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March 17, 2011
Meads for St Patty's Day, Honey!
So here's the buzz. As Irish tradition would have it, mead is wine made from honey and for centuries was the drink of royalty and can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks. Pyment, a wine made of grape and honey, has been around for thousands of years. Claude Lévi-Strauss makes a case for the invention of mead as a marker of the passage "from nature to culture." Here in the US, though nowhere near as popular as grape wine, mead does have its place. Unlike grape-originated wine, it can originate from places where it may be difficult to grow grapes, due to climate or region issues

But what is different here is really where it's at. Let's start with the bees. Honey bees, aka apis mellifera, are responsible for the end product. What they ingest in pollinizing flowers imparts specific floral favors and esters. So if orange trees are being pollinized, this will impart orange flower esters. Different flowers impart different esters. The bees  intake  the  flower  nectar,  then
regurgitate it and the enzymes in their digestive system produces honey. They then place it in the honeycomb, followed by blowing their wings which removes the moisture, increasing the viscosity. Lastly, they seal the honeycomb with wax, much like wine is sealed with a cork.

Next, it's important to understand that honey has some 25 complex sugars, far more than grapes. How many wine reviews have we seen with references to honey and said "that sounds like something we would want to try"? Honey is desirable. Otherwise you wouldn't be calling your loved one "honey". There are many different types of meads with varying styles and sweetness, again, not unlike wine. Similar to winemaking is the basic process of fermentation. Honey is the source of sugar that is converted to ethanol with the CO2 byproduct. Though the process is the same, honey is hygroscopic and must be diluted with fresh spring water to about 25° Brix to be fermented to an acceptable alcohol level. Then yeast is added and this produces alcohol of 12.5% or so. Keeping the fermentation cool is important to keep the esters intact. Oaking meads tend to overwhelm the flavor, so it is not wildly used and much like wine, aging is important.

Being half Irish, I get it. Being partially French, I am perplexed as it must come from grapes, no? Fortunately, I received some great schooling from Vince Carlson from Adytum Cellars in Woodinville, Washington. You see, Vince is no ordinary individual. He makes beers, wine and meads. He specializes in the art of fermentation, regardless of the source of ethanol-creating material. Among his current wines are Syrah, a Cab Blend , a Semillion, and a blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne with some honey influence as well. Mead is one of his many specialties.
Vince has also made Cassis wine from the black currants themselves.


As a consummate craftsman, Vince abhors the process of adding refined sugar to increase ethanol content as you lose the special qualities the source fruit or honey can produce, not to mention the headaches it can give you! He cares about representing all his fermented goods in the light that nature intended!

If mead is good enough for kings, I am good with it!

Crown me, honey!

                                                                                                                                                                                

  

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