Mead is similar to wine except instead of being derived from fermented grapes it is made from fermented honey, water and yeast.
The first time I ever heard of and tasted Mead was at the the Savannah Bee Company.
“It is the oldest form of alcohol that exists,” Savannah Bee Company’s Broughton Street location Mead bar manager Laurie Garner said during an interview I did with her for a magazine story years ago. “It predates wine by about 6,000 years,” Chelsea Miller added. She was at the River Street location working as the Mead bar manager.
“The way it all started was that people crushed the (honey) combs to extract the honey and they would throw the empty combs in buckets which would then collect with rain water. Someone thought to add yeast,” Garner explained. “And somebody was lucky enough to take a sip of it and they called it the nectar of the Gods.”
Miller said there are about 50 types of Mead recognized by the American Mead Association and the Savannah Bee Company carries an abundant variety at both locations. And the best thing is you can sample the Mead before deciding which one is your favorite.
For a mere five bucks both locations offer samples of all five varieties.
The Meads offered at Savannah Bee Company are made at Meaderies across the U.S.
St. Ambrose Meadery in Beulah, Michigan uses the tupelo honey locally produced by the Savannah Bee Company to make their Tupelo Ambrosia.
“Which is our bestselling Mead,” Miller said. A newer Atlanta based Meadery, Monks Meadery, uses their wildflower honey to make their Monks Mead.
Savannah Bee Company also sells Meads from B. Nektar, Moonlight and the largest Meadery in the United States, Red Stone Meadery.
And Meads come in a variety of styles.
“If it is traditional it is just honey, water and yeast. If it has apple cider mixed into it it’s a Cyser, Garner explained. “If it is mixed with fruit it’s a melomel and if it has a grapes in it it’s a pyment.”
“You can make Mead much like a wine but it takes a little longer to ferment,” Miller said adding that Meads typically need to sit for six months to a year. “You can age it….and it much like wine, it is influenced by what you put into it. And that is what determines the different categories.”
Miller said some Meads are aged like whiskey, in formerly used whiskey barrels. That creates a Mead with a smoky, bold and rich whiskey flavor.
“I often recommend those varieties to the people who tell me they are whiskey drinkers,” she says. And the categories range from fruity notes to dry blends and even a few effervescent options.
Jess Brannen is a food stylist and recipe developer for the Savannah Bee Company and frequently contributes to the company’s online blog, Bee Blog. Nearly every recipe she produces substitutes honey for sugar. All her food pairs well with Meads.
During our interview she brought in two large trays of food and sweets and we sat down to pair them with the Meads. For this food pairing Brannen offered up delicious treats you might place out for a holiday dinner. First she sliced into her holiday baked brie.
“It is a baked brie stuffed with Gouda cheese, cranberries, walnuts, rosemary and our wildflower honey, made from Georgia wildflowers,” she said.
The cheese holds scrumptious chunks of cranberries in place and the crust is crispy and golden brown.
Miller pours some of the St. Ambrose Rose Ambrosia, which turned out to be the perfect compliment. The Rose Ambrosia has semi-sweet notes which melt into the palate and bring out the cranberries and caramel sweetness associated with a well-aged Gouda.
Miller places another Mead glass on the bar and opened the bottle of Kurt’s Apple Pie Mead.
“It’s a little sweeter and it has some nice cinnamon notes in there so I paired that with a honey pumpkin bread,” Brannen said while topping the slice she just cut with Savannah Bee Company’s whipped cinnamon honey.
The blended taste of the Mead and pumpkin bread elicited instant memories of a holiday inspired dessert.
Miller said chocolate lovers can pair their Halloween treats with either their Rose’ Ambrosia or their Razzmatazz Mead.
She said they always set out small pieces of dark chocolate for customers who are trying the Meads.
“The cherry notes in the Rose’ Ambrosia pairs really well with the chocolate which is local from Adam Turoni a chocolatier here in Savannah,’” she said.
Miller said the chocolate can add to the undertones of the Mead.
“First it comes off a little dry and once you eat the chocolate, depending on if it’s the Rose’ of the Razzmatazz it is going taste more like chocolate covered raspberry or a very deep Rose’,” she said.
Brannen said Meads pair extremely well with a variety of cheeses.
“We carry Tomme (cheese) from Sweet Grass Dairy. It was a cheese I had never heard of before but it is like a white cheddar, parmesan only slightly chalky and it pairs well with any of the sweet or dry meads,” Brannen said. “It is a people pleasing cheese.”
“We have the Gouda that would go well with our Sunshine Nectar,” she added and said the Sunshine Nectar is effervescent and comparable to a champagne.
She said their Nectar of the Hops Mead would pair well with turkey on Thanksgiving.
“It is made with a sparkling wine yeast but they also use caramel and Amarillo hops which are very subtle,” she said. “It doesn’t have the bitterness that an IPA has. It is a very nice and light Mead.”
In fact Brannen said people are likely to find a Mead to match any meal.
“We have some (Meads) that are sweet because it is a honey beverage but you can balance that with something salty or savory when you are pairing it,” she says. “We also have a few that are surprisingly dry when you consider they have honey in them. And they work well with a myriad of dishes. These meads are really versatile.”
Savannah Bee Company offers Meads at their Broughton and River Street locations. There are four Savannah Bee locations, three in Savannah and one in Charleston, S.C.
The stores offer the full line of their honey products which also includes raw honey comb, body care, hand care, lip care and hair care items, candles, children’s books about bees, tote bags and more.
Many of Brannen’s recipes as well as educational information about bees can be found online at: savannahbee.com