Mead is the new cider
Some people have said cider is the new beer. Certainly, cider’s sales are up dramaticaly – from 9.4 million gallons in 2011 to 32 million gallons just two years later, in 2013. There’s even a new restaurant/bar that hoped to open March 8 in Chicago — the Northman (4337 N. Lincoln Ave.), that focuses on hard cider, which opened recently.
Courtesy HackCollege.com via Creative Commons
But this isn’t really about cider.
If, as some say, cider is the new beer, then mead is the new cider. Mead sales rose 130% from 2012 to 2013.
However, no one can accuse mead of being new. It may be the oldest fermented beverage on the planet. According to http://www.skyriverbrewing.com/Mead/mead-history.html, mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man. It may have been discovered quite by accident, when some thirsty hunter-gathers discovered an upturned beehive filled with rainwater. They drank the sweet water completely unaware of what fermentation and alcohol were and experienced the first intoxication. Likely it was in a quest to replicate this experience the art of mead-making was begun.
In medieval days, mead was given to newlyweds, to help them relax and encourage “procreative activity” (aka sex). Mead is made from honey. Hence, the term “honeymoon.” (There are other interpretations of where the term “honeymoon” came from, but for purposes of this post, I’m sticking with the mead explanation.)
I’ve had people ask me what mead is. The usual description is that it’s “honey wine,” but that’s not technically accurate. The definitions of fermented beverages that I’ve always heard is “If it’s made from a grain, it’s a beer. If it’s made from a fruit, it’s wine.” (So, sake isn’t a rice wine, as it’s often described, it’s actually a rice beer. And cider is technically a wine.) But mead is neither of those. It has its own category. So there are at least three categories of fermented beverages — beer, wine and mead. (There may be more, but I’m too lazy to do the research.) There are plenty of sub-classifications of mead, with somewhat strange names like pyment, cyser, melomel, braggot, metheglin, hippocras. This isn’t meant to be an encyclopedic article … look them up for yourself if you’re really intrigued.
In Chicago, which now has so many breweries, there’s only one commercial meadery (or mazer, as mead makers are known, just as beer makers are known as brewers, and wine makers are known as vintners.)
That’s Wild Blossom, at 10033 S Western. For over a decade they’ve been making mead, somewhat under the radar, in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. They’re associated with Bev-Art, the homebrew store next door.
They have their own beehives scattered around the city, and collect their own raw honey. And raw honey is important.
Unlike much of the honey you’ll find at your local grocery store, raw honey isn’t pasteurized or filtered. It’s not quite as pretty or clean-looking as what you’ll find at the supermarket, but it contains probiotic and antimicrobial components that aren’t filtered out or compromised by heating. There’s an interesting article about the health benefits of mead made from raw honey here. Or, if you’re of the generation that prefers not to read, and watch a video instead, basically the same information is here.
You can visit Wild Blossom and sample their many meads, but you can’t buy a bottle there. They’re on the east side of Western Avenue, which is dry. But they’ll willingly point you to a liquor store about a block away, across the street (which is “wet”), where you can buy as many bottles of Wild Blossom meads as you like. But that may be changing. Wild Blossom is planning on expanding, including creating the first mead hall in the Chicage area, and possibly the first one in the Midwest Stay tuned – we’ll try to keep you updated.
As you might have guessed by this point, I like mead. Mead is easier to make than, say, beer … in that, for beer, you start with grains, and have to go through a few steps to convert their starches to sugars, which yeast can eat. Honey already contains the sugars, so it’s almost ready to go (it needs a little yeast nutrient to keep the yeast happy). But I’m not going to write about it any more today. I’ve assembled my ingredients, so I need to get out of the office and make some more mead.