If you’re a honey lover and a home brewer, you might naturally be interested in brewing a drink called mead. Mead, also known as honey wine, is the oldest alcoholic drink in the world, and was being made thousands of years before wine and beer came along. It’s long history is partly due to the simplicity of the drink. Raw honey was the first sweetener that was available to use without any processing, and meadmakers only had to take raw honey, rich with natural yeasts, that would easily ferment into alcohol when water was added.
These days, brewers will use commercial yeasts to better control the fermentation process, but an amazing variety of flavor and aroma can still be found in mead depending on source of the honey that is used.
What does mead taste like?
This largely depends on the floral source and amount of honey that is being used. Although you might assume it would be very sweet (after all, it’s made from honey!), traditional meads (without added flavorings) can vary from dry to sweet, just like regular wine, and gets a lot of its character from the flavor profile of the honey that is being used.
Our primary crop of honey comes from alfalfa, sweet clover, and prairie wildflowers like goldenrod and thistle, but it varies throughout the season and the year because of the timing of different flowers that are blooming when the bees collect the honey.
For instance, one batch of our honey had aromas of cabbage mustard, sweet tobacco, and sour milk cheese with flavor notes of marshmallow and vanilla. A later season crop ended up with aromas of must, cinnamon, and bread, with flavor notes of cinnamon, dried leaves, and confectionery. Pretty diverse and nuanced for something many people might think is just plain honey!
Other types of honey around the world also have their own unique aromas and flavor profiles because the honeybees have gathered nectar from completely different flowers. One of the joys of meadmaking is trying different honey sources to see how it impact your meads!
What type of honey should I use?
The key is to use raw or unpasteurized honey to get the best and most unique flavors for your mead. Commercially processed honey often found in the grocery stores is pasteurized and ultrafiltered. This processing kills all of the compounds that gives honey its unique flavor and benefits, and results in a bland, sweet, one-dimensional syrup that will make your mead taste quite dull compared to one made from unpasteurized and unfiltered honey!
Other mead-based drinks
There are other types of brews that combine mead with other techniques to create delicious results.
Brewers can add fruit to the fermentation process to create specific flavors - this combination is called a melomel.
If you want to get really technical, a metheglin is when herbs and spices are added to flavor the mead. I’m not sure who chose that name, but I can see why it didn’t really stick!
A cyser is mead that is fermented with apple juice instead of water, creating a “cider/mead” mix that milder than regular cider and pairs well with autumn flavor combinations.
A braggot is a mixture of beer and mead. It’s not commonly found commercially, so homebrewing enthusiasts have to take it upon themselves to make this unique drink.
Time to start brewing!
These days, mead isn’t as mainstream as beer or wine, but it is a simple and unique brew for those who want to try making something delicious and distinct for their own consumption or to share with friends. Fans of honey and wine can indulge in a huge variety of flavors and options starting with one of the simplest and sustainable of ingredients - honey!
If you’re looking for a traditional mead recipe, the Meadist has a simple recipe that's an easy place to start.
Looking for mead-sized pails of our honey to make your own brew? We’ve got you covered in our shop!