A flagon of mead for the master?

While reading or studying ancient history of Asia or Europe, one would most likely come across the beverage “mead”. It also appears in lots of folk literature as the tipple of choice for many cultures. This famous drink has been around a long time. In fact, evidence of its existence has been traced back to northern China around 6500-7000 BC. So what exactly is “mead”?

Very simply, it is a fermented, alcoholic drink, much like wine, made mostly from honey. It is sometimes referred to as “honey wine” and actually utilizes the same yeast for fermentation. As yeast needs sugar of some sort to feed on to create alcohol, there’s no question that honey has an abundance. Fermentation usually includes water and sometimes spices, fruits, hops or grains for additional flavour. It’s versatile, too, as it can be made still, sparkling, crackling (naturally sparkling), dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, or even very sweet.

This interesting beverage has really fallen out of grace over the last century, but is enjoying a resurgence of sorts. Following are some to try that are available in our market:

Moniak Mead is one of the classic styles produced by the Highland Winery in Scotland. This burnt sienna-coloured brew is full of honey, floral, spicy, herbal notes. Not too sweet, with medium weight and light carbonation.

Ontario is a hotbed for mead production. The small Trafalgar Brewery in Oakville offers several. Their Braggot marries mead with malty ale delivering an off-dry, floral, honeyed, citric, grainy experience with delicate carbonation and decent length. Quite refreshing! Try their Ginger Mead, a golden, lightly spritzy, creamy sipper abundant with ginger, banana, spice, stone fruit, and of course, honey. Their Muskoka Cranberry Mead is pinkish-amber in colour and fruit driven. Lightly sweet and crisp, cranberry, date, and prune tend to dominate the flavour.

An easy quaffer! Their Norfolk County Baked Apple Mead is a real treat. Amber in colour, this light-bodied, slightly sparkling, delicately crisp baby smacks of apple pie laced with raisin, cinnamon, honey and caramel. And for big peach flavour, try their Niagara Peach Mead. Peach, apricot, orange zest, flowers and honey waft out of the glass. Medium-bodied with a light fizz, the citric zest provides enough acidity to make this a delicious example.

From Rosewood Estate Winery in Beamsville come several tasty offerings. Their Royale Honey is barrel-aged and vintage-dated varying from year to year in character. Generally, look for a sweetish, light- to medium-bodied product with plenty of nutty, apple, pear, floral, orange, caramel and spicy notes, all wrapped up in a vanilla-like package from the French oak aging. If you like apples, vie for their Legacy Cyser, a blend of apple juice and estate honey that is sweet with wildflower, apply, honeyed nuances and great acidity. Harvest Gold might be to your liking. A silky, complex mead chalked full of tropical fruit, toffee, mint and flowers. Or perhaps the French-oak-aged Ambrosia would do it for you. Rich and unctuous, it’s full of marmalade, preach, field flowers, cinnamon, butterscotch and vanilla.

For something different, why not treat yourself to one of these fascinating drinks? Mead has come a long way in history and has progressed from the somewhat cruder drink of times gone by that most folks sipped out of flagons. Today’s mead is evolved, modern and quite tasty. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Edward Finstein is a wine writer, author, TV and radio host, educator, judge.

Connect with him on Twitter at @DrWineKnow, or on Facebook

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