My fourth blog post, and I’m already going to wander off-mission, at least a little. Last week our friends Shaun and Angie called to ask if they could drop by the office together with a visiting mead-maker they represent. And so, just after lunch, in came Brad Dahlhofer of Michigan’s B. Nektar Meadery, beautiful blue bottles in hand, for an impromptu tasting.
Brad’s meads ranged in style from a traditional Wildflower Mead, with the honey character very much in evidence; to a spicy Vanilla Cinnamon mead, which was a dessert in a glass; to a cutting-edge Bourbon Barrel mead, with layers of oak complexity. He also makes meads flavored with strawberry, raspberry and chipotle, cactus pear, chocolate, and chai tea, as well as “The D’s Bees,” made from contraband honey collected in Detroit, where bee-keeping is illegal.
In short, this ain’t your Renaissance Faire tipple.
Brad winced when we started cracking Viking jokes, as well he might: mead will never take hold as long as it is shackled to that rather twee, Olde Worlde image. Mead, like cider, has been poised to be the next hip beverage for years now, always falling short of predictions. To make that leap to broad acceptance, it will need promoters who are willing to be just as bold and experimental as their craft beer colleagues.
Brad fits that bill. Not surprisingly, he got his start as a homebrewer before specializing in mead, and he talks like a homebrewer when he describes how he formulates new mead recipes. He likened the choice of orange blossom and buckwheat honeys for the barrel-aged mead to building the grain bill for a new beer, with the orange blossom playing the role of a base malt and the potent buckwheat honey adding character as specialty malts would in beer. This can be mead for the 21st century.
And now, with a glass of the wildflower mead in hand, I’m inspired to muse further…
Mead is in a category all its own. Fermented grain beverages are termed “beer”: even sake, which is often called rice “wine” is technically a beer. Fermented fruit beverages are wine—and that definition extends to ciders, even though they are regulated separately. It’s grain versus grape.
And then we have mead, a rare alcohol beverage made from an animal product (and an insect product, at that). Human cultures have used fermentation (the action of micro-organisms) to transform mammalian milk in the making of cheese, yoghurt, kefir and so on. And, very rarely, milk can be dosed with yeast, and a slightly alcoholic beverage results: in Mongolia, mare’s milk is fermented into a low-alcohol beverage called “kumis.” I understand that fermented goat milk booze exists, as well.
But why are animal-based alcohol beverages so rare? To create alcohol, yeast needs simple sugars to ferment: are those not abundant enough in animal products? Not that we’d want to, perhaps, but could we ferment eggs or blood into alcoholic drinks? Homebrewers and biochemists, fill me in.
And, while we’re puzzling, do vegans drink mead?