A taste of honey

Honey wine is ready for a renaissance

Mead wants a makeover.

“I would like to see mead have what happened to craft beers in the ’90s,” says David Myers, founder of Colorado meadery Redstone. “People would go into a small town and ask, ‘You have any mead around here?’ ”

Best known as the favored libation of Beowulf, that might sound like a honey wine pipe dream.

However, the number of U.S. meaderies has doubled, to 60, in the last decade. Last February’s Intl. Mead Festival in Boulder, Colo., judged 97 commercial meads, twice as many as the first fest in 2002. And it has made fine-dining inroads; at Napa’s French Laundry, an apple sorbet comes with a jelly made from Rabbit’s Foot-label mead.

It’s a good track record for the oldest known alcoholic beverage, but it remains a hard one to pin down.

Mead has all the terroir of fine wine, but it’s dictated by bees. It can also contain herbs, fruit or wine, and various fermentations result in sweet or dry, still or sparkling versions.

“That’s the beautiful thing about mead,” says Myers. “You wouldn’t expect an Indian Pale Ale to taste the same at two different brewpubs.”

However, some say the best-known mead is all too consistent. “Chaucer is the Budweiser of mead,” says Intl. Mead Assn. board member Julia Herz.

Bottled by Bargetto Winery in central California, the king of meads is also the most widely available; Chaucer’s Mead is the only honey wine carried at Wally’s Wine & Spirits.

“Wine stores are very uptight,” says Kelly Long, meadmaker at Rabbit’s Foot in Sunnyvale, Calif. “They want it all to be red wine.”

However, Herz is convinced that honey wine is ready for a renaissance.

“Mead is the Cinderella of the beverage industry,” she says. “Sooner or later, it’s going to the ball.”

Variety Weekend elicited the help of local meadmakers Mark Fitzsimmons and Bruce Brode for a taste of many honeys.

Rabbit's Foot Meadery's Sweet Mead Redstone Meadery's Juniper Berry
Mountain Meadows' Trickster's Treat Agave Mead
Mead: Rabbit’s Foot Meadery’s Sweet Mead
($16; Rabbitsfootmeadery.com).
Made from a single-bloom honey without added herbs, spices or fruit.
Mead: Redstone Meadery’s Juniper Berry
($20; Redstonemeadery.com).
Metheglin-style, a honey wine made with herbs or spices.
Mead: Mountain Meadows’ Trickster’s Treat Agave Mead
($13.50; Honeywine.com)
Specialty mead, which describes any honey wine that’s fermented from at least 50% honey but

doesn’t fit other categories.

Alcohol: 12%
Honey: Wildflower Jasmine
Tasting notes: Best in show. Buttery honey with hints of vanilla on the nose. Crisp green apple opens to fuller floral honey finish.
Pair with: Rabbit’s Foot suggests chocolate; we see apple tartin, poached pairs, brie.
Alcohol content: 12%
Honey: Orange blossom, desert blossom
Tasting notes: Perfect aperitif. Full honey on the nose; on the palate it’s clean, slightly astringent; the memory of a gin and tonic.
Pair with: a game of badminton
Alcohol: 13%
Honey: Wildflower
Tasting notes: Most unique. Agave nectar and honey on the nose; sweet and smokey upfront; touches of tartness midway, finishes smoothly.
Pair with: grilled meat; substitute for tequila in a margarita.