Mead may have been humanity’s first alcoholic experience. Hunter-gatherers of the African savannah could’ve happened upon pools of water in hollowed-out trees that contained the fermented remains of honey-soaked beehives.
Honey wine remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in Ethiopia, one of the planet’s oldest cultures, and mead fills the pages of antiquity. The writings of both Greek philosopher Aristotle and Pliny the Elder of Rome include references to the fermented drink.
However, when cane sugar overtook honey as a popular, less expensive sweetener, honey harvests declined, prices went up, and the byproducts once used to make honey wine all but disappeared. Mead melted into the shadows behind wine, beer and spirits. Today the beverage is largely associated with Middle Age marauders and Game of Thrones.
American mead producers are exploring a wide range of styles, from dry and sweet to those made with fruit, spices, wine grapes and even beer.
But mead producers across the United States hope to change that. They’re exploring a wide range of styles, from the basic dry and sweet, to those made with fruit (called melomel), spices (metheglin), wine grapes (pyment) as well as beer (braggot). There’s even a growing Ethiopian-American meadery movement.
I recently sampled 24 meads made by 10 producers. Not surprisingly, honey notes are prominent in most, and there’s not much secondary aroma and flavor development, but cellaring could help. The melomel and metheglin categories show much potential, and they will appeal to those seeking something more complex than honey.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, try them at The Mazer Cup, the mead world’s annual international competition. It happens in Broomfield, Colorado on March 18–19.
Bee d’Vine Brut; Price: $24/375 ml
Ethiopia-raised and San Francisco-based Ayele Solomon’s year-old bottling is starting to show secondary, wine-like citrus pith and zest flavors.
Bos Meadery 2015 Hammer-Smashed Cherry; Price: $8/500 ml
Light pink, with a brisk cherry flavor, this melomel from Madison, Wisconsin, recalls a bubbly rosé.
HoneyMaker Dry Mead; Price: $15/750 ml
With bright honey with seared lemon fruit on the nose, this dry-style mead is soft with cooked apples on the palate, some tannic structure and hints of lager flavors. Produced in Portland, Maine.
B. Nektar Necromangocon; Price: $8/500 ml
From Ferndale, Michigan, this combines perfumed mango with black pepper for a smooth but spicy honey-based effect.
Rabbit’s Foot Meadery Odin; Price: $70/375 ml
Brown honey and raisiny flavors accent this Silicon Valley mead, which comes in a small, slender bottle.
Nectar Creek; Price: $11/500 ml
From Corvallis, Oregon, this producer’s meads include the very drinkable Sting, a spicy ginger-session mead. Other intriguing offerings include Sour Raspberry (made with lactobacillus), Honey Cone (hop-session mead), and Waggle (carbonated wildflower honey mead).
Redstone Meadery Traditional Mountain Honey Wine; Price: $22
Orange blossom and wildflower honey with Montrachet yeast makes for a very drinkable, tangy and earthy sip from Boulder, Colorado. Also, try the meadery’s resinous juniper berry metheglin.
St. Ambrose Cellars Tupelo Ambrosia Mead; Price: $14
From Beulah, Michigan, this semisweet style is rich on the palate, picking up roasted nut and tart dried-fruit flavors.