Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Need for Mead

The daily dispatches from my particular and peculiar work front regularly draw quizzical looks from my wife. (You say stuff like "There's a rum event at the New York Yacht Club tonight" with a serious face, and see how people react.) But when I told her that some mead had come through the mails, you'd have thought I had just confessed to her the name and nature of my imaginary friend.

But, it's true. I recently received some mead. Two bottles, in fact—one straight mead, one flavored with blueberries. They came from the Maine Mead Works, which has decided that that sticky, sweet, yellow stuff shouldn't all be wasted in tea and on our morning toast. The company is based in Portland and has been making mead only since the late 2008. Ben Alexander, who founded the winery with Eli Cayer (who began experimenting with mead-making in 2002), says he expects his products to be available in New York by the end of 2009. At present, the juice is only on store shelves in Maine.

Mead, of course, is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages known to man, a prehistoric drink that was made everywhere civilization could be found. (The earliest archaeological evidence for the production of mead dates to around 7000 BC.) It's also one of the simplest. It's fermented honey and water, basically.

Mead hasn't seen much popularity in recent centuries, which the deeper allures of grapes and grain all but pushing it off the map. But, these days, when an adverturous drinking crowd will latch on to any new/old idea, it may be time for a mead comeback. To get their winery going Alexander and Cayer sought the advice of Dr. Garth Cambray, a mead maker from South Africa who opened Makana Meadery in 2001.

Having no prior experience with mead, I expected the elixir would taste primarily of, well, you know, honey. I was quite surprised to find that the Maine Mead Works signature bottling, Honeymaker Dry Mead, tasted remarkably like wine. Dry white wine. The honey notes are there, to be sure, on the nose and the palate, but they are light and subtle. And they are not alone. You also get whiffs of beeswax, starfruit, straw and fresh mown grass. It's a very fresh nose. The palate brings forth clover, grass, wildflowers, more wax. It's a little like some Muscadets I've had, and a few of the more waxy Friuli whites. I could easily see drinking it with any dish I'd eat alongside those wines. It's not a strange wine at all, and I mean that in a good way. One doesn't think, "I'm drinking mead" the whole time.

The Honeymaker Blueberry Mead is a medium ruby-purple in color. I'd love to say it's distinctly different from the Dry Mead, but really it has the same characteristics as the regular mead, but with a berry overlay. It reminded me a bit of Dolcetto, but, beyond that, it's not that much more compelling, and, given the choice, I'd reach for the Dry Mead for a dinner companion. The blueberries make the flavored wine harder to pair with foods.

There's also a semi-sweet mead, which I did not try. The Maine Mead Works is doing some interested work, and I believe their work will improve over time. Moreover, they should be thanked for bringing this ancient quaff back into our world.

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