Many of us are familiar with beer and wine, but there is another enjoyable drink that fits into this category that people are not familiar with and that is meads. The immediate response that I generally get is, “what is mead?” Mead is basically fermented honey and is often called honey wine.
Mead dates back to more than 8,000 years. The oldest known meads were created on the Island of Crete. Wine had not yet been created. Mead was the drink of the Age of Gold, and the word for drunk in classical Greek was “honey-intoxicated.” Mead is also said to have been around before the creation of beer. The Romans called mead “ambrosia” and believed that this drink was sent to them by the gods hence the term, “Nectar of the Gods.”
Mead has been made and enjoyed by Celtic nations for centuries. Ireland has had a long-standing love affair with Mead. In Celtic cultures, Mead was believed to enhance virility and fertility. The term “honeymoon” is believed to have stemmed from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine everyday for one full moon (a month) after their weddings. Mead was also believed to be an aphrodisiac and would also increase the chances for a woman to conceive boys. The traditional mead toast to newlyweds as a fair tribute to times and well wishes of both old and new is still practiced.
The interesting thing about meads is that there are many styles for one to choose from. Meads are made and sold based on honey source or varietal blossom and according to sweetness level. Meads can range from cloyingly sweet to bone dry. Most meads are produced un-carbonated, but there are some carbonated or sparkling meads. Alcohol content is about the same as most wines (9-12%). Some meads have additional ingredients producing styles outside of the typical meads that are only made with honey, water and sugar. Selecting a mead that satisfies your palate is no different than choosing a wine style. There are many to choose from. Below is a list of different styles of mead:
- Braggot – mead 50% beer / 50% mead.
- Cyser – mead to which apple juice is added (making cyser part cider).
- Hippocras – a spiced pyment (a mead made with grape juice and spices).
- Melomel – mead to which fruit juices other than apple or grape are added.
- Metheglin – mead to which herbs and spices such as cloves, cinnamon, etc. are added.
- Morat – mead to which mulberries are added.
- Pyment – mead to which grape juice is added.
A simple mead made with honey, water and yeast resembles a Riesling wine in both aroma and taste. As with Riesling wines, they can be sweet, dry or somewhere in between. The key ingredient for meads is the choice of honey. Many are available. Pure varietal, or “single-source” honey which is most highly prized as they add taste complexity. Varietal honeys are defined as those that are derived primarily from a single blossom, such as Fireweed, Tupelo or Orange Blossom.
A while back, I opened a bottle of mead that my brother-in-law made over 15 years ago, and poured it for Jeff and Katlin at Valencia Wine Company. Neither had ever been exposed to honey wines. Katlin actually was blind tasted on it and the comments from both were that it was like a fine Riesling or white wine. The clarity of the mead and the elegance of the flavor profile was phenomenal. The difference from a Riesling wine was that this mead, like most, had background aromas and flavors of the honey from which it was made. In this case, it was clover from a Canyon Country California honey supplier on Sierra Hwy. I sure wish my brother-in-law would have written down the process and ingredients that he used. I still have five 22 oz. bottles of this gorgeous mead left. The key to making excellent mead is to not destroy the aromatics of the honey during the process of making it. This mead was a fine example of a perfectly made mead.
If you are in the mood for a change, purchase a few different styles of mead and give them a try. You may find that you really enjoy this unique Nectar of the Gods. Being a home brewer, I really enjoy the braggots. The last one that I had was a clover honey mead and an oatmeal stout beer. It was unbelievable, what a combination!