The answer to the question of what to eat with mead is as varied as asking what goes with white or red wine, or which pizza goes with craft beer. Passionate meadologists have been making mead for decades and they’ll tell anyone who asks that this fermented honey and water drink is perfect with everything. But like wine or beer, there is flavor scale.
As the American Mead Makers Association describes, in addition to honey and water, mead may also contain hops, fruit, spices, grains and other agricultural products. Just as honey can vary by tone and region and combined with those other ingredients, mead evolves into different flavor profiles.
It’s a beverage that restaurants should get to know. Restaurant Insider previously reported mead’s meteoric rise, an observation further strengthened by data from restaurant management platform Upserve. According to the State of the Restaurant Industry analysis of millions of transactions from thousands of restaurants in 2015, 2016 and 2017, mead continues to be on the rise in popularity.
Mead pre-dates beer and wine as humanity’s first and oldest alcoholic beverage. While it has amassed a resurgent following since the days when Vikings made it their go-to beverage, new mead imbibers will require some education to choose wisely.
In the shadow of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Richard Copeland, meadmeister of Misty Mountain Meadworks in Winchester, Virginia, began making mead in his home in 1983, calling it a hobby that got out of hand. Eventually, he hit on a recipe he loved and shared it with his neighbors, who encouraged him to sell it. When it comes to imparting mead facts with his customers, Copeland explains it by sharing how people can drink and pair Misty Mountain Meadworks with edible goodies.
“Wildflower mead is my sweet mead, like a Sauterne or an ice wine, while the other mead is called lemon and honey. I have found that when I squeeze some fresh lemon into a lighter clover mead it makes a refreshing drink for summertime and goes wonderfully with lemon bars,” says Copeland. “We like poached peaches with cinnamon and little honey – it seems like you wouldn’t want sweet with sweet, but it works.”
Another boon for mead: It lasts much longer than wine, which rapidly turns, and it makes believers out of first-timers. Copeland and his team have recorded guest responses to trying mead for the first time.
“When they say they don’t know mead or don’t like mead, I ask them to try mine and we have kept score of the different comments, and we are tied at ‘Oh wow’ and ‘Oh my God,” says Copeland. “True mead is simply fermented honey made sweet or dry, with high alcohol or low alcohol and I make mine nice and sweet with no bitter aftertaste, so people who don’t like the dryness of wine or the bitterness of beer like mead – we don’t know how to make honey, but the bees do and it is a magical elixir.”
At House Bear Brewing in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Beth Borges hopped on the mead train out of a love for learning to brew and the historic, nutritional and nostalgic aspects of it.
“Mead is new again, like rediscovering your mom’s jewelry and thinking it’s now cool,” says Borges, who has several meads including World War Bee, a mead and lemonade drink, Were-Bear sour cider-mead blend, and Nursery Crimes, her light and crisp strawberry basil mead. “Mead is an alcoholic craft beverage, but with mead you ferment the sugars from honey rather than from grains, grapes or pressed apples.”
Borges says there are no hard and fast rules to pairings, but House Bear has suggestions.
“I recommend any kind of fowl and semi-firm, earthly, nutty cheeses with our Show Bear, fish for World War Bee, spicy food and red meat with Paradise Unpaved, and pasta or vegetable dishes with Nursery Crimes,” says Borges.
With more guests requesting mead, its makers are enjoying space on restaurant menus. House Bear Brewing has been on the menu at Crave as a mixed drink and at The Grog by the glass and are excited to be on the Meadhall menu as a by-the-glass item and mixed drink.
Chef David Guas is the chef/owner of Lil’ B in Washington, D.C., and Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery in Arlington, Virginia, and known from his appearances on The Today Show, Food Network and as host of Travel Channel’s American Grilled. He began serving mead after becoming a fan of the drink.
“I first began dabbling with it in cocktails and incorporating it in both carbonated and still form, as anything made from honey is going to add complexity and flavor to whatever it is that you’re cooking,” says Guas. “Mead has been around for thousands of years so I like to call it the next new old thing and it also makes for a killer cocktail because mead adds floral notes in a completely unique component that leaves people scratching their heads as they try to make out what they’re tasting.”
Those undertones that give mead the smooth, soft, yeasty and sweet notes are a good starting point for explaining mead to guests, plus helping them choose foods that go well with it.
“Mead is incredibly versatile and can be used in anything from to everything from salad dressings to baked beans, and I love exposing our guests to something delicious and unfamiliar,” says Guas. “And, it’s a great alternative for any patrons with allergies and many mead brands are gluten-free.”
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is home to KingView Mead. Here Scott Neeley, owner and head mead maker, credits building a company that gives back to the beekeeping community with his love of mead. For gateway meads, Neely recommends his KingView Mead’s SuB or Trocken, while berry lovers can sample his Triple Beere, a three berry melomel. He uses a simple definitive explanation to get guests to understand mead: mead = honey, wine = grapes, hard cider = apples. He recommends pairing sweet meads with spicy foods and seafood with dryer versions.
“Mead has been around for thousands of years so I like to call it the next new old thing.” -David Guas
“The alcohol of mead is 51 percent or more from the sugars in honey, which differs from hard cider and wine coming from apples and grapes respectively, with many styles,” says Neely. “They can include standard mead with honey only, Melomel with honey and berries, Pyment with honey and grape, Cyser with honey and apples, and Metheglin, which is made with honey and spices and variations in alcohol by volume ranges between 7 and 14 percent.”
On the other side of the state in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, Sheree Krasley makes mead at Stonekeep Meadery. She starts new mead drinkers with her traditional honey mead based on a medieval recipe, and depending on the variety, pairs with grilled chicken and black currant melomel with red meats or pasta.
In Indianapolis, Indiana, Tia Agnew, CEO and co-founder of New Day Craft mead company has been in business for more than 14 years.
“My husband and I are scientists who started keeping bees and making mead from all the extra honey we found ourselves with,” says Agnew, who loves that mead has no boundaries. “The level of creativity in each glass is only limited by the one making the mead and as mead makers, we have so much fun experimenting with different styles, ingredients, and techniques.”
Agnew’s gateway meads she says every new mead drinker should have in have in stock include New Day Craft’s Shelby Blue Ribbon, a carbonated strawberry rhubarb mead coming in at 6 percent alcohol by volume. She also recommends other varieties, including Zombie Killer from BNektar or Lemon Meringue Pie from Crafted Artisan.
“For our style of mead, we tell guests that they drink much like hard cider or beer, in that they’re carbonated and (typically) lower alcohol by volume as you’d find with wine or more traditional mead,” she says. “We start by giving the customer a point of reference to help break through any apprehension caused by a potentially unfamiliar product.”
Agnew also gives customers tasting notes and talk a bit about each, highlighting what makes them unique. The goal, she says, is to be inclusive and demystify a sometimes misunderstood beverage.
“For example, for our ReThinker we explain that it’s a dry-hopped blueberry mead that uses Cascade and Columbus hops so our beer drinking customers love knowing what hops we use and we talk about our driest styles because people may assume all mead is sweet,” says Agnew. “We say it’s when a pilsner and a French rosé have a love child – that last bit serves not simply to get a laugh, but to help the customer get an idea of what to expect even before they try it.”
Agnew, who operates Indiana’s first mead-centric producer and tasting room in a charming building, refers guests to marry her style of carbonated, session meads with burgers and fries, spicy Thai, crisp salads and even some desserts.
“We also organize Indiana’s only mead and cider festival called Meadful Things and Outciders Festival, showcasing more than 150 meads from around the world, with the goal of making the category approachable to a wide group of people,” she says.
Cheers to that.