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Why Not Mead?

January 5, 2011

This is kind of a departure for me, because I usually only write about beer. However, I tried some locally-brewed mead for the first time recently (which I found in our oft-overlooked mead section), and realized that I’ve been missing out on something awesome.

Mead is a honey wine that is traditionally produced by fermenting a solution of honey and water, and is thought to be one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in human history. Claude Levi-Strauss, a French anthropologist (sometimes called “the father of modern anthropology”), once famously said that the invention of mead can be considered a marker of the passage of human civilization “from nature to culture.” Though immensely popular throughout history, today mead has largely been obscured by beer and wine. But why?

When people think of “honey wine,” they most likely think of something that’s going to be syrupy and possibly too sweet to drink casually, but that is actually not the case. Most kinds of mead are fairly light-tasting with a sweetness that is noticeable but not overpowering, and though mead is usually classified as a dessert wine, it can be compared to a Riesling in terms of taste and body. Mead is also exceptionally versatile, as most mead styles can be enjoyed as a dessert wine, as a hot beverage with spices added, or in cooking as a marinade.

A good starting point in discovering mead would be Chaucer’s Mead, produced and bottled by Chaucer’s Cellars in Soquel, CA. Based on a traditional style, it is made with orange, sage, and other honeys, and without the use of artificial flavorings, to create a mead that is smooth and sweet, and surprisingly light-tasting. At 11% abv, it can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, but I think it works best right out of the bottle, and makes a great pair with food.

Some excellent examples of modern mead come from right here in Massachusetts, from the Green River Ambrosia company based in Greenfield. Their Blueberry Madness is especially notable for its use of fresh-pressed Maine blueberries and raw honey from Warm Colors Apiary in Deerfield. The added fruit gives the mead more body, and at 14% abv, it can be compared in some ways to a port. It’s fruity and fresh-tasting without being sugary or artificial, making it a perfect dessert wine. Also, by enjoying Green River Ambrosia, you are supporting local beekeeping and sustainable agriculture, not to mention local business.

Supporting local beekeeping is especially important, for several reasons. In the past few years, scientists around the world have acknowledged that honey bee populations worldwide are declining drastically. Whether this is due to pesticides, climate change, or some kind of virus, nobody can seem to say for sure (though there are some theories). It’s good to know that something is being done about it locally, and they’re producing some excellent mead in the meantime.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Alise Herrera permalink
    January 6, 2011 6:44 pm

    Well, shame on me. I didn’t know there was an oft-overlooked mead section! I’ll have to scope it out.

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