What is Mead?
Mead – it’s the ancient drink of royalty, the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage, and the passion of our team. At St. Ambrose Cellars, we’re dedicated to preserving and refining this ancient art with modern techniques and bold new flavors.
The most common question we’ve had over the years is simple – what is mead?
The simplest answer is:
Mead is an alcoholic beverage made with fermented honey and water.
The truth is that mead is limited only by the imagination of the mazers doing the brewing. From melomels to pyments to cysers, the world of mead is a diverse and flavorful place. At St. Ambrose Cellars, our meads range from the traditional to the bold and experimental.
THE TYPES OF MEAD
Mead, in its purest form, is simply honey, yeast and water. Ancient mazers used the natural pollens in the honey to supply the nutrients required by the yeast to multiply and convert the sugars into alcohol. The resulting mead was most likely drunk while still in the fermentation stage, and were slightly bubbly.
This same basic technique is at the heart of everything we make here at St. Ambrose Cellars.
Mead can be expressed as dry, semi, or sweet. Some of our meads are fermented with honey combined with fruits, herbs, and/or spices. Every honey has different floral and spice notes as every wine grape has different characteristics, which expresses itself in the final product. And just like wine, the honey can have different characteristics from year to year – making each bottle of mead a new experience for the drinker.
There are dozens of mead categories – you can view a list of many here – but most of the mead you’ll find can be fit into one of these popular categories:
A cyser is a mead that includes cider. These meads straddle a line between hard cider and straight mead and are among the most popular varieties on the market. Our cyser line includes our world-famous, award-winning XR Cyser (called “Apple Pie in a Bottle”) and our upcoming release Eat a Peach (which combines apple, honey, and peach flavors).
Metheglin is a traditional mead with herbs or spices added. Our seasonal “Santa’s Helper” mead, which uses nutmeg and other seasonally appropriate spices, is a great example of the metheglin line.
Pyments are meads that make use of wine grapes. Dancing Bare Ambrosia is a good example of a pyment. These meads are a great gateway for people who have been wine drinkers but haven’t been introduced to mead yet.
DRAFTS VS. STILL
Our meads fall into two different overall “types” – draft, or still.
Still meads are traditional meads. These meads come in wine-like bottles, they are about 12% ABV, and they are not carbonated. These are “traditional” because they resemble mead as it was initially brewed.
Our meadery began with still meads like Razzmatazz, Tupelo Ambrosia, and Star Thistle.
When tasting mead in our tasting room, beginning your journey with a traditional still like Star Thistle can help you better understand the mead to follow – the star thistle honey mead serves as the basis for many of our other meads.
Draft meads have a lower alcohol content – typically about 6% – and are sold in bottles, growlers, and howlers. The packaging may resemble a beer, but the flavor is all mead. Using a honey base, we add fruit, spice, and other flavors to the fermentation (sometimes we even make it sour!) and then carbonate the product.
Draft meads appeal to hard cider fans, beer drinkers, and wine lovers. These unique beverages have become a cornerstone of our business and we continue to experiment with new flavors and combinations.
After we explain what mead is, we get another inevitable question: why mead? That’s simple – we’re also beekeepers.
Sleeping Bear Farms – our sister company, located right next door – has been in the bee business for over 30 years. From delivering honey in the back of a Dodge Dart to the largest honey producer in Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Farms team knows their honey. With their golden nectar, we make the best mead we can.
The genesis of our large-scale commercial mead operation was an incident that occurred at Sleeping Bear Farms in the early 2010’s. We were making our raspberry honey crème and accidently made the spread with a moisture level that was extremely high and we couldn’t eliminate the excess moisture so it would keep well. Rather than lose 1,000 lbs of quality honey product, we decided to ferment, bottle, and label it! This was the first commercial batch of Razzmatazz – and the St. Ambrose Cellars story had officially begun.
St. Ambrose Cellars
The world of mead – and St. Ambrose Cellars itself – is an ever-evolving place. We’re constantly brewing, experimenting, testing, and refining new meads and blends to satisfy our thirsty customers. With the addition of our microbrewery license in 2017, we’ve been able to expand our efforts to include hops, grains, and malts. We’re currently working on creating our first commercial braggot (a mixture of mead and beer) and we’ve added six beers to the 18 taps that we have in our tasting room.
It’s nice to read about mead and our journey, but it’s even better to experience it. Join us in our Beulah, MI tasting room to get a hands-on experience with this exciting beverage.