|Me with Craig Fahle.|
Just last week (ye gods has it only been a week??) I was a guest on the Craig Fahle Show on WDET talking about mead, thanks to this little piece in Hour. I put together a bunch of notes for the show which, of course, I never once referenced. So now I'm sharing them with you. Initially I was only going to share a few key tidbits, but then I figured I might as well just start at the beginning and not assume people already have a basic knowledge of what I'm talking about.
You can listen to the Craig Fahle Show's snippet on mead with me here. I've also done a lot of mead primer work here, for your reference.
PS, "merds." It's a thing now.
What is mead?
Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from honey. The difference between mead and beer and wine is in the fermentables in the product - in beer it's grains, in wine it's grapes, and in mead it's honey.
Because honey is the primary ingredient, yes, it is sweet, but the sweetness can be tempered just like in a wine and meads can also be bone-dry.
Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world. The famous French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case for the invention of mead as a marker of the passage "from nature to culture." (And everyone who has ever written anything remotely significant about mead has referenced this.)
Meads are typically the strength of wine, roughly around 14% alcohol (though that can vary significantly).
Are there different kinds of meads?
Much as there are different regions and varietals of wine and different styles of beer, there are dozens of different varieties of meads, but some of the most common that you'll find are as follow:
-Melomel - made with fruit
-Braggot - beer/mead hybrid using malt (with or without hops)
-Cyser - honey and apple juice fermented together
-Pyment - honey and red or white grapes (a wine hybrid)
Mead now has its own National Mead Day on August 3, an effort by the American Homebrewers Association.
B. Nektar Meadery, Ferndale
-Brad Dahlhofer is the co-owner of B. Nektar Meadery with his wife Kari and partner Paul Zimmerman.
-B. Nektar just entered the New York market.
-B. Nektar has expanded into a second production space, also in Ferndale, about six times the size of their original space, and recently added another 4,000 gallons of capacity.
-They are currently in the process of getting a brewery license so they can make braggots. UPDATE: As of October 31, 2013, they have received their federal brewing license and will soon begin making braggots.
-When they started producing the Zombie Killer, a lightly-hopped cherry cyser session mead, in 2011, it was a coup for the company and became their claim to fame; Ken Schramm and others credit them with bringing mead national attention.
-Next up was Evil Genius, a lightly-carbonated IPA-style mead that, to the best of their knowledge, was the first IPA-style mead in the country (though not the first hopped) - note, Evil Genius is no longer in production due to an issue with availability for one of the ingredients.
-Other carbonated session meads now include: Necromangocon, Kill All the Golfers (an Arnold Palmer style mead), Black Fang (made with blackberry, clove, orange).
-They will produce 25,000 cases of carbonated meads alone this year.
-New Devil's Night releases including new session mead Dwarf Invasion (made with cherry, hops), the Smoked Pumpkin Caper (made with smoked pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato, smoked honey, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spices, aged in a Goose Island Bourbon County Stout barrel clocking in at 15%ABV), Devil's Juice (orange blossom honey, smoked 'mutt' honey, pineapple juice, and a blend of 3 hot peppers), Eye Ball (like a highball, ginger and raw wildflower honey aged in rye whiskey barrels, one of partner meadmaker Ian Radogost-Givens' creations; he will be doing more experiMental B-Sides and a barrel-aged series.
-In the works: the barrel-aged series and more B-sides.
-We're seeing more and more carbonated mead at trade shows, presumable thanks to the success these guys have had.
-B. Nektar might be the largest meadery in the country right now, with Red Stone Meadery in Boulder next closest in size and production.
Ken Schramm, Schramm's Mead, Ferndale
-Read about his new Ferndale meadery here.
-Heart of Darkness is his signature mead, which used to be made at B. Nektar before Schramm got his own licensed meadery. It is made from homegrown, hand-harvested fruit from Schramm’s orchard and berry patch. The cherries are of the Schraammbeek variety, an intensely flavorful, European morello type, the raspberries are Heritage and Latham, and the black currants are Crandall and Consort. Production is extremely limited, as the amount of care and labor which go into each batch is substantial. Much of the fruit is netted to prevent birds from eating what should be your mead. This is a hand-crafted mead, if ever there was one.
-Where B. Nektar's meads appeal to the beer nerds, Schramm's meads are more elegant, akin to fine wines.
-Schramm is a world-renowned expert in mead, having wrote the book on it. The Compleat Meadmaker was released in 2003. It is still considered the current book of reference for meadmaking, and Schramm plans on a second edition soon. He is to mead what Brian Polcyn is to charcuterie.
-He plans on producing 300 gallons per month, all self-distributed.
-He also co-created the Mazer Cup, the largest mead event in the world featuring both home brewers and commercial meads in competition.
-Schramm has his standard blackberry, raspberry, and ginger meads, but he also has special meads like the Heart of Darkness, the Statement (made with Hungarian cherries) and Black Heart, a black raspberry melomel being released on Halloween.
Kuhnenn Brewing Co., Warren + Clinton Twp.
-The cult favorite craft brewery just bought a new production facility, which will open next spring
-The new brewery also has the capacity to produce 2,000-3,000 barrels (120,000-180,000 gallons) of mead.
-They will focus on braggots, lightly carbonated session meads (beer/mead "hybrids"). They will still make limited release still meads for brewery release only.
-They will distribute their braggots starting in Michigan and expanding out.
-Still meads will be special releases likely brewery only
-Every March they host "Mead Madness" with a slew of new limited specialty mead releases every week.
-They were covered in Imbibe Magazine's recent article on American meads, along with B. Nektar.
-They're currently known for meads like their Bourbon Barrel French Toast mead and Imperial Bourbon Barrel Braggot.
-Meadmaker Frank Retell has taken home scores of golds, silvers and bronzes at the Mazer Cup for his braggots, pyments, dessert meads, melomels...the list goes on and on.
Other Michigan meadmakers
-Dragonmead in Warren (currently going through a major expansion)
-Superior Lakes in Harrison Twp.
-St. Ambrose Cellars (now making some carbonated meads)