The popularity of mead, the alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey with mentions in the bible, continues its upward trajectory, reports a survey released by the American Mead Makers Association.
Mead sales climbed 130 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the survey. The number of domestic meaderies, meanwhile, has grown from 60 three years ago to 194 today, accounting for 2.5 percent of American wineries.
Mead may be riding the coattails of the craft beer movement, surmises Nathan Chesser, manager of Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery in Chicago. The meadery raises its own bees and collect its own honey. “Its similar to craft beer in that you can create interesting flavors out of it,” Chesser says.
Reportedly a favorite of Greek gods, mead comes in an unlimited variety of flavors, determined by geographic location as well as added ingredients. Honey, which takes on the flavor of the flowers the bee pollinates, is the primary ingredient being fermented—and mead can easily incorporate fruit or spices, and range from dry to sweet and still to sparkling. Mead may also be barrel-aged, like wine, beers, and spirits.
From its home in the Midwest, Wild Blossom adds ingredients such as Michigan blueberries and Wisconsin cranberries. The restaurant meadery distributes it mead products, which come in 14 different varieties, to restaurants, bars, and liquor stores in the Midwest region.
The Bavarian Lodge in Lisle, Illinois, serves several Wild Blossom varieties of mead, including Pomegranate Nectar, Hop Stinger, and Sweet Desire Bourbon-Barrel Aged. Other mead offerings at the Bavarian Lodge include Schraml's Brandy Oak Aged from Erbendorf, Germany, and Iqhilika Herbal Blossom and Iqhilika Chili Pepper from Grahamstown, South Africa.
Husband-and-wife team Oron and Sarah Benary run Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus, Ohio, and the more recently opened The San Francisco Mead Company, using only local ingredients from each area to produce its mead offerings.
“We produce a dry mead, so we ferment all the sugar out of it,” Sarah Benary says. “It works really well with food: it’s dry, like a wine, but without the acid or tannin.”
The Dry Creek Kitchen, Charlie Palmer’s restaurant in Sonoma County, California, recommends pairing an Orange Blossom mead with its Citrus Medley dessert of cheesecake, cara cara oranges, compressed kiwi, and blood orange sherbet.
It takes a certain type of restaurateur or chef to add mead to his or her cocktail program, says Benary. “They have to be willing to challenge their customers, and to create a new experience. Mead is still so off the map for most people; it takes a little more work than offering beer or wine. Once people start drinking it and pairing it with food, they really embrace it. It adds such a new dimension to food.”
Still, Benary notes, orders for mead are coming in fast and furious at both locations. “It’s like a circus around here,” she says. The San Francisco site, which opened a little over a year ago, sold 6,000 gallons its first year.
“I think people are really hungry for the chance to connect with something they are eating or drinking,” adds Benary. “When people come to our meaderies and hear how we make it and how it is part of the larger eco system, I think they really connect to it. It adds another dimension to what they are drinking.”
By Joann Whitcher