Mead is quickly earning its place among the beer and cider offerings in taprooms across the globe. It has a long, rich history with evidence of its consumption dating back 4,000 years. The trend of breaking away from bland, mass-produced alcohol in favor of unique and interesting flavor profiles has restored this honey fueled drink to its former glory.
Most basic renditions have slightly floral notes with hints of vanilla and light twinges of citrus. The better the honey used in the brewing process, the more complex the flavor! Some meads are dry while others lean toward the sweet side.
What is Mead?
Although mead is most often found among beer and cider, it’s technically a form of wine. It uses honey as a sugar source rather than grapes, which lends to its golden hue and velvety mouth-feel.
Some mead makers veer from traditional methods and also add fruit and spices to their honey mix. Fruit meads are technically called “melomels”, and spiced meads “metheglins”.
What Does Mead Taste Like?
I’ve often heard mead described as “sunshine in a glass”, which is pretty on point when talking about basic, semi-sweet varieties. It’s refreshing on the palate without being overly astringent.
The subtle flavors that peak through from the residual honey linger on the tongue just long enough to keep things interesting without overwhelming the taste buds.
Simple recipes provide the perfect base for a variety of other add-ins. Jammy, fruity meads brewed with berries are a great starting point for those who like sweet red wines.
Stout drinkers are likely to enjoy the thicker mouthfeel and flavor profile of darker, spiced meads.
If you’re an IPA fan, you’re more apt to enjoy a drier, traditional mead, or one brewed with lighter fruits like citrus or melon.
Mead can have varying carbonation levels, which also have an impact on flavor. Some are “still” with no carbonation, while others are quite bubbly and drink much like beer.
What Affects the Taste of Mead?
There’s a lot that can have an effect on the taste of mead. First and foremost, the quality of the honey that’s used during the primary fermentation. Meads that are made with low quality honey lack dimension and make for a lack-luster drinking experience.
If you’re aiming to whip up a batch of mead at home for the sake of novelty, you’ll likely still end up with a drinkable finished product, especially if you do a secondary ferment with added ingredients – but if you want a “true” mead experience out at a tasting room be sure to select a brewer that starts out with great honey.
The Aging Process
The aging process has the potential to make or break the quality of a finished mead. Much like with the case of wine made from grapes, the longer it ages the smoother it’ll turn out.
Aging also plays a key role in flavor development and giving more subtle characteristics a chance to mature. Meads with a higher alcohol content typically require longer aging times than “lighter” meads to reach their full potential.
You can even find barrel-aged meads if that’s your thing!
There’s nothing worse than opening a poorly stored, skunky beer. Similarly, mead can “turn” and become unenjoyable to drink if it is left to hang out in undesirable conditions for too long.
The general rule of thumb is to keep it out of sunlight and in a cool, dry place. Most tap houses and bars go through inventory quickly, and storage typically only poses a threat to quality when drinkers buy mead to bring home.
How to Taste Mead
Mead tasting doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be enjoyed much in the same way that you would sip on any other new beverage. However, there are some things that you may wish to take note of – especially if you want to really dig in and maximize your tasting experience!
Mead comes in a gradient of shades starting with light, pale yellows ranging all of the way to darker ambers. Like with beer, clarity is affected by the racking and filtration process used by the brewer. Paying attention to the visual characteristics of your mead will help you to predict which ones you are most likely to enjoy in the future.
As the saying goes, we taste with our eyes and our nose first. The scent of your mead as you bring the glass up to your face has a sizable impact on your interpretation of its taste. Taking the time to smell your mead before letting it pass through your lips will open up your palate to a broader range of subtle flavors – some of which may otherwise go unnoticed.
If you want to experience the full range of flavor that your drink has to offer, you’ll need to give it some time to reveal itself. Allow your mead a few seconds to rest on your tongue before gulping it down. Notice how the flavor changes upon moving from the front to the back of your mouth. With each sip, you’ll likely pick up something new!
Some meads are light and glide through the mouth quickly. Others are thicker and have an almost velvety quality to them. Typically, the lighter the color the less viscosity a mead will have, but that isn’t always true. Some meads will leave you surprised with unexpected flavors and consistencies.
Paying attention to these four things will help you to develop and refine your preferences. The more mead you sample, the more you’ll notice how certain characteristics stand out as enjoyable to you. Knowing what you like will save you a lot of money moving forward!
Our Favorite Meads
The meads listed below serve as great starting points, whether you’re looking for something simple or complex. Redstone Meadery and B.Nektar will likely be the easiest for you to find!
- Schramms – Heather Traditional
- B.Nektar – Miel de Garde #1
- Superstition – Honey Highway
- Red Stone Meadery – Black Raspberry
- B. Nektar – Zombie Killer
- Medovina Mead – Paonia Peach
- Redstone Meadery – Vanilla bean and Cinnamon Stick
- Feisty Brood Meadery – Spiced Sensation Mead
- B.Nektar – Spiced Date Mead Aged in Maple Barrels
As mead continues to regain its popularity, it’s likely that we’ll see even more flavor combinations come to light. If it’s your first time giving mead a go, we recommend starting out with a traditional mead before trying one fermented with fruit. Classic meads, when brewed with high-quality ingredients, are anything but basic!
If mead is technically a wine, why is it mostly sold alongside beer?
This largely boils down to craft beer drinkers being more receptive to new and interesting flavor profiles. Mead is more popular with beer drinkers than it is with traditional, grape wine drinkers.
If honey is sweet why is mead sometimes dry?
During the fermentation process, the sugar that gives honey its sweetness is consumed by the yeast and replaced with alcohol. This is why sweeter meads are typically lower in alcohol than dryer meads, although this is not always the case – especially if fruit is added during the secondary fermentation.
How Much Alcohol is Contained in Mead?
Much like with beer, this can vary quite a bit depending on the brewer and style of the mead. There are “session meads”, which are typically lighter in color and have an ABV of anything between 3% and 6%. Most “average” meads sit somewhere between 8% and 15%, but many also go up into the 20% range. It can sneak up on you quickly!