The world's oldest fermented beverage is back, and some creative brewers are making the modern version downright chalice-worthy
If everything old is new again, then it should come as no surprise that mead—quite possibly the oldest of all fermented beverages—is making a renaissance. Its earliest mentions date back to Plato, Virgil, Beowulf, and tales of Vikings and Norse gods. Yet despite it possibly being Thor’s pint of choice, honey wine hadn’t quite created the same buzz common with beers and traditional grape-made wines. That is, not until recently.
By count of the American Mead Makers Association (AMMA), there are slightly more than 200 U.S. commercial meaderies, a huge difference from the less than ten in the mid 1990s. Similar to today’s commercial craft brewers, many commercial mead makers started with beer homebrewing—the gateway craft, if you will. While a batch of beer can be quite involved with extractions and heating, mead is appealing because of its simplicity—mix honey with water and let ferment.
While mead likely has the craft beer boom to thank for its growing popularity, the taste—unlike the process—is anything but simple. “The current trend with meads involves a lot of experimentation,” says Chris Webber, president of AMMA, who mentions ginger and chilies as two ingredients that come first to mind. “The sky’s the limit with flavor profiles, and it seems as though there is nothing a mead maker won’t try today.”
Whether you’re new to honey wine or looking for a unique liquor that appeals to a craft beer lover’s palate, these meads take top marks in taste.
“Tart, sparkling, and dry” are three words not often associated with meads, yet that’s exactly what to expect from the Bos Meadery Pomegranate Pyment (13 percent ABV). This light, sparkling drink blends all locally sourced Wisconsin wildflower honey, with Riesling grape juice, and pomegranate juice for a beverage just right for giving mead a first sip.
Kurt’s Apple Pie
Londonderry, New Hampshire
This best-selling, award-winning mead is the perfect replacement for an after-dinner dessert. Made from local apple cider with Madagascar-bourbon vanilla and added Vietnamese cinnamon spice, Kurt’s Apple Pie’s (16.8 percent ABV) aroma alone is worth popping open a bottle.
Chazzano Ethiopian Harrar
B. Nektar Meadery
Using one of the oldest coffee beans being produced today, the Chazzano Ethiopian Harrar (14 percent ABV) gets full morning joe aroma and flavor, and pairs perfectly with its earthy Michigan wildflower honey.
A tart cherry mead with a sweet finish, The Statement (14 percent ABV) combines decadent Michigan-grown dark cherries with raspberries, light oak and vanilla to offer a layered taste sensation.
This mead turns up the heat with serrano, jalapeno, and anaheim peppers. But unlike hot sauces and chili powders that leave you runny-nosed, watery-eyed, and hiccupping, Capsumel (10.5 percent ABV) is blended to make flavor—not just heat—this mead’s focus.