- Stephanie Mills – American R&B singer
This clever saying coined by Stephanie Mills is the cornerstone of what I wanted to Shout Out about today. I’m known at Prisco’s as the craft beer and hard cider guru, two subsets of the adult beverage category that are growing leaps and bounds annually and two topics that I love talking about. However, there is another adult beverage that is very new to almost everyone I speak to about it but ironically, it is believed to be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. I’m referring to mead, also known as "honey wine" which dates back thousands of years before Jesus Christ performed his miracle of changing water to wine at the wedding feast of Canna.
Made from fermented honey and water, sometimes with added yeast, mead is produced using countless styles and variations—from dry to sweet and anything in between, including sparkling. This is done by tinkering with the ingredient proportions and the fermentation process. Just as a wine’s notes are dependent on the terroir of its grapes (how a particular region’s climate, soils and terrain affect the taste of wine), the flavor of a mead changes based on the flowers that honeybees use to pollinate.
A little about the history of mead
The earliest evidence of mead production dates back to 9000 BC from pottery vessels in northern China. Historically, mead was something of a global beverage: it was consumed by Greek gods on Mt. Olympus, by the Vikings, and by African bushmen. In fact, mead was consumed before men knew how to harness the mead making process; mead fermented naturally on its own when a beehive combined with rainwater and yeast in the air. The great anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss suggested that the invention of mead marks a critical passage in human evolution, the transition "from nature to culture," as he put it.
The term ‘honeymoon’ can be traced to the medieval tradition of drinking this honey wine for a full cycle of the moon after marriage. Mead was thought to be an aphrodisiac, and if it was consumed by newlyweds, offspring would hopefully soon follow. A bride’s father would often include enough mead in her dowry to last for a month.
Throughout the ages, across the globe, mead has been celebrated as a source of health and happiness, of strength and inspiration, the preferred drink of poets and scholars, warriors and kings. Though mead faded from prominence after the Middle Ages, many European monasteries continued to make it, most famously the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the coast of England. Craft mead is now poised to make a comeback, although it hasn’t yet been commercialized on a large scale. There are at least 165 meaderies in the U.S., according to the American Mead Makers’ Association (AMMA). Why is mead so alluring now? It possesses a mysterious, ancient aura, and it’s also not widely available in bars, making it more of an exclusive drink for those in the know.
So just what is mead?
There’s a lot of confusion about what this stuff actually is. Is it a wine? Is it a beer? Sort of. Not really. Yes and no. The most basic mead recipe contains just three simple ingredients: honey, water and yeast. We usually think of wine as fermented juice, with no water added, so in that sense mead resembles beer. But beer is made with grain, which must be malted and mashed and lautered (separating the sweet wort from the mash) and sparged (rinsing the grain of residualsugrs) — a complex process which has nothing to do with making mead. In the end we might have to conclude that mead is its own sweet thing. Technically, mead is classified as wine by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which regulates alcohol sales and labelling in the US. This means that mead has to be labelled as "honey wine", which doesn't help combat people's perception of the drink as being as cloyingly sweet.
Don’t be thrown off by the word honey. Mead is not necessarily sweet, there is a great proliferation of not only dry meads but also meads flavored with fruits, herbs, and spicy peppers.
But what about taste?
OK, so it’s not nearly as important to know what mead is as to know how it tastes.
It’s true that mead tends to be on the sweet side, but just how sweet is a matter of preference and choice. As with any other wine, you can ferment mead until it is bone dry. But chemically speaking, the sugars in honey are very simple. If you ferment them away entirely, you risk losing all the flavor. The challenge for the mead maker is to find the right balance, the sweet spot, if you will, to preserve the delicate, mellow character of the honey, without being too sweet.
What if I don’t like sweet wine?
If you’re curious about mead, I would ask that you set aside your feelings about sweet versus dry and let the mead be mead. Let yourself be open to the possibilities. You might be surprised at what you find.
Start by pouring a small amount of a mead that sparks your interest. Swirl your glass and take in the aroma with your nose. What do you smell? Flowers? Fruit? Fresh herbs? Or perhaps something you can’t identify, but some earthy rich scent. Now let the taste buds explore as you take a small sip and let it roll around in your mouth over and under the tongue. How does it feel in your mouth? Thin, full, smooth, rich? How does it taste? Buttery, acidic? How would you describe the aftertaste? Warm, lingering, vaguely lemony?
What has led to mead’s recent surge in popularity?
Ironically, most people credit the credit with the resurgence of the mead business with the very popular craft beer movement "I was a home brewer, and at first I liked mead because I had never had it," says Brad Dahlhofer of B Nektar meadery in Detroit, Michigan. "Every home brewer has the same dream of, 'Hey what if I could sell this? Wouldn't that be great?'" says Dahlhofer.
After he spent months making batch after batch of mead, perfecting his recipe, he realized that mead was "kind of an untouched category", and that no-one, at least back in 2008, was really doing it commercially. So when he and his wife, Kerri, were both laid off of their jobs in Detroit's car industry during the recession, they decided to take the plunge. Today, B Nektar is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, US meadery, shipping 1,100 cases a week across the country.
Brad and his fellow mead enthusiasts, however feel that things are just getting started in the craft mead industry. Twenty five years ago, craft beer garnered a mere 1% of the total beer market but today it’s over 8%.
Mead can be enjoyed in a variety of ways – chilled, iced, at room temperature, or warmed. These variations change the flavor, mouth feel, and personality of the mead. Meads can easily substitute for and surpass your favorite red or white wine and they pair well with fish, meats, vegetarian meals, cheeses, and desserts. Bottom line I think mead has a distinct and interesting taste which I find most enjoyable. It’s delicious! But don’t take my word for it. Try some for yourself!
Hope you enjoy – check out our wide selection of featured meads in today’s online ad. http://www.priscosfamilymarket.com/specials/department_id/8