Image credit: StockFood
Mead! How… medieval! Larson has a dog in this fight, so take his word with a grain of salt; he’s operations manager at beekeeping supply store Bee Thinking, and honey is the primary ingredient in mead, which is made from a fermented mixture of honey and water. (Often grains, hops, fruits, and spices are thrown into the mix, too.) He’s right, though, that mead is having a moment. Although it may be disconcerting to those who know it only as the gimmicky beverage of Renaissance fairs and Harry Potter conventions, there’s a lot more to the new mead movement. Everyone from critically acclaimed restaurant Aska to hipster home-brewers are embracing the stuff.
"The artisanal American mead category has really blossomed on the heels of the craft beer explosion,” Max Kuller told us. Kuller is the wine director at Thai and Vietnamese eatery Doi Moi in Washington, D.C.—and the son of co-owner Mark Kuller. (With business partner Haidar Karoum, the elder Kuller is the force behind two other noted D.C. restaurants, Proof and Estadio.)
"Meads are interesting because there’s definitely a large stretch of flavor there." He explained that not all meads live up to their sticky-sweet reputation; there are structured meads that taste like a beer, and dry meads that drink like white wines. The ABV (alcohol by volume) of most meads ranges from six to 18 percent.
A mead’s characteristics are largely determined by the degree to which its sugar content is allowed to ferment, Kuller said. Less fermentation over a shorter time period yields a more syrupy, sweeter mead with a lower alcoholic content. More fermentation yields the opposite: a more structured, high-alcoholic beverage.
Image credit: MillStone Cellars
Kuller said mead is excellent when paired with spicy food, which is why Doi Moi's drink menu boasts a mead section. One of Kuller’s favorites is Necromangocon, a lightly-carbonated mango and black pepper number from the Michigan meadery B. Nektar. ”That one I love because you get that rich, tropical, mango-y kind of taste,” he said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hopbrosia, a dry mead from Millstone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland. “Texturally, it’s very floral. To me, it almost reminds me of a Chenin Blanc,” said Kuller. “I’m always trying to get people to try [this] mead.”
Kuller believes millennials are behind mead’s surge in popularity. “They don’t want to drink their father’s Budweiser, they want something fresh and exciting,” he said, though he noted the irony of calling one the oldest alcoholic beverages “fresh and exciting.” (Mead production is thought to have started around 2000 BC, before the first cultivation of soil.)
"Stodgy, old fashioned things—people don’t care about their past perception because they’re being reinvented," Kuller said emphatically.
We’re inclined to agree. But if mead can be reinvented, so can other ancient drinks. What’s next, grog?