2011-01-13 / Scene

Wine Scene

Medieval Mead makes a comeback


Dave Ethridge — VIEW Wine Columnist Dave Ethridge — VIEW Wine Columnist In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, the mead hall is the center of action — where King Hrothgar “quaffed many a bowl of mead” and Grendel passed out “after the drinking of the mead.” Chaucer makes several references to mead in the 14th century Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare also adds to the literature on mead in several of his plays. Now comes along the popular British author of the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling, in which Ron Weasley almost bit the dust with a poisoned bottle of Madame Rosmerta’s oak-matured mead. Mead has been around a long time, but until recently nearly forgotten.

Mead is a very simple concoction — just honey, water and yeast. But it can be surprisingly diverse in taste, sweetness and flavors. That’s because the basic honey varies depending on where it comes from and the varieties of fruit and flower honey pollens that abound.

For instance, orange-blossom honey mead from Florida is vastly different from a clover mead of Michigan. And, who said mead had to be sweet? Some of the most interesting meads being produced are quite dry, and are perfect with Asian foods where they blend in with the exotic flavors. So, mead is making a comeback in a big way.

Just a few years ago the only mead on the market was imported from Ireland or Poland and it was always very sweet and often marketed as the ‘honeymoon wine.’ The old country customs of giving newlyweds a bottle of mead to start off the wedded journey, a bottle that would last for a ‘full moon’ is the basis of the word ‘honeymoon.’ Then, very slowly, wine makers began to experiment with small batches of mead and even more slowly, the public began to notice. Now there are more than 150 meaderies in the U.S. according to the web-site www.gotmead.com.

One of those new meaderies is nearby, just off I-75 and 9 Mile Road in Ferndale, called (quaintly enough) B. Nektar Meadery. Owners Brad Dahlhofer and Kerri Zimmerman started off with some home-made honey wine that won a silver medal at a national judging so they expanded their production in 2006 but that sold out in just two months.

So they began a quest for bigger quarters, found a good site in Ferndale and now produce more than 15,000 gallons a year. They produce several different varieties of mead, their most popular being the Orange Blossom Mead in the traditional sweet dessert style. It is available in many locales across the state, like Oxford Wine & Beverage and at Oliver T’s in

Grand Blanc. But some of their more exotic meads include those with added flavors, like Vanilla Cinnamon Mead, or their Bourbon Barrel Mead (aged in old bourbon barrels) or their new Ethiopian Harrar Mead, a basic wildflower mead with exotic coffee from Ethiopia. For more about their products, retailers and location visit their web-site at www.bnektar.com.

Other producers of mead in Michigan are

Sandhill Crane

Vineyards near Jackson with flavors including Spiced Asian Pear,

Raspberry and Apple. Cascade Winery in Grand Rapids makes a Traditional

Mead and one that is Orange Spice flavored.

Even closer to home Wills Winery in Lapeer also produces a Pyment

Mead, one that is a combination of orange blossom honey and grape juice. And up in Montague is a new meadery, the Bardic Wells Meadery where Steve and Jan Haystead produce mead from their own honey farm where they have more than

120 bee hives with more than

60,000 bees (and he tells us he only gets stung about 200 times a year!). They also make flavored meads with blueberry and cherry flavor, apple mead and also one that is coffee flavored.

So, Michigan is one of those expanding markets for mead; it is just sometimes difficult to find unless you know where to look. But the search is worth the effort; a glass of mead is a sweet way to end a busy day.

Dave Ethridge is a nationally known wine writer, certified wine judge, and the director of the Lapeer

Chapter of Tasters Guild

International.

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