Have You Tried Mead Lately?

Adding fruit or spices to mead as it brews can give it different flavors and colors. (Photo: Zaneta Baranowska/Shutterstock)

I love a great cocktail, a good glass of wine or a cold beer; I'm not one of those people who swears by one kind of alcohol and eschews the others. Each seems to have its time and place: nothing beats a cold IPA on a shimmering hot afternoon, a glass of Malbec while you're cozying up next to a fire, or a long, tall gin and tonic when you're poolside after a morning of exploring a tropical island.

So it came as a shock to me when I was visiting my friend in Vermont last year and she offered me some mead. I knew — vaguely — that it was wine made from honey, or something like that. For some reason, I wasn't expecting it to be very tasty. But oh my goodness, it certainly is! And like wine, even though it is made from some simple ingredients, there is an incredible variety of flavors (yes, it can be very sweet, but also dry, or extra-dry) and even textures (mead can be flat, lightly naturally sparkling, or carbonated).

Like the honey that is it made from, mead can express the terroir, or flavor of place, depending on what kinds of flowers the bees visited to make the honey, which is mixed with water, which is then fermented. Additional flavors in the form of berries and herbs might be added, or hops could be included to make a more bitter, beer-like brew.

The beverage is actually thought to be the ancestor or precursor to all alcoholic beverages, and is at least 2,000 years old. No less an historical figure than anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss considered its production by human beings the passage "from nature to culture." If this is the case, we know that our great (times 20) grandparents were drinking some pretty tasty stuff at their house parties! Unlike their habits, which probably included drinking mead straight, we now have all kinds of mixers to go with the honey beverage, and it has recently been used by upscale, artisan and farm-to-table restaurants as part of a cocktail's concoction.

Whether you drink it straight, over ice, or mixed with vodka, mead is definitely a shot of sunshine in the middle of the winter. Here's a few of the meads I have tried recently, and enjoyed:

Artesano mead is a Vermont-based company that makes several kinds of mead; six or more! There's a dry version, a blackberry one, chili cinnamon and traditional styles.

HoneyRun Mead comes from California, and is a dry, less sweet version of the wine.

B. Nektar Meadery has won a bunch of awards, and based on the taste that I had, I want to try all their various flavors, like The Evil Genius, which is a hops-added mead and has an IPA-like flavor.

And of course, you can always make your own mead; the useful gotmead.com is a useful resource for beginners.