The ancient beverage of mead seizes the drink market.
Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage in the history of humans drinking. However, in 2003, there were just 30 producers of the ancient honey wine in the United States. In the American Mead Makers Association’s 2017 industry report, the organization found that number at over 300 — citing that a new meadery opens every three days in America, with mead as one of the fastest growing drink segments in the country.
Much mysticism and confusion still surrounds mead, with terminology that is unfamiliar even to the greater beverage community, yet craft drinkers are thirsty to learn. From traditional mead (straight honey ferment), melomel (honey and fruit) and pyment (honey and wine grapes) to metheglin (traditional mead with herbs or spices added) and session (carbonated and lower alcohol by volume), mead is redefining itself and nowhere more successfully than in the craft-loving PNW.
Hierophant Meadery 2017 Lemon Balm Mead | 12% ABV | $20/750ml
Honey blossom, lemon oil, herbs and flowers, this light-bodied and earthy sipper receives much of its citrus and herbaceous tones from freshly harvested Melissa officinalis (the plant that produces lemon balm) at Foothill Farm near the meadery in Northeastern Washington. Like a honey-based Lillet Blanc, this light and herbal metheglin closes a kiss of honey that is far from cloying.
Kookoolan Farms Copper Mead | 14.2% ABV | $30/750ml
From possibly the loudest voice for mead in the PNW, Kookoolan Farms’ Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor produces traditional mead and pyment at her family-run farm in Yamhill, Oregon. Copper is a blend of 45 percent estate-grown Pinot Noir and 55 percent honey wine, aged in French oak for 10 months. The result is akin to orange wine: dried apricot, marzipan, orange peel, cherry pit and earth, finishing with a taste of brioche and lemon funk.
Adytum Cellars Rha Barbarum | 12.5% ABV | $32/750ml
Technically a vegomel — honey and vegetable wine — the rhubarb is strong with this one. Rhubarb, which has a history nearly as old as mead, shines as the star ingredient, with flavors of honeyed lemon and thyme in the curtains. Spritz in the front and sprightly in the back, the mead is dry and tangy, finishing the driest in this lot.
Nectar Creek Sting | 6.2% ABV | $7/500ml
Leading the session mead charge, this sibling-run producer uses Oregon honey and fresh ginger in its lower-proof drinker. Straight forward with a wallop of ginger, the nose is sweet and floral with the root spice, while the palate is full-force ginger, assertive yet refreshing. The honey soothes the spice, both making this a natural partner for pairing with Thai curry.
Eaglemount Wine & Cider Cranberry Mead | 10% ABV | $22/750ml
Since 1996, Trudy and Jim Davis have been making wine, cider and mead from their homestead orchard in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The couple adds hyper-local, single source-extracted honey to freshly pressed cranberry and heirloom apple juices to co-ferment this sipper as a cyser. The process creates a naturally fused mead, tart and crisp with pure fruit and an off-dry honeyed finish.
Oran Mor Artisan Mead 2017 Midsummer Night’s Mead | 10.8% ABV | $32/375ml
A true melomel encapsulating summer fruits, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are co-fermented with desert mesquite blossom honey. The small-batch meadery regularly does honey varietal meads — like this mesquite rendition — each telling the story of the honey’s composition and the locally sourced berries. Two simple words: fruit punch. Pair with the next sunny day.