The bees and the…

Buzz about mead

By Jim Witmer

Photo: Tia Agnew of Indi’s New Day Craft mixes ciders and mead cocktails at a Crafted and Cured tasting; photos: Jim Witmer

There is a lot of buzz today about mead, and much of it has to do with our friends, the bees.

Derived from honey, mead is likely one of the first alcoholic drinks to be consumed by humans, as accidental as it might have been.

Making beer is hardly an accidental event, whereas wine or mead can be made spontaneously within the forces of nature. Mead can be made with honey that is exposed to wild yeasts in the air, and maybe a little water to help get things going. Naturally, the sugar is already present in honey and ready to take off and ferment when yeast do their thing.

The process needed to make mead is so basic that it was likely discovered by pre-agriculture Paleolithic humans and made from the gathering of beehive honey. If they took it from the hive before the bees had a chance to dry it, it was even more fermentable.

Early cave paintings depict gathering of honey from beehives, so I’d guess that mead-making wasn’t far behind, if not the reason they were collecting all the honey in the first place. Historical records document the use of meads. In 8,000 ancient Sanskrit records, there are references to a honey wine: Mayans used it in religious ceremonies, and the writings of Plato show that Greeks imbibed often.

In fact, the ones who drank mead instead of water likely avoided the pathogens that were present in water and avoided sickness and death. Luckily, the alcohol content in mead is sufficient to destroy bacteria, so it can be toasted for promoting human civilization.

That’s why when I open a bottle of mead today, I often think of the ancient roots from which it came and how it is the most basic and natural alcoholic beverage ever made by humans. It’s now gaining in popularity with creative interpretations available on the shelves of your better bottle shops on any given day in the greater Dayton area.

Modern mead-making is a bit more complicated with controlled fermentation and yeast strains, but the process is still basically adding yeast and water to fresh honey. The end result of fermentation can be sweet or dry, can contain fruit, spices, aged in spirit barrels, (or in one memorable mead from New Day in Indianapolis), or infused with espresso. Cocktails were being mixed during an event at Crafted and Cured (Wayne Avenue) a few months back using hard ciders and meads from New Day by co-owners Tia Agnew and Brett Canaday. They were showing the versatility of their meads and ciders using a few bitters and the result was outstanding.

The New Day tasting room in the fountain Square neighborhood of Indianapolis (only a few minutes from downtown Indy) is a must-visit destination for Daytonians wanting to experience a stylish place pushing the boundaries of beverages, this being the only mead and cider tasting room I have visited within a two-hour drive. And I had the good fortune to meet and talk shop with the knowledgeable owners, so I can easily recommend visiting their handcrafted products now being distributed in the Dayton market and throughout Ohio.

The one that immediately caught my attention was the 8 percent ABV Breakfast Magpie, so I made arrangements to buy half a case because it’s not always readily available. This seasonal honey wine made with black raspberries and espresso made me realize I had found a perfect harmony of bold yet satisfying flavors, reminiscent of a chocolate covered berry with a clean finish. If you are lucky, you might find the imperial version aged in Angel’s Envy Bourbon barrels sometimes. Since I am focusing on mead here (although their hard ciders are wonderful), also be on the lookout for these highly regarded New Day year ‘round offerings: Washington’s Folly, an 8 percent ABV Tart Cherry Mead where fresh cherries mingle with wildflower honey. Refreshing tartness but a smooth, floral finish.

ReThinker – Dry Hopped Blueberry Mead, 6 percent ABV: Big hop aroma, combination of dry fruit light hops on the palate.  Dry, floral, and aromatic.

Shelby Blue Ribbon – Strawberry Rhubarb Mead, 6 percent ABV: Sweet strawberries mix with tart rhubarb—a true sweet-tart in a glass available, with other interpretations, on the shelves your better bottle shops on any given day in the greater Dayton area.

You have what seems to be unlimited choices of other highly regarded meads availably locally:

Schramm’s Mead: Michigan. The winner of the 2015 RateBeer No. 1 Meadery in the World, Schramms’s Mead captured six of the top 11 places in the Mead category. Look for Blackberry, Ginger, Raspberry, and The Statement.

Crafted Meads: Akron, Ohio. Look for Crafted Pollen Nation a dry hopped (cascade) spiced blackberry hydromel, Chipotle Pollen Nation (infused with saigon cinnamon and chipotle peppers), Jinja Dragon, made with hibiscus and ginger with a touch of black peppercorn, Belgian Meadjito, a lime and mint hydromel with fresh crushed mint, lime juice and Belgian yeast is a summer seasonal that you should find now before it’s gone. Maple Harvest is a sparkling mead crafted with buckwheat honey, maple syrup, and dark Belgian candy sugar, touches of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Coming in the fall.

B Nektar Meads: Michigan. In their own words, “Guided by geeky imagination, influenced by sub-pop culture and never satisfied with the status quo.”

Redstone: Boulder Colorado. They have been making mead since 2001, and you can find their 750 ML bottles of Black Raspberry, Juniper, Sunshine Nectar, Traditional, and Winter Solstice along with other seasonal releases.

It’s evident that mead has made its journey from the past to become one of the most exciting beverages on the market today. Because of its versatility, it’s finding a sweet spot for both the wine and the beer drinker.

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Reach DCP beer writer Jim Witmer at JimWitmer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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