The Buzz on Mead – By Spirits Manager Jeremiah Goldovitz

Mead. Honey Wine. Nectar of the Gods. Call it what you will, it is considered by some to be the oldest fermented beverage – though I won’t open that particular can of worms. People far more qualified than I can fight it out to see who gets to claim the title of first fermented libation. Suffice to say that historical accounts and archaeological evidence date the existence of mead back thousands and thousands of years. Over the course of history, mead has waxed and waned in popularity worldwide. In many parts of Europe and Africa, indigenous styles of mead ensured its continued existence and at least some semblance of popularity. On the other hand, no such precedent existed in America. Until the recent past, mead in the US was more of a historical curiosity – something you read about in Chaucer or Beowulf. It maintained a small foothold with historical enthusiasts, at renaissance fairs, and with organizations such as the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism), eliciting images of Vikings and ancient mead halls … but that didn’t translate to it making its way onto retail shelves. You can thank the homebrewers for that. Many of the early books on homebrewing made some mention of mead. Lots of amateur brewers at some point tried their hand at making a mead or two. In fact, Brad Dalhofer, founder of B. Nektar Meadery, relates that his initial interest in mead had its genesis in a recipe he found in the back of a book on brewing beer. Nowadays, though, we see that making mead has more in common with wine making than it does with beer brewing – but that’s a discussion for another time.

Fast forward to today, and we find that mead is experiencing a surge in popularity. The craft beer movement has opened the door for all sorts of previously fringe fermentable beverages to thrive, and the mead makers are more than willing to step up to the plate. There are more commercial meaderies in the US than ever before, and many of the meads that have survived the test of time in other countries are now being imported and made available in American markets. Even the NY Times recently published an article on the ‘renaissance’ of mead in the US.

That, of course, brings us to Hunterdon. It just so happens that we have one of the best mead portfolios around. We distribute two of the best domestic mead producers: Redstone Meadery from Colorado, and B. Nektar Meadery from Michigan. Both produce amazing, wine like traditional styles, and both produce their own take on a lighter, session style mead more suitable for quaffing. David Myers of Redstone created his own style category, what he calls ‘Nectars’: lower alcohol, lightly effervescent meads such as his Black Raspberry Nectar and his hop enhanced Nectar of the Hops, available in bottles and on draft. Brad from B. Nektar has forayed into beer alternative meads with his Zombie Killer Cyser: honey, apple cider, and cherries – all from his home state of Michigan – combined to make a 6% abv masterpiece that drinks like a hard cider but packs a punch (also available in bottles and on draft). And when it comes to imported meads, we’ve got plenty to offer as well. With traditional styles from producers like Steinwaelder Hausbrennerei Schraml (Germany) to the single varietal honey meads from Hochland Imker (Austria), the unique innovative South African meads from Makana Meadery, and the Nordic inspired meads from Dansk Mjød A/S in Denmark (based on recipes from hundreds of years ago) our portfolio runs the gamut. There’s something to please either the mead novitiate just coming to the scene, or the experienced meadster, looking to expand his horizons. Check out our website for available styles.

And for those looking to expand their knowledge, here’s a quick primer that’ll help you interpret those odd words mead makers use to describe their styles:

Traditional Mead – honey, water, yeast
Melomel – mead made with fruit
Cyser – specifically a melomel made with apples (usually in the form of cider)
Pyment – specifically a melomel made with grapes (usually in the form of grape juice)
Metheglin – mead made with spices

However you look at it, mead is back in the public eye, and on the shelves of liquor retailers everywhere. So why fight it? Grab a glass (or a drinking horn, if that’s your thing) and pour yourself a glass of liquid gold history.


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