I near four years of selling wine for the same company. Although our book is massive, I suffer from cellar palate. Luckily, my wife makes beer and makes me judge beer. We are both certified judges with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program). The BJCP exams also lump mead, honey wine, as a separate exam.
Mead provides a happy halfway house between wine and beer. Much like wine, descriptors dwell on fruits, esters, tannins, and acids. Alcohols average around 12%. With mead, one need not boil wort nor add hops, as the fermentable sugars and flavors are right there. Just take honey, blend water, add yeast, and pray. So, last weekend my wife made us take the mead tasting exam.
Six meads of various styles lay ahead of our blind tasting.
The first turned out to be the best: a straight-laced, clean, clear, pale Dry Mead with racy acidity and balancing sweetness that reminded me of trocken riesling. Sulfur did detract a bit. 4 of 5: very good.
Next a Braggot: which blended an American Amber Ale beer with orange blossom honey mead. This example seemed fine, but the fizzy amber beer dominated the honey. The head dissipated too quickly. Worse, it tasted stale, overly bitter, piney, and had sediment. Still, 3 of 5: good.
Third, a Metheglin (aka spiced mead), a golden-colored, wildflower honey mead with ginger popped with mulling spices and a viscous alcohol. However, solvent, hot alcohols kept it from perfection. 4 of 5: very good.
A Melomel (mead with fruit) from clover honey looked pink thanks to mulberries. Yet haze, musk, barnyard, acetic acid, and oxidation hid a floral and tart red apple flavor. Something was up here. It turned out the admin blended four homemade meads…uck 2 of 5: acceptable
Fifth up, another Melomel, made with peaches. Again though, musky, barnyard-like, even mousy aromas from infection and oxidation, including rampant volatile acidity ruined this rough attempt. 2 of 5: acceptable
Lastly, our tricky admin gave us a raspberry blossom, rich, fizzy, sweet mead. Declared as sparkling, it clearly looked flat, hazy, but sweet flavors of red pear, caramel, and cinnamon still hung on. It turned out to be a six year old mead our admin made. It was tired but good 3 of 5
I felt close on most of these, close enough to pass (60% is all it takes).
That day’s reward included Margaux, a Sommelier and Liaison for Alberta’s Liquor Stores, who came all the way from Canada to take the test. With her she brought seven professional meads from Alberta, Canada.
Birds & Bees “Honey I Have Meads” 2010 medium sweet still mead drank surprisingly clear, pale, and of fresh white pear (4 of 5: very good). Their “Sassy Saskatoon Berry” was actually a fruit wine, but looked dark, tasted dry, crisp, and tannic with black cherry and cassis flavors (4 of 5: very good).
Fallen Timber Meadery’s “Hopped Mead” hydromel lived up to the name and green label: imagine a light, pale, dry honey drizzled over fresh pine needles and limes and then put that in your mouth. Exactly as billed (4 of 5: very good).
Chinook Arch Meadery’s “Black & Blue Melomel” looked purple, felt rich, sweet, yet refreshing, flavored with fresh-crushed black and red berries: very good: 4 of 5.
Their “John Cameron Classic Mead” pushed at 13.1% alcohol but tasted clean and felt fully fleshed with honey, wax, musk, vanilla, and rose water lasting a long length: a textbook, outstanding mead: 5 of 5. Their “Fire n Spice” showed a similar rich honey but layered with clove, cinnamon, and other spices, made it seem a bit much, cloying, but very good: 4 of 5.
Last but not least, Chinook Arch Madera’s Bochet with ginger:
Wholly smokes! Literally! Bochet is a 14th century French style of mead that toasts honey. The result was an intense, syrupy, caramel-laced, marshmallow, ginger cookie flavored mead of endless length. Outstanding stuff 5 of 5.
With sticky palates and hands, we headed home. After today, I had a renewed appreciation for honey wine. Thank you BJCP and thank you Alberta for a great Saturday.