate a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon...............