Mead may call to mind Friar Tuck in that Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood, or something sipped only by Renaissance fair–goers for the sake of historical accuracy. But the honey wine is worth drinking even when smoked turkey legs and jousts aren’t involved. Ranging from dry to sweet, floral to earthy, mead can pair with anything from buttery desserts to spicy Sichuan. At Distilled NY, a Tribeca tavern inspired by the American public houses of yore, bartender Benjamin Wood features four meads and one mead-based cocktail. “Mead is the grandfather of all fermented beverages,” he says. “It’s the OG.”
Here, a mead primer from this honey wine lover:
What is Mead?
“Mead is fermented honey and water,” Wood says. “It can be sparkling, still, sweet, semisweet, dry, flavored with spices, and served like a mulled wine during the winter: warmed with cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and clove. The variations are limitless.” In terms of body, Wood compares it to a Riesling but heavier. “Expect it to have a more viscous texture than a typical dry white wine,” he says.
“Mead predates cultivated soil,” Wood says. “From what I understand, that began around 2000 BC. Some historians have used it as a marker to indicate the change in humanity from nature to culture.” Mead also is connected to the origination of the term honeymoon: “It is derived from a historical tradition where newlyweds were given honey wine (mead) to drink every day for one full moon after their wedding to enhance fertility,” Wood says. “Mead is considered a natural aphrodisiac.”
How to Serve Mead
“It’s made from honey, so there are particles that could coagulate when mead gets too cold, so a lot of people recommend serving it at room temperature,” Wood says. “But the response from the public is that they want it cooler, so we chill it. It’s just a matter of finding the right temperature so that it’s not cold enough to coagulate but chilled enough that it’s pleasing to a palate.”
4 Meads to Try
All of Distilled NY’s meads are still and come from New York: two from Earle Estates—the traditional, which is sweeter due to more residual sugar, and the semisweet contemporary. Rounding out the selection is a traditional, floral style from Carroll’s Mead, and one from Mystic Mead, which is made with a blend of wildflower honeys to achieve a “more herbaceous, earthy quality.”
How to Make a Mead Cocktail
At the bar, Wood uses Carroll’s Mead in the Mead Americano, his take on the classic bittersweet cocktail made with Campari, vermouth and club soda. “It’s a spirit-on-spirit, all-booze cocktail,” he says. He mixes Aperol with juniper-heavy Spring 44 gin and the lightly sweet mead, and then carbonates the drink in-house for fizz. It’s served on the rocks with a dash of grapefruit bitters and grapefruit oil.