Our Mead: From Hive to BottleAnswering the questions of what mead is and what our mead is made from
What Is Mead?
“Mead is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by fermenting a solution of honey and water. To be classified as Mead no less than 51% of the fermentable sugars must come from honey. Depending on local traditions and specific recipes, it may be flavored with spices, fruit, or hops. The alcoholic content of mead may range from about 8% to 18% ABV. It may be still, carbonated, or sparkling, and it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.”
That’s the definition created by the American Mead Maker’s Association, an organization with over 200 American meaderies and 40 international meaderies amongst its membership.
Like beer is fermented from grains, wine from grapes and small fruits, cider from apples, and sake from rice, mead is the fifth category of fermented beverage. Accordingly, just as beer ranges from hoppy to light, wine from dry to sweet, mead styles vary drastically. You can find anything from dry traditional mead with just honey, water, and yeast to sweet carbonated session meads with added fruit juices and spices. It’s impossible to judge one mead by having tasted another.
Mead is a flexible beverage in terms of what you can add to it. That’s why standards like the definition above are critical in our industry! As mead makes it comeback, mead makers will no doubt debate what makes a mead. By working together, we can help raise awareness about mead and produce quality beverages that everyone can enjoy responsibly to the fullest.
Ingredients in mead must include honey and something to dilute honey with in order to allow it to ferment, as honey in its natural state will not ferment (it actually has antibiotic properties, and its water content is too low). Most commonly, this means mead is made from honey and water, honey and apple juice, or honey and grape juice, though other fruit juices can also be added.
Sunset Heights Meadery starts with local honey and typically adds fresh-pressed apples to create a cyser, a mead made with apples or apple juices. However, we have experimented with melting the plentiful New Brunswick snow to create water with which we can make a traditional mead, or a mead fermented with just honey and water.
All of these meads require a yeast to ferment. Unless they’re left in a field for wild yeast to inoculate like Belgian beers, it’s best for mead makers to choose which yeast they want to add. We use a yeast typically added to wine, and right now, we only use that one type of yeast. It allows us to be certain there is no contamination of one batch with the yeast from another.
For some of our meads, we add other local ingredients to the fermenter while fermenting, such as Sunset Blues, which is fermented with blueberries, or Honeycone, fermented with hops. Once fermented, we age the mead until it tells us that it’s ready, adding more ingredients in secondary if desired, before bottling.