A Taste of Honey
A Taste of Honey
Is mead poised for a comeback?
By Nicholas Day
Posted Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008, at 7:02 AM ET
Judging by the prominence of honey these days, you'd think there's a run
on sugar. Local, flavored honeys are now in restaurant kitchens. Foodies
are mail-ordering artisanal raw varieties. At my local farmers market in
Connecticut, the area beekeeper shows up with a table's worth of options
and a glassed-in buzzing hive. This resurgence is in spite of the recent
colony collapse disorder
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony_Collapse_Disorder> , which
decimated many beehives. But even more unexpected is the rise of honey
for an ancient use: alcohol, in a drink known as mead.
You might know mead from Beowulf—it's what the characters got soused on.
Mead is so old-school that its advocates claim it as the world's first
alcoholic beverage. (Their line of thinking goes like this: Rain-diluted
honey attracted wild yeasts. The fermented liquid then attracted a
human, who drank it and felt less unhappy.) But the recent interest in
fermented honey has morphed it from an esoteric item that only a few
bearded Dungeons & Dragons players indulged in to a small yet legitimate
commercial enterprise. There are now more than 100 meaderies in the
United States, like Rabbit's Foot Meadery
<http://www.rabbitsfootmeadery.com/> and Mountain Meadows Mead
<http://www.mountainmeadowsmead.com/> . For the ambitious, there are DIY
mead-making books, complete with archaic spellings (see The Compleat
1> ). Is mead, last popular around King Arthur's table, poised for a
The home-brewing community is largely responsible for putting mead on
the map. Mead-making culture is a direct descendant of beer geekdom, in
part because Charles Papazian, whose The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
/0060531053/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202503785&sr= 1-1> is
the book that launched a thousand brewpub loans, is also a mead
evangelist. In fact, the home-brewing community can be credited with
many significant changes to the American drinking landscape. Without the
nerdy obsessiveness of early hobbyists, we'd all still be crushing
corn-fed lagers against our foreheads. Instead, we're drinking double
IPAs and imperial stouts. The many new mead-makers in America are almost
all lapsed home brewers who smelled the honey.
In some ways, it's not surprising to see mead taking off like this: The
last few decades have given rise to many small-scale, artisan food
products. In the alcoholic arena alone, there are now craft spirits
<http://www.northshoredistillery.com/> , craft sake
<http://www.jotosake.com/index.html> , and craft bitters
world.html> . Anyone at a farmers market has seen that antique varieties
of melons or apples are in vogue; many small farmers now raise and sell
almost-extinct animal breeds, like Tamworth pigs and Narragansett
For farmers market foodies, mead, as an alcoholic libation, has a
conceptual advantage over beer: Mead possesses what winemakers call
terroir, the French term for how something—wine, cheese, honey—conjures
up the landscape around it. That's because an artisanal mead is still,
at least in part, an agricultural product. With its floral and herbal
aromas, a good mead vividly communicates a sense of place—think a field
of orange blossoms or rosemary bushes—in a way that's impossible for
beer. Wine writer Matt Kramer calls this feeling "somewhereness" and, in
the new hyper-local-food America, it is an attractive selling point.
Don't just "eat your view
<http://pollan.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/05/17/eat-your-view/> "; get
blitzed off it.
Mead-maker David Myers of Colorado's Redstone Meadery
<http://www.redstonemeadery.com/> said, "Mead is something that comes
around like clockwork
html> every 2,000 to 3,000 years." But despite its seemingly sudden
upswing, mead isn't likely to reattain its crazy medieval popularity.
Unlike once-forgotten, now-prized goods like heirloom tomatoes, mead
won't even make the foodie mainstream. That's partly because it has a
horrible image problem—currency with the Society for Creative
Anachronism <http://www.sca.org/> is not exactly a signifier of great
commercial promise. Got Mead <http://www.gotmead.com/> 's blogger goes
by the nickname Meadwench
<http://www.gotmead.com/index.php?option=com_jd-wp&Itemid=190> , and the
topics covered on the blog include questions from readers trying to
figure out what the historically correct drinking cup is. Fans like
these won't boost mead into the 21st century. Even mead-makers complain
about Renaissance fairs, where the drink is treated, inevitably, as an
While it's theoretically possible for mead to escape its poor company,
it has a more fundamental problem. Although there seems to be a mead
flavor for every palate—orange blossom, buckwheat honey, blended with
berry purees, infused with juniper berries, champagne-carbonated,
still—they all suffer from the same structural problem: Honey has little
natural acidity. That may sound appealing, but acidity—the spine of a
good wine—is what keeps flavors bright and focused, and what marries
wine with food. Mead-makers recognize this flaw, so to give it an acidic
boost, they add citric acid. That helps, but it's not enough. Most meads
still sit somewhat awkwardly alongside dinner. Unlike the best beer and
wine pairings, they neither sharply highlight foods nor blend with them
into something equally interesting. Ultimately, they make for reluctant
partners at the table.
Strange enough to be intriguing, but too strange to be at home on the
dinner table, mead is a stubborn paradox. I like mead conceptually—the
lore, the eccentricities. I even occasionally like a bottle. But no mead
has ever earned its way into my alcoholic rotation. The other night, I
had a glass of Redstone's Mountain Honey Mead, a widely distributed
brand, and its initial burst of flavor went flat all too soon. It was an
odd fit with what I'd planned for dinner (your basic roast chicken) and
dessert (a black-and-white custard). Of course, the rapturous aroma was
intoxicating, and I spent a few moments inhaling it. But the taste that
followed was neither more nor less than limpid, liquid honey. If
Winnie-the-Pooh ever took to the bottle, this is exactly what he'd want.
Nicholas Day is a freelance writer who covers food and the environment.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2184361/
Copyright 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC
Dude is stepping on my funk, dissing bearded D&D players :eek: :D.
I must agree with this article. I live in what is supposed to be the next "napa valley" wine region in OR. (not that it matters but I have a captive audience already at my disposal)
In all the meads I have made or those I have tasted, there is something missing. (Compared to a wine at least. )
NOT to say they are not out there. I just have not come across them or as of yet figured how to make them. TRUST me I'm trying.
I also agree it is time to bring mead to a new level. If you want it to be more in the main stream. Or least taken seriously. REALLY drop the whole mid-evil thing. People laugh at that and will never take is seriously. I do believe it has it's place next to wine's. BUT it needs to be brought to a new level. I don't think it will ever be a huge market. BUT it could be much better then it is.
Next question, has anyone made a pyment using GRAPES from the vine. Gave it a go last year with some locally grown organic grapes (pinot noir) up the road. (this winery is established for quality wine) so the grapes where top of there game. Not a fan of adding "juice" and calling it a pyment.
Used two methods,
1. yeast that was on the grapes (has a nail polish remover odor) doesn't taste bad, but not great either. I am told the nose may clean up over time.
2. commercial yeast, has a GREAT nose, but not enough ummmmfffff
used around 16 pound of grapes in both batchs, with about 9 lbs of honey.
It is clear, that is not near enough grapes.
This year alot more grapes, will also use the gammay grapes. In hopes of coming up with something "better"
Anyone else been here and could offer some advise?
!!!Really folks it is time to bring a quality mead up in the ranks!!!!
Personally with the obvious exception of pyment I think that evaluating meads as wines will usually leave them wanting. It's like those veggie burgers that advertised themselves as tasting like meat. Duh, no one is EVER going to mistake one for a beef patty. But they actually can be really good grilled in a sandwich if you take them on their own merits and get over the meat thing.
I agree, get mead out of the shadow of wine. But where I've been going is braggots, totally the opposite direction (having complex nonfermentable sugars, rather than tannins and acids). It's just because I'm a beer guy. The mead that finally breaks through for any of us will depend on our taste.
Those veggie burgers really aren't too bad with a handful of bacon strips and a slice of cheese on them! Seriosuly, my younger daughter is (more or less) a vegan and when she vistis I have to watch them closely on the grill beacuse they do burn real easily.
We actually make them with bacon too. Actually there isn't much that bacon doesn't improve. Maybe mead :).
Good point mead is not a wine never will be.
Point well taken, but I do think it could be more
I used to make wine pretty seriously and did win some first places and best of shows at state and county fairs with my wine making buddy. I have read a library full of books about wine making a long time ago. Now that I have bees, and go to club meetings I have a bit of an interest in mead. I have read up a little on this topic and just don't see how honey can compensate for all the great stuff in grapes. You can add tannins, acid, and much more to give honey some character but it will really be a challenge. One idea that I wanted to try was to take some fruit or berry that has extremely concentrated flavors, like elderberry, and make a mead. I would still titrate for acid and bring the tartaric/citric to the appropriate level. I wouldn't shoot for an alcohol any higher that 12% because there may not be enough complexity to support the alcohol and it would end up bland and hot. A good quality french oak barrel could be used to add more character. Adding some malic acid to the acid blend and using Leukonostoc oenos for a secondary fermentation might add another level of complexity.
Another option that I actually had great success with, was a sparkling cherry mead. It had about 2% residual sugar and I couldn't keep the women away from the tap (cornelius keg).
I am not an expert at this but thought I would throw out my two cents and see what I get back.
HVH I think you're on the right track. Personally I don't make a lot of traditional meads, but play with fruits, spices, tinctures, etc. My next experiment (I'm actually out of mead honey) will be rhubarb mead, like you say using something with an assertive character, oxalic acid in this case. I've had a couple meads spontaneously undergo malolactic that I liked. I personally don't have the time or patience for barrel maintenance but have used chips before. They do miss on the oxidative processes though. And for whatever reason sparkling meads always seem to be a lot more compelling for first-timers to mead.
I have always dreamed of showing up at a winery during pressing and getting a hold of the fruit fresh off the press. I think a nice red grape that would complement honey nicely would be a gerwurtzraminer. With a gerwurtzraminer the juice is usually squeezed from the grape prior to fermentation leaving a perfect substrate for a false wine - in this case a pyment.
Originally Posted by Ben Brewcat
I've made 2 batches of mead and about half a dozen beers
I'm interested in a braggot
any good recipes you'd like to share?
I lean towards a stout/porter but will drink an ale in a pinch:)
New Year's 2007, we made a 5-gallon batch of mead and included 12 lbs of our scuppernongs that resided in the freezer since harvest. Two months later, we could have won the Indy 500 in the ol' pickup; it was that bad. Six months (we never got around to pouring it out ... didn't want to kill the grass) it had improved to the quality of lighter fluid with a nice bouquet. We left it in the carboy, fearing it would melt through mere wine bottles. This New Year's Day, it's 1-year anniversary, we dared to try again and it wasn't too bad. At least we could stand another glass full.
And then something magical happened ...
Two days ago, I was down in the cellar checking on the progress of a wine kit, and there sat the pyment. Hmmm, what not give it another go?
Unbelievable! The stuff is incredible! The scuppernongs give it a nice acid boost, yet the mead flavor is still front and center. As far as food pairings, well, I don't know. But it goes great with a big hunk of bread and some warm brie.
Time does indeed heal all meads.