Mead: the drink of Medieval royalty; the honey wine of stories; the next best thing to wine. It’s fast becoming the buzzword in social drinking. In response to the growing popularity, meadmakers are expanding the range of mead flavors.
But the questions mount up: What does mead taste like? What does it look like? What, in fact, IS mead?
What Is Mead?
Mead is an alcoholic drink made primarily from honey. It’s more similar to wine than any other drink and is commonly known as ‘honey wine’. It can either be still or fizzy.
The image that usually comes to mind when ‘mead’ is mentioned is that of Medieval times when it was commonly drunk. In recent years mead has become more popular as an interesting alternative to wine.
There are four different types of mead:
- Braggot: the fermented honey is mixed with grain or malt.
- Melomel: a mixture of fermented honey and fruit.
- Hydromel: similar to Melomel, but it contains more water.
- Great Mead: a basic fermented honey drink that is aged.
Image glass of Melomel
How Is Mead Made?
Mead is a drink made from honey that is fermented by using yeast. It is slightly diluted with water, so the consistency is not too thick.
Mead can be flavored by adding different fruits and spices. Sometimes hops are added to the honey base, but mead cannot be classified as a craft beer.
The opportunities to experiment with different flavors and sorts of mead also make it popular, mostly in an environment where craft beers have opened up the opportunities to work on different forms of the same drink.
What Does Mead Taste Like?
Because mead is made from honey, people assume it’s sweet to the taste. That’s not necessarily the case.
The best way to describe the taste of traditional mead is a delicate balance between the sweetness of honey and the slightly acidic taste of fermented yeast. It has the taste of a light wine but with a sweet edge of honey.
Image of mead in glass, honey in a bowl, honey spoon
All honey has a familiar gold color, although some are light gold and some much more like amber. Since honey is the main ingredient of mead, it gives the drink its golden color. This ranges from pale gold to a deep, rich brown.
The smell and taste senses are closely related, so the aroma of a drink is one of the keys to the taste .
The strongest aroma associated with mead is that of honey. This will always be relatively sweet because honey is a natural sugar. The alcoholic content of the drink takes the edge off the sweetness, though, so the aroma of mead is something like an acidic sugar.
When mead has been flavored with fruit or spices, these affect the aroma of the drink. Added flavors like these are often more noticeable in the fragrance than the taste of mead.
A recognizably sweet acidic taste may be the basis of all mead, but the drink also has slight variances in flavor. This can depend on anything that is added to the mix during brewing which contributes other tastes.
These can range from the sweet taste of oranges to the slightly bitter taste of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The former leaves a pleasant, light feel on the tongue, while the latter leaves a sharpness.
The Mead does not taste like the fruit or spices added to it, but rather has a hint of the familiar flavors blended into the characteristic taste of the fermented honey.
Mead has quite a rich mouthfeel. It is described as being similar to the taste of fruit wine, which has a characteristically rich taste, with a dense texture, similar to that of sherry.
The mouthfeel of mead can vary from thin to full-mouthed.
The impression after drinking mead is of a rich, characteristically sweet honey flavor that leaves a pleasant fullness on the tongue.
What Affects The Taste Of Mead?
The first element affecting the taste of mead is the amount, type, and quality of honey that is used. Honey itself varies from dark and almost bitter to over-sweet, almost like syrup.
Different plants produce different flavors of honey. Rich dark honey is formed from trees such as orange blossom, tupelo trees, and buckwheat. Blueberry blossom honey is also rich and full-flavored. A lighter, mildly flavored honey is produced from sweet clover, alfalfa, and bluegum.
Using darker honey results in mead having a stronger flavor, while lighter honey produces mead with a milder flavor.
The taste of mead is also affected by the amount of water used in the fermentation process. Even if strong-flavored honey is used, adding more water will make the taste milder. So, if the same honey is used, a Hydromel will have a milder taste than a Melomel.
The yeast also affects the taste of mead. Most often this is wine yeast, which is one of the reasons mead tastes similar to white wine.
If there’s a low proportion of yeast in the mix, then the mead’s flavor is only slightly acidic. If there is a higher level of yeast, the mead tastes more acidic.
Mixing different fruits into the basic fermented honey base of mead affects the flavor of the drink. Adding oranges will introduce a mild citrus flavor. When apples are added to mead, the drink will have the mild taste of apple cider.
Using an apple such as the Crispin apple, with its slightly tart flavor, produces a taste that contrasts beautifully with the sweetness of honey.
Adding spices to mead gives it a strong, slightly bitter flavor and affects the color too. For first-timers wanting to experiment with spiced mead, brewing it with orange, raisins, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg gives it a distinctive, mixed spice flavor.
How To Store Mead Properly
Mead is similar to wine and should be stored in the same way. This means keeping it in a cool, dark, dry place. The bottles must be kept on their sides and protected so they can’t fall or be damaged.
For long term storage, the optimal temperature for storing mead is between 45°F and 65° (7°C to 18°). A higher temperature and increased humidity accelerates the aging of the mead.
Mead Alcohol Content
The alcohol content of mead can be between 2% to 20%, but the average level is somewhere between 7.5% and 18%
A light mead, or ‘session’ mead, has an alcohol content below 8%. Meads with an alcohol content above 12% have a thicker, sweeter taste.
Does mead taste more like wine or beer?
Mead typically tastes more like wine than beer because the fermentation process for mead is similar to making wine. If hops or malt are added to mead, it has a flavor slightly closer to beer.
Can you taste the honey in mead?
Honey is the basic ingredient in mead, so you’ll always taste it. However, honey isn’t always the dominant flavor since fruits and spices can be added to mead and these may mask the flavor of honey slightly.
If honey is sweet, why is mead sometimes dry?
Honey is the main ingredient in mead and its sweetness does characterize the drink. However, the fermentation process that creates mead adds a slightly bitter taste to the drink. If there is more honey, the mead will be sweet, but if there is more yeast, then the mead will be drier.
Mead dates back to Medieval times, but it’s also a popular drink these days. It may be described as ‘honey wine’, since it has honey as its base, but it’s not always sweet. The fermentation process is quite acidic, so mead is always a blend of sweet and sour.
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