Mead Styles: Should mead taste like wine? or beer?

Many meadmakers were first winemakers or homebrewers, and they have applied experience with wine or beer to the craft of making mead. From looking at the many mead recipes, in print and on the web, it seems they have formed cliques. What I call “beer-mead” recipes tend to call for boiling, gypsum, irish moss, and low (around 1.060) original gravities. These are all familiar to homebrewers, as is the occasional use of corn sugar to boost the OG. The use of sulfites, tannin, and maybe the no heat approach are more prevalent in “wine mead” recipes, and they usually have higher OGs. My simple mead recipe falls in the wine-mead category.

The extent of this beer-mead vs wine-mead divide became clear to me when I offered some of my own mead to a homebrewing friend. It was a three year old plain, still, sweet mead. He loved it and said the aroma made him want to “run outside and roll around in the grass,” but then he got a puzzled look and said, “I thought mead tasted more like beer.” It was the second time I got that reaction (the “like beer” reaction, not the “roll around in the grass” one), and it makes me think that these two cliques should mingle.

They can learn a lot more from each other than either of them realize because so much less is known about mead than beer or wine. Beer and wine have been important industries for some time, and there is extensive research about them. Though mead is an old beverage, there has been relatively little study of it. So while its perfectly natural for winemakers and homebrewers to bring their knowledge and experience with them when they start making mead, it’s easy for them to develop tunnel vision. When winemakers assert that mead is like wine and homebrewers insist that it is like beer, I think of the story about the blind men and the elephant.

I, for one, want to learn a lot more about mead before I start arguing over what it “should” be like.

Update 6/15/2007 I’ve thought about what a beer-like mead would be like, then I filled in some detail to make a recipe.



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14 thoughts on “Mead Styles: Should mead taste like wine? or beer?

  1. Pingback: Washington Winemaker » Blog Archive » The Beginnings Of A Beer-Like Mead Recipe

  2. Michael

    Mead in the modern era is now mostly about education. Very few people (relatively) know what mead is. Most people have to be told what mead is, and even many homebrewers have misconceptions. I know a good mead when I taste it but, unlike beer, there isn’t a consensus on what a particular style of mead should taste like. With beer, the base malt is almost always two-row. With mead, there are many types of honey, each with their own taste and aroma characteristics, and that’s just the beginning! Which beer style is best for braggot? Which wine grapes are best for pyment? Which spices make the best methlegin? Which apples make the best cyser? The list goes on and on.

    In homebrewing, I use procedures from both beer making and wine making when making mead. It all depends on what I’m trying to make and what I’m trying to accomplish. The most fun comes from experimentation. Wine yeast for mead? Sure! Beer yeast for mead? Why not? Have you tried it?

    Bottom line to the taste issue: my answer is “neither”. Mead shouldn’t taste like beer or wine. It should taste like mead.

  3. Dick Adams

    My entry to Mead came from looking for something to do when I became disabled. Thus, I came unburdened by either a beer or a wine mindset. This had all the learning curve of starting a new avocation where the both the industry and research have not matured. My research (constantly asking questions) has led me to my own Mead mindset where boiling honey and adding acid blend to the primary are frowned upon.

    Mead, beer, wine, and hard liquors are very different alcohol products. To me, Mead is a much a honey wine as beer is a malt wine.

  4. Jack Keller

    Erroll, two years ago I was head judge at a winemaking competition in south Texas that had a concurrent brewing competition. The beer judges were having a spirited discussion and the words “mead” and “wine” kept flowing from their direction. Finally, I went over to see what their problem was, for clearly there was one.

    Meads were entered for the first time, and the organizers had put them in the brewing competition because, well, you “brew” mead. Their problem was that most of the meads were “high alcohol,” meaning over 8% (truth be known, most were over 14%) and the judges didn’t like it. “These ought to be judged with the wines,” one said. Well, there were only 9 meads entered, so I was about to say “Send them over” when I noticed that two were listed as 7.5% abv. And that stopped me. Clearly, those two belonged with the beers. So I said, “Not my rules, not my call,” and walked back over to my side of the hall.

    Until that moment I always thought that mead was “brewed” but really was a wine, but come on — 7.5% abv? That ain’t wine, my friend. That ain’t wine.

  5. Erroll Post author

    Hello Jack,

    You reminded me of a line from the Princess Bride, “… that word you keep using – I don’t think it means what you think it means.” Ok, that’s only funny if you’ve seen the movie, but if you haven’t you should!

    Erroll

  6. Martin Alexander

    I keep Bears, and they like mead, however it’s made. A small and pedantic (but sane) point, though: why waste three syllables on ‘beverage’ – an ugly word – when ‘drink’ is both modest and perfectly adequate, and only uses one syllable?

  7. jason

    I just made my first couple of batches of mead. The batch that I am looking forward to tasting aged is one that is made with a blend of citrus fruit zests, lime lemon and orange. while making the must it had the smell of a honey lemon cough drop. as the must ferments and dries out however the flavor is like 7 up with a large honey accent.
    some one on another forum wanted a replacement drink for his wife who only drinks Zima, this one will do it. I am planing to bottle some still and some carbonated. Honey; It’s all you Mead!

  8. matt

    shouldnt you look at the most basic way to creat mead… if its really as history dictates, shouldnt you just ferment honey then add water…

  9. matt

    i dont know if vikings really sat down in the lab and tested it and decided weather to add artificial flavor 135, n such. i believe the initail mead, would have just been boil honey,… add water… we discovered drunk… lets make more…. vikings werent renound as brewers… nor rocket scientists…..

  10. Erroll Post author

    Hi Matt,

    The Vikings made the best mead they could with what they had, and that’s what I want to do. Since we have better ingredients, better equipment, and more knowledge, we should be able to make better mead – I’ll drink to that!

    Erroll

  11. Matt Newman

    matt, They would have been more capable of just honey and water for their mead, they also had berries, spices, fruits, vegetables, all kinds of stuff they could have experimented with, and they are renowned in my eyes just for having the clarity of mind to make such a thing to begin with.

  12. almost

    Mead is wine. ABV does not dictate the difference between wine and beer.

    Wine is made from fruit. Fruit contains mostly Fructose and Glucose. Ratios differ from fruit to fruit and how ripe. the more ripe the more fructose.

    Fruit is readily fermentable at any point. No brewing necessary.
    Fructose + yeast + water = wine.
    Maltose + yeast + water = beer.

    Honey is mostly Fructose.
    Mead is Fructose + yeast + water.
    wine is fructose + yeast + water.
    Mead is wine.

    the real question is…what about sake? heh.

  13. Erroll Post author

    Mead is wine

    Some people insist that wine comes only from grapes. What we make out of plums, blackberries, and so forth is something else. They wouldn’t give mead a second thought. Now, I don’t agree with them. But I don’t think it’s worth arguing about either – we’ve expended WAY too much energy on arguing about definitions.

    Homebrewers have applied their knowledge of making ales and lagers to mead, with great results. Those of us who make and drink wine-like mead can learn something from them, and vice versa.

    Erroll

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