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.
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