Mead, sometimes called honey wine, is a beverage rich with history, but often misunderstood. What is sometimes labeled an overly-strong, overly-sweet elixir for husky, horned-helmeted men, is actually a family of styles that can boast as much variation as the different beer styles of today. It isn’t simply water, honey and yeast–though it can be. Mead often incorporates an array of ingredients including spices, fruits and vegetables, that make for a refined drinking experience.
So let go of the mead stereotypes and learn about the many different styles of mead and a few recipes below!
Note: The following styles are based off of the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines.
Traditional mead consists of the bare-bones ingredients—honey, water and yeast—and acts as the basis for all other mead styles. Yeast nutrients are also acceptable, as they help optimize fermentation without adding any flavor or aromas–unless you use too much.
The honey is intended to be the sole source of the flavor and aroma, meaning the type of honey used will largely impact the subtle nuances that make mead so exquisite. A traditional mead made with clover honey will be noticeably different from one made with alfalfa or cherry blossom honey.
From here, traditional mead is divided into sub-styles based on residual sweetness, which tends to have a direct relation to the strength. In general dryer meads have lower alcohol than sweeter meads since the alcohol is often used as a balancing measure for the honey’s sweetness.
- Dry mead has little to no perceivable residual sweetness, while still having detectable honey notes.
- Semi-sweet mead finishes medium-dry, with more honey character and a hint of sweetness in the finish.
- Sweet mead has the highest level of residual sweetness and honey character, without being cloying.
But it doesn’t stop there. Each sub-style can be prepared either still (non-carbonated), or sparkling (natural or forced carbonation). Historically mead was typically still, but adding carbonation can enhance the mouthfeel and create for a more aromatic drinking experiencing.
Learn how to make mead with our step-by-step tutorial, along with tips, recipes and more!
Fruit mead, otherwise known as Melomel, is essentially a traditional mead with the addition of fruit(s). While the honey character is still intended to be at the forefront–as is the case with all meads–the inclusion of various fruits opens traditional mead up to a whole new world of variety.
Among the two most common melomels are Cyser, a fruit mead with apples, and Pyment, a fruit mead made with grapes.
The last melomel style is “other fruit,” meaning everything else! It is quite common to add fruit character in the form of juices, especially with cyser and pyment, but whole fruit, puree and extracts are also used with great success.
As with traditional mead, Melomels come in an array of strengths and sweetnesses, as well as still or carbonated, but balance with the focus on honey character is essential. Melomels also exhibit vibrant colors, often giving a hint of what fruits may have been used. They are truly a sight to see.
Everything else that does not fit within the traditional or fruit mead categories is considered “other mead.” The sky is truly the limit with this category. Meads can be made with vegetables, herbs and spices, candy and just about everything else you could imagine. Again, the star of the show should be the honey, with additional ingredients complimenting, balancing and/or enhancing its character.
Mead styles that fit into the “other” category include Metheglin and Braggot. Metheglin is a specific type of mead that utilizes spices like nutmeg or vanilla. Braggot, is a sort of mead-beer hybrid, deriving some of the fermentables and character from malted grains. If you are a beer, Braggot is a great introduction that eases you into the world of honey wine.
And then there is the all-encompassing “open category mead,” meaning everything else that doesn’t fit into the aforementioned styles. Check out this open category mead recipe that uses lime juice and chili peppers!