SOUR MEADS 101
Sour mead – Sounds Great! What is it?
Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with the idea of sour mead is getting introduced to old world style sour beers, which are making a comeback in popularity. Sour beers are beers fermented with wild yeasts and bacteria (think yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, jun) that are naturally sour.
Sour style originated in Flanders and Belgium, incorporating wild yeasts and lacto strains of bacteria that naturally occur in the cellars. Each cellar eventually develops a unique culture that inoculates the wort (or in the case of mead, the must).
Properly done, these beverages come across as pleasantly crisp, with a pleasing acidity that is reminiscent of citrus. We produce sour meads with ginger, blackberry, and raspberry flavors currently.
It is challenging to ferment and achieve the perfect balance, but when the artisan mazer (honey wine-maker) or brewer develops the technical expertise and “feel” for the process, the result is stunning.
Over the years, we have developed a reliable sour process for our fermentation. This allows us to reproduce these delicious sour blends and experiment with our flavors.
Characteristics of Sour Mead
Sour mead is essentially a probiotic fermentation with yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. This style of mead is very well adapted to blending with fruit and accentuates the nuances of the fruit with a soft acidity, or at times a bold acidity, depending on the preferred results.
Our first lacto-yeast fermentations at St. Ambrose were the result of naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria that was in our honey. Honeybees have a rich lactobacillus source in the bee bread in each hive and in their digestive system.
The LAB come predominantly from the bees themselves, and are also in flowers.
The bees pack the pollen in the beeswax cells and then cover it with nectar with digestive juices rich with LAB.
The LAB help “pre-digest” the pollen and preserve it. Bee bread is much more nutritious to the honeybee than pollen collected direct from the flowers.
Symbiosis between bees and their microbes, like in humans, is becoming increasingly studied as a likely fundamental part of overall hive health
St. Ambrose Sour Meads
Our journey with mead began with abundant honey available to us.
As a beekeeper for over 35 years with Sleeping Bear Farms, I have personally tasted fresh pollen and bee bread often. Bee bread is much better tasting than fresh pollen nuggets, with a rounder fruity flavor.
Often we make fresh “cocktails” by using our hive tools to scoop out chunks of bee bread (pollen) coated with honey, and top it with a dab of royal jelly (very tart). . My wife, Sharon, and I still help our Florida beekeeping crew by raising all our queen bees during the winter.
We send many of our hives to California to pollinate almonds in addition to Florida for making up new hives to replace our losses.
Honeybees are incredible insects and make some marvelous products that we harvest.
In addition to the meads here at St. Ambrose and the honey products at Sleeping Bear Farms, Sharon makes a complete line of beeswax products under the BeeDazzled banner.
Every sweet has its sourRalph Waldo Emerson