There's Never Been a Better Time to Try Mead
Start with a visit to one of these great craft mead taprooms.
I'd always thought of mead, the ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey, as a cough syrup–like draught from Chaucer’s time. But a recent tasting organized by Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor, author of The Art of Mead Tasting & Food Pairing, changed my mind: I sipped meads that ranged from a dry sparkler that reminded me of a refreshing rosé, to a marionberry variety aged with chile peppers. Turns out, mead has as much range and variety as wine—and just like its grape-based sibling, it has terroir as well. And there’s never been a better moment to try mead. There were only about 30 meaderies in the U.S. two decades ago, and today, there are over 500. Want to taste the trend? Start with a visit to one of these great craft mead taprooms.
James Boicourt and Andrew Geffken founded Charm City Meadworks in 2014 and have just opened a new facility with 10 meads on tap. Outside the tasting room, their still meads—evocative of wine—come in 500 ml bottles; the carbonated ones come in 12-ounce cans. (Distribution is currently limited to the D.C./ Maryland/ Northern Virginia area.) Favorites include basil lemongrass, sweet blossom, and the seasonal mango comapeño, which packs some heat.
Brothers Nick and Phil Lorenz make 15 session-style meads (carbonated and less than 10 percent ABV), the most popular of which is “Sting”—made of freshly juiced ginger and white clover honey. (It won a gold medal at the Mazer Cup.) They’re also experimenting with sour meads (fermented with Brettanomyces and lactobacillus) and braggots (mead fermented with malted grains). If you can’t get to their Philomath tasting room, rest assured: their meads are distributed to 10 states including California, Georgia, and Texas.
Center Ossipee, NH
Ash Fischbein has his high school English teacher to thank for his mead career: he read about the beverage in Beowulf. “Back then, it was more about, ‘How can I get my friends drunk?’” laughs Fischbein. Now, Fischbein and his cousin Matt own Sap House Meadery, where their stand-out melomels — mead fermented with fruit — win awards at the Mazer Cup International mead competition. At their new mead pub, lined with rough-sawn pine, you can taste mead cocktails, mead- mosas, and (on Friday nights) pair dry semi-sweet mead with oysters.
Greg Fischer was six when he began beekeeping, so it’s hardly surprising that he became a mead-maker, opening Illinois’ first meadery 17 years ago. At Wild Blossom Meadery’s posh tasting room, you can try bourbon-cask aged meads like Sweet Desire, a blueberry mead, and a Barolo-style red, Pyment, that’s co-fermented with grape skins.
Former child actor Dylan Sprouse (The Suite Life of Zach & Cody) and his friend Doug Brochu are slated to launch All-Wise Meadery in Williamsburg soon. On tap: their ultra-dry house mead, an oolong-infused mead, a barrel-aged sparkling mead and one rotating guest mead. There will also be bottles for sale.
Jeff and Jen Herbert started Superstition Meadery five years ago with 300 gallons of mead and last year, they upped production to 7,000 gallons. With a new 3,750 square-foot facility, they expect to produce 14 times that in the next two years. They are known for their award-winning Marion Mead melomel — made of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries fermented with Arizona honey and their decadent “white series” — four dessert meads, made with berry juice and white chocolate, aged in oak barrels for 6-12 months. Try a flight of 12 meads at their tasting room, located in the basement of a historic building.
And if you want to dive the world of mead at home, there’s no shortage of options there either. Here's where to start:
For starters, you can try making your own! Yes, fortunately, the home brewing world has made its way into mead, and Home Brew Stuff’s Nano Mead Making Kit ($28) will give you a slightly more convenient starting point than the average Viking would have had to deal with while learning to brew theirs.
Speaking of which, if you really want to lean into it your new mead-heavy lifestyle, it’s hard not pick up a Genuine Ox Horn Viking Drinking Horn ($40), or at least a flat-bottomed 10oz Mead AleHorn ($13). Get the right guide, like Make Mead Like a Viking: Traditional Techniques for Brewing Natural, Wild-Fermented, Honey-Based Wines and Beers ($18), and if you want to get even further into the history of the golden drink, Fred Minnick and Tobias Saul’s illustrated exploration in Mead: The Libations, Legends, and Lore of History's Oldest Drink ($25) is worth a pre-order. -- Charlie Heller