A Bibliophile's Guide to Mead Making...Part 1
I get a lot of questions from people about Mead. Mead is such a cool new alcoholic beverage that is growing in popularity…many people want to try Mead now. The number of people that have tried Mead already is on the rise too, as one of my first questions to customers at Meduseld is “have you ever had Mead before?” The first year and a half of business the typical answer was “No.” I’m getting more answers ranging from “My friend makes mead” to the dreaded “I had it once and didn’t like it.” Craft Beer, Wine, and Spirits enthusiasts are increasingly finding Mead as the market grows and they’re loving it!
I’m going to answer one of my favorite questions today, but it will be answered in parts.
“Willie, what is your Mead making process like?” Mead making, like many other types of Artisanal craftwork, is not a one size fits all operation. My process is likely different from many other Mead makers out there, and my approach to commercial Mead making doesn’t stray too far from what I did during my homebrew days. Scaling a batch of Mead for retail use can be tough to figure out, but if one keeps the scale smaller, you get to use a wider amount of ingredients in a larger number of small batches…but I digress. My Mead making process begins with inspiration.
Inspiration. Sometimes I get a spark from a meal I’m eating, and I think about what kind of Mead would go best with it. For example, I was eating Thai food with my family, and I thought a nice delicate mead with herbal infusions would pair beautifully with my green Thai curry, so I created Secret Treasure…a lightly hopped mead with lemongrass. Often enough, I’m listening to some music and it evokes a certain feeling…like an emotional/spiritual connection, and I think about Mead ingredients, like spices, fruit, and honey, that can also represent similar feelings. This process led me to make our Drink Your Dessert series last Fall, that had our popular Snickerdoodle Mead in the lineup.
Fantasy fiction and video games are often a huge inspiration for my Mead making. One of the first commercial batches I made used Juniper berries and Warrior hops, all thanks to Skyrim’s opening scene (if you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about). More recently, Lorien’s Bounty was made due to a passage in the Silmarillion. I am always thinking about how to go about making a special Mead that has eluded me to this day…Elvish wine. In Tolkien’s works, Miruvor is referenced as an Elvish wine or cordial made from sweet nectar. I think this can be made if one sets their mind to it…so let’s play!
Miruvor…In my imagination, this Mead needs to be extremely delicate. Elves are Forest dwellers that are attuned to nature. They would harvest rare Mead ingredients with care and patience and may also use certain herbs that may have medicinal aspects to them if the recipe called for it. Elves are a long-lived race, and as such, might have a developed palate for wine and Mead. This could translate to a dry or semi-sweet Mead with a nice acid balance. The floral notes need to be present, but not overpowering…so selecting a honey that won’t overpower the other ingredients, if any, is key. Perhaps a traditional Mead made with only a rare type of honey is called for? What would they use if they had access to over three hundred different types of honey worldwide?
Tupelo honey, which is produced when bees collect nectar from the blossoms of the white Ogeechee tupelo (Nyssa ogeche) tree, is rare, delicious, and expensive…which would suit the Elves rarified tastes just fine! We’d need at least four pounds of honey per gallon, so we can make it a very intoxicating Mead. I would also select a yeast that is known for fermenting Mead cleanly, without giving too much character that could overpower our delicate honey flavors, such as Lalvin D-47. Then I would make every effort to ferment the Mead at a cooler temperature. After fermentation, proper storage for long term aging is crucial…somewhere dark, cool, and oxygen free. This is a simple Mead recipe using only one ingredient, but it is the most important ingredient.
If Tupelo proves to be hard to find, or too expensive, one could substitute another light honey, such as Alfalfa, and add some other floral notes by adding in dried flowers to the Mead after fermentation is completed. The latter approach would stick more to canon as well, as the original called for “flowers from Yavanna’s gardens.” Perhaps some dried honeysuckle, with a dash of Elderflower would add interesting flavor and complexity?
There you have it! The birth of a Mead from concept to recipe.