You’re probably well aware of all the local breweries you could hit up to find craft beer in Charlotte. And maybe you could even rattle off some of the cideries or vineyards in the area. But chances are that you’re a little less familiar with the region’s mead scene.
When you think of drinking mead, maybe your mind wanders to a medieval, Game of Thrones kind of place, but we can assure you that mead isn’t just a beverage of the past. There are plenty of places you can sip on mead (or as some call it, “honey wine”) in North Carolina — and even right here in Charlotte.
We spoke with Kevin Martin and Rob Adams, head meadmaker and meadmaker/cidermaker at GoodRoad Ciderworks respectively, to learn more about what mead tastes like, how it’s made and where you can find some to try it for yourself.
What is mead?
This seemed like the most obvious question to start with.
“Mead, in its simplest form, is an alcoholic beverage made with honey and water, then fermented with yeast,” said Adams. “It can range from sweet to dry. It can also be traditional (just honey, water and yeast), or it can include fruit, vegetable, spices, herbs or malted grains — like beer.”
He’s not kidding about including fruits and vegetables beyond the “traditional” mead. In fact, Good Road Ciderworks actually produces Avogadro’s Trail, a mead crafted with avocado blossom honey. Which is great, you know, since millennials need to add avocados to everything anyway. (Avocado latte, anyone?)
How is mead made?
“To make mead, you blend honey and water to form a ‘must,’ which is what the watered down honey liquid is called before fermentation,” Adams said. He explained that the term “must” is also used in wine and cider making.
“Once you have prepared the must, yeast is added to convert the sugar from the honey into alcohol,” Adams went on. He added that since honey is almost 100 percent sugar, you need to add nutrients during the fermentation so the yeast are happy and healthy — and so they don’t contribute unwanted flavors.
Adams said that you can add fruit, spices, etc. at any point during the fermentation, depending on what flavor or aroma you intend to impart.
What sets mead apart from beverages like cider or wine?
The major difference between the these three alcoholic drinks: age.
“Mead is likely the very first fermented beverage on earth,” Martin explained. “Which makes sense, because honey as a sugar source was available before other processed sugars and sweetening methods.”
Beyond that, Adams said that while wine and grapes are technically fermented fruit juice, mead is made from honey, which is obviously not a fruit.
“But for taxation purposes the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau, formerly part of the ATF) calls mead ‘honey wine’ and classifies it as a wine,” Adams explained.
However, Adams said there are some similarities to be seen between mead and wine.
“Meads can made with single varieties of honey — called a varietal — and take on the characteristics of that honey. In that way, it’s similar to single varietals of wine or cider that use one type of fruit to make them,” said Adams.
He mentioned that mead can also be blended with apple juice or grape juice to make a cyser or pyment, respectively.
Adams also added that mead has “wine-like characteristics, like appearance (color, clarity, legs), levels of sweetness (sweet to dry) and alcohol levels (though you can make a greater range of alcohol with mead depending on how much water you add to the must).”
What does mead taste like?
“A pure traditional mead can range from dry to sweet, low to high alcohol, thin to full mouthfeel,” said Martin. “In general, expect a well-made example to be reminiscent of its floral source.”
Martin used the example of a mead made from orange blossom honey, meaning the bees created the honey from the nectar of orange blossoms. “Then the aroma and flavor will reflect familiar honey notes layered with aromas of orange blossoms. The flavor will remind a person of an orange grove without tasting exactly like the fruit, blended with a more familiar honey taste,” he said.
Martin added that while most people are familiar with clover honey or wildflower honey, there are so many other kinds of honey out there.
“Many do not realize that honey can be varietal like malt, grapes or apples yielding a single source mead,” he explained.
And of course, the fruits, vegetables, spices or herbs added can yield other unique tastes when the meadmaker arrives at the final product.
“Depending on what your experiences are, mead tastes like wine, but with the flavor of honey and whatever was used to spice/flavor it,” Adams added.
Where can you find mead in the Carolinas?
GoodRoad Ciderworks is Charlotte’s first meadery. They serve mead in flights, full pours and growler fills. They also plan to begin offering mead in bottles later this year.
If you want to find more mead produced in North Carolina, you can check out: