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Mead, or honey wine, is nothing new but has been gaining popularity recently thanks to trendy millennials and hipster circles. A lot of people find themselves wondering “what is mead and why do so many people like it?” and to be honest it really does have a lot going for it.
What Is Mead and Why It’s the Next Big Thing
Mead tends to be a sweet beverage, traditionally, since it is created with honey, water and yeast. The fermentation occurs between the ingredients, which is essentially what creates the alcoholic beverage.
Yes, that means it is gluten-free.
In a world where gluten is not as easily tolerated by the masses as it used to be, where honeybees are on the brink of extinction, the time to try mead has never been so sensitive.
The only mead which should be avoided if you are looking for gluten-free beverages is the braggot which contains malt.
Where Did It Come From?
When the original recipe is followed, the beverage will have slight variations in flavour, based on the source of the honey. Different pollens collected from different flowers by honeybees will cause subtle differences not only in taste but in colour as well. Also known by the name of Ambrosia, mead has been around for thousands of years and was a favoured beverage when it was discovered. Honey mead may have been discovered by accident thousands of years ago, but it was a happy accident in my opinion.
Back then, honey was used to preserve food in countries where it was easily accessible. Honey does not ever spoil, however, when it was used to preserve fresh produce thousands of years ago, the fruit would ferment in the honey. Over time, the storage solution would suffer from the fermentation of its contents, causing mead to be discovered. People began to recreate this process, and soon it was more common. It is similar to wine, except the grapes are replaced by honey in the original recipe for mead. Honey mead may have been discovered by accident thousands of years ago, but it was a happy accident in my opinion.
Is Mead Good?
My first encounter with the nectar of the gods was through a neighbour. He had just started brewing mead, and he offered me a glass. It was love at first sip. I went home with more than one bottle over the years since that first sample and I eagerly look forward to the release of his next batch.
Beekeepers or apiculturists are able to expand the uses of the honey they collect when they get into the business of brewing mead. Pollen Angels by Sunset Heights Meadery are a local delight! They are very adventurous with their flavours and names. The creativity they have put into their business leaves it on the tip of your tongue.
Naughtea is mead flavoured with green tea. It is not as sweet as the fruit flavoured mead but is lovely. I have sampled several flavours, including one which was boasting with rosehips from the gardens of a local historical site, Kings Landing. Not to be confused with the one on Game of Thrones, it is a park where you can travel the grounds to go back in time. They have people who live there in the warmer seasons of the year to enhance the authenticity of the experience. I did enjoy the mead made with roses, and I have tried almost every flavour they have made.
Personally, the chocolate and cinnamon brew, Cinfully Yours is one I rather enjoy. Several local restaurants are offering Pollen Angels mead at their establishments, which is now able to compete with the craft beer and cider industries. They have different options listed on their website under Expressions.
How to Make Mead?
Mead is made by dissolving honey, spices, and yeast into water. You put the combination in a sealed container. The yeast will bubble.
Then you leave it to ferment all on its own. That’s it. Disturbing the brew at all can actually ruin your mead in some cases so it’s a very hands-off kind of undertaking.
Fermentation takes 6 weeks to a couple of months and you’ll know it’s ready because it settles on its own. Then you strain and bottle it. It does continue to ferment, which will give you a sparkling beverage. You can put your mead in the fridge for a week to combat that but you’ll have to decant it because there will be sediment at the bottom.
When you start adding different ingredients to mead, it changes what it is called. For example, my neighbour recommended a website for the recipe he used when he first started brewing it at home. The recipe he found, Joe’s Ancient Orange, Cinnamon and Clove Mead, is what I sampled the first time. Since he learned the craft, he has tried different fruit and spice combinations. His favourite kind to make is with granny smith apples and cinnamon. The balance of the tart apples and cinnamon with the sweetness of the honey made his best batch.
Why is it Becoming so Popular?
It might date back to ancient times but the mead trend is entirely new. It might just be the next big thing so keep your eye on these unique drinks.
There’s a few reasons why mead has been gaining traction recently, especially with millennials. First of all, like you saw above, it’s quite good. You can do a lot with mead when it comes to flavours, alcohol content, and sweetness so it’s easy for most people to find a variety they enjoy.
Something else that sets it apart from other alcohols is how easy it is to brew at home. You don’t need expensive ingredients and it hardly requires much equipment. Plus with a roughly 2 month brewing time you don’t have to wait too long compare to other homemade drinks.
Mead is also honey based and usually gluten free, perfect for those who are intolerant or simply want to avoid wheat for any reason. It’s made from natural ingredients, has an eco-friendly process, and includes the breeding and keeping of bees which many people are interested in preserving.
Finally, unlike other traditional spirits, mead is being uniquely marketed to millennials. While other companies are trying to catch up and make their brands appeal mead has an advantage of not having to work against past image to sell.
What are the Different Styles of Mead?
When you are looking for information about the different types of mead, the choices are many. If you aren’t familiar with what the styles are, it may be a bit daunting. Here is a list of the top ten most popular mead styles with some brief explanations to get you started.
- Basic – only honey, water, and yeast in this brew.
- Great– aged for several years!
- Sack – strongest type of mead (14% ABV).
- Cyser – AKA cider.
- Bochet – mead with caramelized honey.
- Melomel – fruit or fruit juice infused mead.
- Metheglin– made with spices: ginger, tea, orange peel, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, cloves or vanilla.
- Pyment – mead with grapes or grape juice.
- Short or quick mead – Brewed very quickly. Sometimes has a cider-like taste.
- Braggot – a beer mead hybrid that’s perfect for beer drinkers and newbies.
If you don’t want to brew it yourself you can always check out some of the more popular mead brands out there.
- Nektar. With names like #dragonsarereal and Zombies Take Manhattan, this is the trendiest meadery you’ve ever seen.
- Moonlight Meadery. If you’re looking for something more high-class this is a wonderful and highly awarded meadery located in New Hampshire.
- Rosewood Estates Mead Royale. This mead from the Rosewood Estates winery in Ontario is your best choice for mead in Canada.
- White Winter. This popular variety of mead can be found pretty readily and is available in several varieties.
- Sky River. Their mead has won several awards and combines tradition with modern flavours to create their meads.
Depending on where you live it might be hard to source out specific mead brands. Chances are, though, if you look around there will be a meadery that sells to your area. You might even be able to stop in for a tour and a tasting.
What Type of Mead Should a Wine Drinker Start With?
First of all, like wine, mead has natural health benefits. Instead of flavonoids, though, it’s the antioxidants in honey that are good for you. Comparing it to wine is something which is not surprising, as they both have high alcohol percentages with varying levels from dry too sweet.
It can also be comparable to craft beers when ingredients like hops are added to the honey brew as a natural preservative. The alcohol content of mead can range from 5-20%.
Although it is sometimes called honey-wine, true mead, with honey, water, and yeast is not exactly comparable to wine, cider or beer. It is in a class all of its own. Mead not only varies in the level of sweetness, but it can also be still or sparkling.
Where Can You Buy It?
If you are wondering where to find mead, check out your local farmers’ markets, liquor stores and bar menus. I have even seen it offered in cafes with liquor licenses and sampled a few when I checked out a beekeepers’ show.
It sometimes is sold exclusively to small vendors and trendy bars, so definitely stop into a few if you’re looking to discover new mead flavor. Some bars even have their own exclusive meads.
You can also buy many meads straight from the meadery’s websites. Some even offer subscription services and sampling packages.
Mead and Food Pairings
Like a good bottle of wine, food choices can enhance the flavour and mead is not an exception to this rule.
If you are using spicy mead or food, try it with fruity flavours. Dry meads pair with cheeseboards like wine would but can also be paired with seafood or pasta. Fruity desserts can be matched with the same fruity flavoured meads. You could try marinating chicken appetizers or pork with apple flavored meads and have the rest of the bottle with the meal. Citrus or floral meads balance nicely with salads.
If you are partial to bubbly beverages, like champagne, finger foods are the way to go with a sparkling mead. Whatever you try, it is a good idea to keep a note for future reference, so you can impress your guests at your next dinner party. If you would like more information about these pairings, you can find it on the Pollen Angels Blog.
Why Is It Good for the Wine Industry
Wineries are a thriving industry. One thing I want to point out is that the bees which make honey for the mead are also integral in the wine industry, as well as all agricultural crop producing farms.
The honeybees are an endangered species, and we need to address this issue before it is too late. Cheerios by General Mills is sending out sunflower seed packets to people to help support honeybees with flowers. Without honeybees, pollination of flowers would have a direct impact on the world’s food and beverage supplies. The ingredients for many consumables would not exist in the abundance we have today without the pollinators helping farmers with their crops.
By supporting beekeepers and other producers, you are actually helping support all of the other products we take for granted. I encourage you to give mead a try, and at the very least, you can feel good about trying something new that has a small impact on how the world can change for the better.
One buzz at a time.