Back in college, I participated in the campus theater. At the end of a run of a play by Shakespeare, we had the usual closing party. A student brought some home made Mead, made according to some recipe she’d found or concocted. It wasn’t very good as I recall. The heck with Beowulf.
But this week, Scruffy Dog friends just back from Lithuania brought a much better example. Now, apparently no one, absolutely no one, has the authentic old recipe. Historians and people who care about these things know there were various recipes, all made with honey and an assortment of spices like thyme, lemon, cinnamon, and fruits like cherries and juniper berries, and then fermented with beer or wine yeast. Normally mead had alcohol content of 10-16%. The stuff in the bottle I sampled was 50%. It goes higher — up to 70%.
Just the week before, I’d had the pleasure of sampling a very high quality Armagnac — another spirit of medieval European origins — at the home of French friends in New York. At 40% alcohol content, the fumes alone were heady enough. But the velvety smoothness and fruity sting of flavor were impossible not to appreciate.
Mead struck me as Armagnac lite. Sweeter but not as rich, more medicinal tasting (mead is purported to have healing properties, but maybe that’s only if you have worms and such in your gut that you need to kill) and definitely interesting. It is probably best sampled in a dark, dank, smelly underground tavern, in enough quantities to make you forget that it is freakin’ dark for three more months. There was a purpose, after all, to all these inventions.