In the world of alcoholic beverages, mead holds a unique and underappreciated position. Not only is it one of the oldest known drinks, but it also boasts an unparalleled diversity. From the intricate nuances of varietal honey to the limitless combinations of ingredients, mead offers a tasting adventure like no other. In the same way that Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Madeira and Champagne are all technically wines because they’re all made from grapes, but you would never confuse one for the other, the same diversity exists within mead, if not more.
The Magic of Varietal Honey
At the heart of every mead is honey, but not all honey is the same. Varietal honey, derived from the nectar of specific flowers, carries the essence and character of its floral source. This means that the honey from lavender blossoms will have a distinctly different flavor profile compared to that from orange blossoms or wildflowers.
Different environments, climates, and soils further influence these flavors, leading to a vast spectrum of honey varieties. For instance, clover honey, popular in North America, offers a sweet and mild flavor, while manuka honey from New Zealand brings forth rich, earthy notes. Each varietal honey lays a unique foundation for the mead, setting the stage for an array of tasting experiences.
Even wildflower honey, which is simply honey where the bees pollinated many different sources, can vary from region to region because different flowers bloom in New England than the Southwest, etc. Furthermore, honey from the same hive but different times of year will have subtle differences because June’s bloom differs from the flowers opening up in late August.
Varietal Honey Meads & The Sap House Meadery Barrel Program
Here at Sap House Meadery, we use varietal honeys in our highly sought-after barrel-aged meads. We pair a previously used spirit barrel with a mono-floral varietal honey based on the flavor characteristic of each and how we think they will play with each other in the final product. The mead takes its flavor from the varietal honey and the barrel imparts essences from the spirit that originally aged in it.
Examples of past barrel aged meads we’ve produced:
One of These Days: Wildflower in Bourbon Barrels
California Stars: Star Thistle Honey in Port Barrels
All That is Now: Blueberry Honey in Brandy Barrels
Matilda: Coriander Honey in Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels
Beyond Honey: An Infinite Palette of Ingredients
While honey provides the backbone, the soul of many meads comes from the array of ingredients the mead maker has infused. Traditional mead-making practices have seen the incorporation of fruits like berries, apples, and peaches. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg add warmth and complexity. Herbs like rosemary or thyme can introduce aromatic and savory notes. But in today’s world where boundaries must always be pushed, our Meadovation program is widening the lens into non-traditional ingredients and combinations. Some of our most prized mead offerings are in our Pie Series, infused with toasted oats, spices and more to recreate authentic pie flavors like Apple, Blueberry, Strawberry Rhubarb and even Pecan!
The vast ingredient palette allows mead-makers to craft beverages that can range from dessert-sweet to refreshingly dry, from still to sparkling, and from simple to complex. Don’t forget our meads are also entirely gluten free!
Mead’s rich history, combined with its unparalleled diversity, makes it a beverage that transcends time and geography. Its ability to adapt, evolve, and resonate with so many makes it truly the world’s most diverse alcoholic beverage. If you’re curious for more, read on about how mead might be the sustainable alternative to beer and spirits, shop our mead selection online or visit our Pub and Tasting Room.