WHAT EXACTLY IS MEAD?
As defined by AMMA:
Mead is a wine from other agricultural products or a malt beverage derived (1) from honey and water, OR (2) from a mixture of honey and water with hops, fruit, spices, grain, or other agricultural products or flavors allowed in the production in wine, in which honey represents the largest percentage of the starting fermentable sugars by weight of the finished product, and having the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to mead, and sold or offered for sale as mead.
Simply put, mead is a fermented beverage made primarily from honey. It is also known to be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man predating both beer and traditional grape wine by THOUSANDS of years. In Asia, pottery vessels containing chemical signatures of a mixture of honey, rice and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation dating from 6500-7000 BC were found in Northern China. In Europe, it is first attested in residual samples found in ceramics from 2800-1800 BC.
WHAT DOES MEAD TASTE LIKE?
That is a question with many answers. One of the biggest misconceptions about mead is that, because it is made from honey, it “has to be” sweet. That is not necessarily the case. Mead can vary in sweetness ranging from sweet, semi-sweet, and down to dry (not sweet). Flavors in mead can also vary with the addition of fruits, juices, and spices, or even combinations thereof. Also, just as with grape wine, mead can vary in flavor and aroma quite a bit depending on the varietal of honey used. In the end, mead can be whatever you want it to be.
COMMON MEAD VARIANTS
Acerglyn: A mead made with honey and maple syrup.
Black mead: A name sometimes given to the blend of honey and blackcurrants.
Bochet: A mead where the honey is caramelized or burned separately before adding the water. Yields toffee, caramel, chocolate and toasted marshmallow flavors.
Braggot: Originally brewed with honey and hops, later with honey and malt—with or without hops added.
Capsicumel/Capsumel: A mead flavored with chile peppers, the peppers may be hot or mild.
Cyser: A blend of honey and apple juice fermented together.
Czwórniak: A Polish mead, made using three units of water for each unit of honey.
Dwójniak: A Polish mead, made using equal amounts of water and honey.
Medovina: Czech, Croatian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Bulgarian, Bosnian and Slovak for mead. Commercially available in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and presumably other Central and Eastern-European countries.
Melomel: Melomel is made from honey and any fruit. Depending on the fruit base used, certain melomels may also be known by more specific names (see cyser and pyment for examples).
Metheglin: Metheglin is traditional mead with herbs or spices added. Some of the most common metheglins are ginger, tea, orange peel, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, cloves or vanilla. Its name indicates that many metheglins were originally employed as folk medicines.
Pyment: Pyment blends honey and red or white grapes and/or grape juice.
Rhodomel: Rhodomel is made from honey, rose hips, rose petals or rose attar, and water.
Sack mead: This refers to mead that is made with more honey than is typically used. The finished product contains a higher-than-average ethanol concentration (meads at or above 14% ABV are generally considered to be of sack strength) and often retains a high specific gravity and elevated levels of sweetness, although dry sack meads (which have no residual sweetness) can be produced.
Short mead: Also called “quick mead”. A type of mead recipe that is meant to age quickly, for immediate consumption. Because of the techniques used in its creation, short mead shares some qualities found in cider (or even light ale): primarily that it is effervescent, and often has a cidery taste. It can also be champagne-like.
Show mead: A term which has come to mean “plain” mead: that which has honey and water as a base, with no fruits, spices or extra flavorings.
Tej: Tej is an Ethiopian and Eritrean mead, fermented with wild yeasts and the addition of gesho.
Trójniak (TSG): A Polish mead, made using two units of water for each unit of honey.