The Next Big Thing in Alcohol That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Whether you’re a true alcohol aficionado, a devout happy hour goer, or just a weekend sipper, we all want to be up on the next big thing. So as the craft beer craze wanes, the hard seltzer fad goes soft, and the bourbon resurgence recedes, what’s next on the horizon for liquor lovers?
Mead, Alcohol Made from Honey. Want to try some?
That’s right. The newest entrant on the alcohol scene is a 9,000-year-old drink created by chance when rainwater in a beehive fermented with the help of airborne yeast. After that happy accident occurred, mead production got more sophisticated, and it became the drink of choice among the greatest civilizations in history—from the Vikings to the Mayans, the Greeks to the Romans.
So what’s taken mead so long to have its modern moment? Maybe it’s the weight of all that history. Maybe it’s the images of plump kings sipping it from golden goblets. Or possibly it’s the misconception that mead is simply a concoction of honey, water, and yeast that lacks the variety and nuance of wine and beer.
But with hundreds of meaderies popping up across the United States and many people trying their hand at homemade mead-making, mead is finally shedding its air of antiquity and proving itself to be a worthy addition to cocktail hour, mealtime, and after-dinner drinking.
Variety is the spice of life
If there’s one thing people demand of their alcoholic drinks these days it’s variety. We revel in the endless variations of wines, whiskeys, and ales from around the world, always on the lookout for undiscovered gems and sublime flavors that surprise and delight.
Probably the No. 1 mead fallacy is that there’s essentially one type: super sweet and strong, the kind you might find at a castle gift shop in merry old England. But to call that “typical” mead is like calling a jug of Chianti “typical” wine.
There are actually dozens of types of mead, including braggot made with both honey and barley malt, cyser made with apples, oxymel made with vinegar, and acerglyn made with maple syrup. And within each type there are even more varieties that can be concocted with different ingredients, including herbs like thyme and rosemary or fruit like blueberries and oranges. Mead can be semidry or dry, sparkling or still, high in alcohol content or low, depending on the process used.
Mead has a spectrum of sweetness
Because mead is made with honey, people automatically assume that it’s a strictly sweet drink. However, honeys vary greatly in their sweetness level, as do the yeasts used in mead making, and this impacts the final product’s sweetness. Of course, the differences in the honey’s flavor—such as orange blossom, clover, acacia, and wildflower—also affect the taste.
The level of sweetness is determined by the fermentation process as well. Semi-dry and dry meads are generally fermented longer, so the yeast can essentially eat away all the sugars, while sweeter ones require a halt of fermentation process. Oftentimes, sweeter meads will have honey or other sweeteners added after fermentation.
Drink mead straight or as a mixer
With the rise of craft cocktail culture, in which bartenders have become amateur chemists creating complex mixtures with arcane ingredients, mead has emerged as a real player.
For example, drinks that require an orange liqueur, such as a margarita, can use a mead infused with orange or even pineapple instead of triple sec or Cointreau. If you’re making a rum cocktail like a mojito or a Mai Tai, you can use mead instead of rum. And sangria works great with mead rather than red wine. For a more basic mix, try making a spritzer with mead, club soda, and maybe some bitters or lemon juice.
Mead is Trendy… but more importantly, tasty
While we predict a real mead renaissance over the next few years, we’re pretty sure it won’t be just a passing fancy. Mead has staying power. (Did somebody say 9,000 years old?) And it’s doubtful the drink that fueled the Vikings’ explorations, the Mayan’s architectural feats, and the Roman empire will fade away any time soon.