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Feeling the Need for Mead

Posted March 8, 2013 | 4:18 pm, by Mirella

Mead is not a beverage that you hear about often. Most people have a vague notion that it exists. Some have read about it in seminal works like Dante’s Divine Comedy, Beowulf or Canterbury Tales. Others might have heard the story that the term honeymoon comes from the medieval tradition of giving newlyweds a month’s supply of mead to bring good luck to the union and promote fertility. Still, very few have had the opportunity to try mead and there is a lot of confusion about what mead is, exactly.

John Bryans of Munro Honey & Meadery in Ontario, Canada, can explain mead in three words “Honey. Water. Yeast.” It is a honeywine. Bryans’ Meadery was the first in Ontario and he admits that when he hit the scene, in 2000, consumer awareness was quite a challenge. “When I first started going to wine shows, people just had no idea that you could actually make an alcoholic beverage out of honey. They were flabbergasted,” he says, explaining that for the first five years of production, he was in a constant process of educating the public. “People that tried it were really intrigued but they had a hard time grasping the fact that there are no grapes in there.”

Some of the flavours that can be found in Mead are quite similar to those in grape-based wines. Bryans’ Mead, for example, has crisp green apple and lime notes that are reminiscent of a Riesling, while his Sweet Mead has notes of peach, apple and green leaf that might also be found in a Chenin Blanc. Setting these meads apart however, are an underlying honey sweetness, distinct silky mouthfeel, and warming quality that betray their honey base. More unmistakably mead-y in flavour is Bryans’ Golden Aged Mead, which he released in 2009. Golden Aged is made with a percentage of buckwheat mead, which contributes hints of molasses and earthiness. This mead was also aged in barrels for a number of years. The result is semi-sweet, medium-bodied beverage that tastes like liquid honey with complex underlying coconut, burnt sugar, barnyard and wood notes.

This style of mead is relatively new to Bryans and was inspired by Polish honeywines that he sampled at the annual Mazer Cup International Commercial and Home Mead Competition in Denver. “The Polish meads were very strong and very good,” he recalls, explaining that these meads are made from buckwheat honey and aged for a long time. The Golden Aged took him five years to make and Bryans is currently having some fun, fine-tuning his second batch. In the meantime, he was delighted to win a bronze medal with the original batch, at the 2011 The Mazer Cup Competition in the ‘Varietal, Sweet’ category, where he was competing against some of the meads that inspired him.

Bryans finds it helpful and inspiring to have the opportunity to sample a range of meads at the Mazer Cup: “I get ideas by trying something that someone else has done. It helps you out quite a bit.” Mead, as a beverage, is thousands of years old and it’s interesting to note that it originated and developed independently in a range of areas including Ethiopia, China, Egypt, Mexico, India and Scandinavia. The Mazer Cup brings all of these traditions together, uniting mead makers from all over the world. Bryans remembers the early days of the Mazer Cup, when the quality was variable. Now, as a judge for both the commercial and the home mead portion of the competition, Bryans is really impressed with the overall quality, although the odd mead will take an interesting turn: “I’ve had chili meads – really hot and spicy. Once, somebody put bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis into a mead. It was pretty crazy. It had just about everything from the beehive in it. Some people were really into it but I wasn’t a fan.”

Bryans will admit that mead can be quite unpredictable and is not the easiest beverage to make. “Oh yeah, there’s always huge disasters. One tank in particular…it got stuck …I’ve studied and tried to figure out what went wrong with it and, to this day, I still have no idea. It just went down the drain.” Through his years of production, Bryans has fine-tuned his process, zeroing in on potential issues and eliminating the variables. He feels that his experience as a beekeeper and honey producer put him at an advantage over commercial producers who source their honey elsewhere. “I can taste honey that comes in a barrel and if it’s not put in the barrel properly, I know that flavour. If it was not properly stored, it’s going to come through in your finished wine. You can’t make good wine out of bad honey.”

What’s what

There are many sub-categories of mead, and they all have colourful names!

  • Braggot: Honey & Malt – like a cross between mead and beer
  • Capsicumel: Honey & Hot Peppers – usually made with chili
  • Cyser: Honey & Apple – like a cross between mead and apple cider
  • Mead: Honey – three ingredients only: water, honey & yeast
  • Metheglin: Honey & Herbs
  • Melomel: Honey & Fruit or Vegetables – with the exception of grapes or apples (see Cyser and Piment)
  • Piment: Honey & Grapes – like a cross between mead and wine
  • Rhodomel: Honey & Roses – can be made with rose petals or essential oils

Publication: Büze

Date Published: February 2013

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

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