Sunday, September 30, 2012


Bees + Flowers = Honey
Honey + Water + Yeast = Yummy

I go by the name of the Beer Samurai. When I'm feeling full of myself I capitalize the T in "the". But today I won't as I do not write of beer...I write of mead. Yeah, that's not beer, but the concept is the same. Take some fermentable sugars, add some yeast, wait for the magic to happen and drink it up. 

We beer enthusiasts believe beer to be the first "cultured" or "civilized" alcoholic beverage, for that is what Michael Jackson taught us in his myriad of beer tomes. We discount wine in this regard as mankind were still hunter-gatherers when they stumbled upon alcoholic grape juice. To make beer you needed to settle and farm, thus civilization as we know it was born. 

But where does mead fit in? Many archaeologists believe that a fermented honey drink may have come into existence before beer. Yet hunter-gatherers could still have managed to make this stuff, collecting honey from wild hives at grave risk of rising the ire of the swarm. I wonder if any of them had an allergic reaction to bee stings or if that malady is a more recent development, kind of like how I cannot remember any of my classmates being allergic to peanuts, but now my daughter can't bring a PB+J to daycare for fear of committing homicide. But, as usual, I'm getting off topic.

Honey was used to make alcoholic beverages in ancient China and is mentioned in the texts of the Vedic period of India. A honey brew is mentioned by Aristotle, placing this type of beverage in Ancient Greece as well. Dogfish Head's Midas Touch was developed from pottery shard samples taken from a tomb in Turkey. Analysis showed a brew that contained honey. But it was in Europe that mead by that name, give or take a vowel or consonant, came to be much more prevalent. For many of us, we first encountered the word "mead" when we were forced to read Beowulf in high school or college. The Vikings (not those purple-clad monsters of the Midway from Minnesota) and the Celts (not the kelly-clad cagers from Boston who erroneously pronounce the word with a soft C) seem to have been the main imbibers of the stuff. It is from this heritage that the drink survives.

And now to expose myself for the true uber-geek that I am. I used to be a member of the SCA. That stands for the Society for Creative Anachronism. From my experience, it could have as easily stood for Sorry Confused Assholes. In concept, the SCA was created to keep alive Medieval skills and crafts, but in reality it's mostly a bunch of nerds (think Dungeons and Dragons...which I did play avidly) trying to feel power and get laid...but only mostly. There are some who honorably and nobly keep the old crafts alive and brewing is one of these myriad of crafts. 

It was while acting as security for a Renaissance fair that I had my first mead. It was a raspberry mead brewed by Baron Sean DeLandress (I think) and it was really wonderful. But eventually I left the SCA and my supply of home-brewed mead ran dry. I turned to commercial sources and was sorely disappointed since the only one I could find was Bunratty Mead. I don't like to talk bad about anything, but Bunratty Mead tastes like turpentine that has had honey poured into it to make it palatable. I completely gave up on commercial mead.

A pyment from B. Nektar 
But as I started to develop this alter-ego that is the Beer Samurai I started to research breweries. In my internet search sessions I invariably turned up a meadery here and there. Eventually I became intrigued and my first step into the craft mead world was through B. Nektar Meadery out of Michigan. It was their mead flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. Although it was bracingly sweet and pretty thick in body, it was leaps and bounds above anything else produced to be stocked on a liquor store's shelf. The next meadery to find its way onto one of my liquor store sales receipt was from Redstone Meadery out of Colorado. It was made with black raspberries and I figured it would closely approximate those that I fell in love with whilst participating in the sham that is the SCA. It exceeded that! Holy crap was this stuff good! As I perused the bottle's label I saw that it stated that it was a melomel. Hmm, I had bought a few other meads and one was called a cyser and another had the word pyment on the label. What the hell do these words mean? Well, as I am wont to do, I researched this and found that there are different styles of mead. Those who know me well are now letting out a groan as they know they will be regaled by the knowledge that I will quickly consume and regurgitate to them ad nauseum. I'd apologize to them ahead of time, but it's far too late for that.
A melomel from Redstone

Just like craft beer, mead does have different styles. I will now draw heavily from a website called to outline the different styles of meads.

Traditional Mead - Simply put, it's mead and water with yeast to provide the fermentation. This is your basic "honey wine". 

Cyser - This is a mead brewed with apple juice or cider. This is easy enough to remember as "cyser" and "cider" are close enough to make a connection in even the most beer-addled brain.

Pyment - This is a mead brewed with grape juice. So, in my thinking, the style that most closely earns the name "honey wine". This has also been called a "clarre" which is very close to the wine style "claret". 

Melomel - Any mead that has fruit other than grape or apple added. Raspberries and cherries would fit this, but I've found that if the mead contains apples AND cherries, then it's still considered a cyser. I wonder what they'd call a mead with apples AND grapes. Hmm...I think I'd call it an apple pyment.

Those appear to be the most common mead styles, but the website above gives other styles that are not as common.

Metheglin - A mead flavored with gruit. Since the recipe for gruit was a strict Catholic Church secret and the precursor to hops, I doubt that this style is easy to find. However, there are meads out there flavored with hops. Since hops replaced gruit, would those fit under this style? 

Braggot - This is also listed as a beer style so I'm conflicted here. The way I see it, if it's a beer brewed with honey, then it's a beer style. If it's brewed with honey and some grains, then it's a mead style. Either way, this is a hybrid beer-mead.

Rhodomel - A mead flavored with roses. If I could find it, I'd try it...I probably wouldn't like it and , if I did, I probably wouldn't admit it.

Mead Brandy - They take mead and then distill it. Since mead usually comes in at 8% ABV at a minimum, this stuff must kick the crap out of you. I wish I could find some. 

After grabbing a few of these and tasting them, I exalted. This is what I was waiting for and now I am eagerly looking for more meaderies to sample. I would try to numerate the meaderies in the US, but they're ever-growing, as are craft breweries. The last count I saw said "over a hundred". Close enough. 

A quick side note here: the words "mead" and "meadery" aren't even recognized by spellcheck, then again "spellcheck: isn't recognized by spellcheck. But that speaks to how unrecognized the craft mead movement is. Think back to when the craft beer movement started and how you now wish you had got in on the ground floor and stuck with it. Now is your chance with mead. Will it be as explosive as the craft beer industry or will it go unnoticed? The same question was posed in 1984 when Sam Adams hit the liquor stores of New Jersey. 

One thing I can parlay as a word of caution is, as mentioned above, meads come in at a minimum of 8% ABV and, due to their sweet and fruit flavor profile, can sneak up on you and bring you to the point of not being able to type without the Delete key being a good friend. This is truly the case of this entry as I have emptied two bottles of mead: one at 8% and the other at 14%. But, as Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk; edit sober". So we'll see how much of what I've written here will survive the scrutiny of 2:00PM tomorrow. I'll let you know.

Update: Other than a few typos and grammatical errors, this post is pretty much unchanged from when it was written by some fool who was mead-evilly drunk.

Here's a great article on the rise of mead.

The author is a bit harsh on the future of mead, but raises a good point on its ability to pair with food. For me, it's strictly for dessert.

Join the revolution and keep the mead buzz going. Sorry, couldn't help myself. 

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