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Naming mead

Anything can be added to mead: herbs, spices, fruits, etc. Some people even advise not to start with a traditional mead as the one described above. Instead they advise to add spices that can hide weaknesses of the mead if necessary.
 

namesynonymherbs/spices fruits others
show mead     
traditional mead little*little* 
bochet no high S. G., burnt or charred
bracket ± braggot ale 
braggot± bracket malt 
capsicumel  pepper 
clarrepyment grape 
cyser   apple 
hippocras yesgrape 
hydromelsmall mead   low S. G.
melomel mulsum fruits other than grape/apple 
metheglin yes  
morat  mulberries 
mulsummelomel fruits other than grape/apple  
oxymel  wine vinegar 
pyment clarre grape  
rhodomel   distilled rose petals 
sack   high S. G.
small meadhydromel   low S. G.
T'ej   hop 
Table: names for some mead styles. * means that honey flavor must dominate

Spices and herbs that can be added to mead: ginger, cardamom, cloves, vanilla (?) [Gayre], thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, sage, parsley, fennel [hist2] but also cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon or orange peels, etc.

BJCP categories

The following taxonomy is from the beer judge certification program (bjcp.org.)

A. traditional mead

Description

Made from water, yeast and a blended honey (wild flowers) or a blend of honeys. For meads made from a single variety of honey see below "B. varietal honey traditional mead."

Flavor

Honey aroma should dominate, which may be sweet and may express the aroma of flower nectar. Aromas produced during fermentation, such as fruity esters and alcohol, may also be present. The flavor of honey should be featured and may include residual sweetness. Any additives, such as acidity or tannin, should enhance the honey flavor and lend balance to the overall character of the mead.

Other characteristics

Color may range from pale straw to deep amber depending on honey used.

B. varietal honey traditional mead

Description

Same as traditional mead but made from honey from a particular flower source.

Flavor

Same as traditional mead plus: the distinctive flavor of the nectar honey is made from must be evident (it is the flavor of the honey not that of the fruit, orange blossom for instance doe not taste like oranges.)

C. cyser

Description

A mead made with the addition of apples or apple juice. Traditionally, cysers are made by the addition of honey to apple juice without additional water.

Flavor

Should have distinct apple character with a pronounced honey aroma, which may be sweet and may express the aroma of flower nectar. The Apple character may supply tart acidity to cut the honey sweetness, so one may notice tart acidity first and residual sweetness thereafter. In well made examples of the style, the fruit is both distinctive and well-incorporated into the sugar-acid balance of the mead. Some of the best examples have the taste and aroma of an aged Calvados (apple brandy from northern France).

Other characteristics

There should be an appealing blend of the fruit and honey character but not necessarily an even balance. Generally a good tannin-sweetness balance is desired, though very dry and very sweet examples do exist.

D. pyment

Description

A mead made with the addition of grapes or grape juice. Alternatively, the pyment may be a grape wine sweetened with honey, a mixture of grape juice and honey that is fermented or a mixture of grape wine and mead mixed after fermentation.

Flavor

Should have distinct grape wine character, manifested in acidity, tannin and other grape characteristics, but the honey character should balance the fruit flavors. Grassy white wine character or buttery (diacetyl) Chardonnay character is appropriate in pyment only. In well made examples of the style, the fruit is both distinctive and well-incorporated into the sugar-acid balance of the pyment.

Other characteristics

Color would reflect the grape source, whether white, red or other.
There should be an appealing blend of the fruit and honey character but not necessarily an even balance. Generally a good tannin-sweetness balance is desired, though very dry and very sweet examples do exist.

E. melomel

Description

A mead made with the addition of other fruit or fruit juices. There should be an appealing blend of the fruit and honey character but not necessarily an even balance.

Flavor

Should exhibit the aroma of the fruit(s) present in the mead. In a melomel with a blend of fruits, one fruit may dominate. Fruit flavor contributions to the mead range from subtle acidic notes to intense, instantly recognizable fruit flavors. There should be a balanced honey character as well. In well- made examples of the style, the fruit is both distinctive and well-incorporated into the sugar-acid balance of the mead.

Other characteristics

The particular fruit(s) used may or may not impart color to the mead.
Generally a good tannin-sweetness balance is desired, though very dry and very sweet examples do exist. Some fruits, notably darker ones like Blackberries, may contribute a tannin presence not unlike dark pyments

F. metheglin

Description

A mead made with the addition of spices/herbs/petals.

Flavor

The spices/herbs may be expressed in the aroma. Metheglins containing more than one spice should have a good balance among the different spices/herbs, though some spices/herbs will tend to dominate. The spices/herbs should be expressed in the flavor but the honey character is still the backbone of the mead and should appear in the flavor but will vary in intensity depending on the spices/herbs used. The spices/herbs should be expressed in the flavor as a distinctive enhancement to the honey flavor, whether harmoniously or by contrast, and should achieve a pleasant balance when a blend of spices/herbs is used.

Other characteristics

The color usually won't be affected by the spices or herbs.

G. braggot

Description

Meads made with both honey and malt providing flavor and fermentable extract. Originally, and alternatively, a mixture of mead and ale.

Flavor

Aroma of both honey and malt should be apparent and in balance. There should be some balance between the beer aspect and the mead aspect of a braggot, especially with regard to maltiness and bitterness versus honey character. Malt character ranges from light pale malt-type flavors to rich caramel flavors, depending on the malt used. Hop bitterness and flavor may be present but are not required.

Other characteristics

Straw to dark brown depending on the type of malt and honey used.
Some head retention is expected.
The fermentable sugars should come from a balance of malt and honey, otherwise the beverage is a specialty beer with the addition of honey. Hopped examples of this style should exhibit the hops distinctly and should have at least 15 IBUs.

H. mixed category

Description

A mead that combines ingredients from two or more of the other mead sub-categories.

Flavor

Aroma, appearance, flavor and other characteristics may vary and be combinations of the respective elements of the various sub-categories used in this style.

Other characteristics

This mead should exhibit the character of all of the ingredients in varying degrees, and should show a good blending or balance between the various flavor elements.

Other properties

In each of these categories, meads can be:

Discussing categories

Why are there categories in the first place?

There are two purposes:

  1. Tasting similar meads together. It is easier to compare things that taste alike. Imagine that you are asked to rank different oranges or different apples. Now imagine that you are given oranges and apples and asked to determine which of these is the best. Categories are there precisely to avoid comparing apples to oranges.
  2. Comparing the merit of mead makers. In sports there are categories: men/women, age for kids, weight in combat sports, etc. Beating somebody who is younger and lighter does not make you a champion.

"In terms of tastes"

In "a treatise on mead judging", Michael L. Hall writes "In the 1992 Mazer Mead Cup the winning traditional mead contained small quantities of tea [...] The organizers of the Mazer Mead Cup changed the categories in subsequent years to include both a traditional mead, which allowed other ingredients, and a show mead, which only allowed honey, yeast and water. I think that a better solution would be to define the category in terms of tastes, rather than ingredients." If categories are set "in terms of tastes", tupelo is floral and tupelo mead should belong in the 'metheglin' category then (i.e. the floral/spicy category.) Categories could be renamed:

This would be interesting because it would allow to taste together meads similar in taste (purpose 1.) However if two meads achieve the same result through different techniques, who should win (purpose 2)? From a practical point of view, it would be hard to know in which category a mead belongs.

'Show mead'

Concerning the 'show mead' and 'traditional mead' categories, Michael L. Hall writes in "a treatise on mead judging": "I think that a better solution would be to define the category in terms of tastes, rather than ingredients. A traditional mead would then contain any ingredients the brewer cared to use, but any spicy or fruity character would be considered a flaw." 'Show meads' can contain honey, yeast and water only whereas 'traditional meads' can have tannins or spices (for complexity only.) There is not a large difference between those and nobody is able to tell them apart without reading the recipe (otherwise the traditional has noticeable additions which is a fault.) But one could argue that those who get the same result without adding anything deserve more. Meads should compete with their peers.

Varietal honey

Hall also argues that "a third problem is that meads that use an interesting varietal honey tend to get short-changed if the judge is not familiar with the type of honey. A mead made with strongly flavored and dark mesquite honey is a prime example of this problem. I propose that traditional meads that feature a varietal honey be judged separately." This would not be enough, as "in terms of tastes", varietal honeys vary greatly, so it would require an 'orange blossom' category, a 'buckwheat' category, etc. There is more difference between buckwheat mead and orange blossom meads than between show and traditional meads. I agree that it can be tough to judge special meads.

Comparing the incommensurable

The main issue is that there are many kinds of mead and few entries. The traditional meads and melomels may be split into a few categories but this is not possible for other categories. So, because of the fairly small number of entries, most categories are very heterogeneous. I judged the 'open category' at the latest mazer cup (which included braggots), we had to taste an apple pie mead, a few braggots, a capsimel from hell, various meads matching a fruit and a spice. In order to compare them to something similar (which is the whole point of categories) there should have been six categories for these twelve meads. Comparing the incommensurable is an intrisincally impossible challenge.

Sweetness

Sweetness is not used to determines categories. I think that this comes from the fact that categories have been established by beer brewers for whom this is not a major characteristic. In the case of the French concours général agricole, there are two categories for meads: sweet meads and dry meads. So sweetness could be used to create categories.

References


April 15th 2003