Mead—Not Just One Beverage
A look at the meads being made in the U.S. and imported to this country clearly shows a wide range of products, from sweet to dry and still to sparkling meads. The use of different varieties of honey and the introduction of various flavorings give meadery brewmasters an incredible palette from which to work to entice the palates of consumers.
One of the best examples of the range of styles of mead and the fact that it transcends the range of drinking occasions is sparkling mead from Heidrun Meadery in Arcadia, CA. Heidrun started selling mead in 1998 and focuses on natural sparkling meads.
Heidrun owner Gordon Hull uses varietal honeys such as orange blossom, eucalyptus and avocado that tend to produce a dryer mead. “When you remove sugar, you taste more of the varietal honey,” Hull says. “And the sparkling aspect helps make up for the lack of acidity.”
During nine years of commercial mead making, Hull has used 15 different varieties of honey. “There’s a limitless amount of honey varieties on the Earth,” Hull says. “We’ve used only 15 at Heidrun, so we have a ways to go.”
“There’s not one type of demographic associated with mead. Different people use it for different occasions,” Herz said. That may help mead’s growth and it might also hurt. Just like Champagne has New Year’s Eve and turkey has Thanksgiving, mead could benefit from a holiday observance to call its own.
Apparently recognizing this fact, the industry’s annual big event is held on the weekend right before Valentine’s Day. The fifth Mead Festival is set for Feb. 9-10, 2007, in Denver. The IMA expects 100 commercial meads to be available for tasting and about 1,000 people to turn out for the fest. By contrast, 41,000 people turned out for this year’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver and organizers could have sold many more tickets if they were available. The Mead Festival also hosts a home mead making competition, which last year attracted more than 200 entries. (You can get more information at www.meadfest.com)
“The microbrewery explosion has opened minds,” says Long Island’s Holm. “It’s made getting people to try mead a whole lot easier.”
Finding a New Audience
Reaching out to beer drinkers might be the next big step by mead producers, which would actually be a throwback to mead’s roots. Braggot is a style of mead that includes a malt barley beer in its base. Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware makes Midas Touch Golden Elixir, which has barley, white muscat grapes, honey and saffron as its primary ingredients. At the recent Great American Beer Festival a number of beers flavored with honey were entered.
Mike Faul, owner of Rabbit’s Foot Meadery in Sunnyvale, CA, believes the route to expanding mead’s presence in the U.S. market is through braggots and cysers, which are apple cider and mead mixtures. Started in 1994, Rabbit’s Foot has two braggots just released to the market, an 8 percent alcohol by volume Belgian strong ale style and a 4 percent Kölsch style. Under the Red Branch Cider label Rabbit’s Foot sells four different cysers.
“At the moment the biggest potential for most meaderies to grow in the mead segment is to go after the cases that Bargetto [Winery] is doing with Chaucer’s,” Faul says. “Braggots open up the beer market and cysers create opportunities in the cider category. It’s difficult for new meaderies to survive if they only do straight mead.”
Rabbit’s Foot markets its braggot in 22-ounce bottles for $5.99 and a cyser in a 500 milliliter bottle for $5.99.
So how are meaderies planning to attract consumers? For Redstone’s Myers the answer is simple: “Give it away, give it away and give it away,” he says. “Seven out of 10 people who try our mead will buy our mead.”
Heidrun’s Hull puts it succinctly in describing what meaderies must do to grow the market. “Making good mead needs to be our first priority,” he says. “Marketing can come later.”