Mead — My Muse and Nemesis

6th Century Anglo Saxon Drinking horn, British Museum

I love the idea of mead.  The oldest alcoholic drink known to man, it predates farming.  Mead surfaces again and again in historical texts.  It is found in the Rigveda, the ancient texts of India, written in Sanskrit.  It can be found throughout Greek and Roman literature.  Beowulf, the oldest surviving piece of English literature, shows mead being consumed in quantity by its hero.  Mead is the history of civilization, in a glass.

The problem is, I like the idea of mead more then the actual product.    The first mead I ever drank was one I made.  The Complete Joy of Homebrewing had a sizable section on mead, Charlie Papazian was obviously a fan, so I decided to give it a try.  In 1994, I combined honey I got from the grocery store with some tap water, boiled it for about 10 minutes, mixed it with cold water, tossed in about 2-3 bags of frozen raspberries, added dried yeast, and let it go.  About a month later, I bottled it.  It was pink, kind of sweet, about 9% alcohol…and what can I say, the ladies seemed to enjoy it.  I had basically home brewed a winecooler, but the proper term would be a melomel, a mead infused with fruit.   Flush with the success of finding a homebrewed beverage that seemed to draw attention from the coeds, I brewed a second batch.  This time, I used a smaller amount of honey, and more raspberries.  I let it sit longer, and then bottled it with priming sugar.  What I created was a sparkling melomel, dry, tart, and very raspberry.  I enjoyed it.  I am happy to say that I kept one bottle from the batch, and it traveled with me for over 15 years, until I had dinner with one of my college roommates last year around Thanksgiving.  He could not believe I had kept a bottle that long, and he, his girlfriend, my wife and I shared the last bottle over dinner.  It had none of the original color, and had oxidized.  It tasted more like sherry then mead, but I still enjoyed it, probably more for the novelty and the company then for the actual beverage.

The first commercial mead I ever tried was brought back from England by my wife.  She was studying in London, and brought back 2 bottles.  Both were sickly sweet, and despite being poor college kids, we could not choke them down even if they were 14% alcohol.

Life continued on, and I often took long breaks from brewing due to school, life, job, etc.  Mead takes a long time to really get good, and I just did not have the patience or the proper living situation to make it.  I tried a few more meads commercially made, and they were usually too sweet for my palate, or insipid.  However, I kept coming back to the idea of making mead, to see if I could make one that I truly love.  So, I decided to purchase  by Ken Schramm.  Considered the bible on meadmaking, it took a much more technical approach to the topic.  Much more like wine making the brewing, I was outside of my comfort zone, but the appeal of making mead pushed me forward into experimenting with it again, which I started doing again in 2009.

In subsequent posts, I will outline what I have done and why.  I have decided to do small batches, or to split one large one into different types of mead, to try to find that right combination for me.  I also decided to do one batch a year, as I find that while I enjoy making mead, I have yet to find one that really has knocked my socks off.  As such, it is more of an occasional libation for me, a work in progress, but I am willing to keep experimenting and trying until I get one right for me.  After all, 9000 years of Wassailing can’t be all wrong.

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