On a sunny Saturday last weekend, we took a trip over to the SF Mead Company for a tasting, and what passed was an afternoon of (progressively more tipsy) enjoyment. Mead, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey (technically it doesn’t sound all that alluring but trust us, it is), seems to be on the rise in this country. The drink is becoming more popular in the craft beer and foodie scene, and the burgeoning popularity is making both established and new breweries more familiar to the average consumer.
Until recently the domain of Ren Fair enthusiasts primarily, it still carries an aura of medieval discord and a hint of the Dark Ages. I tended to think of mead as a sickly-sweet, thick liquid served in the hollowed-out skulls of one’s enemies, perfect for toasting a successful pillage or a leader’s valiance in war. Much to the contrary the mead of today, served up in an industrial space on a hill in SF’s Bayview neighborhood, is light and crisp and impossibly good. The best part is the importance of the terroir and influence of the source of the raw materials. The flavor and color of each batch rely on the honey used so the climate, the plants available to the bees, and the level of development in the area matter greatly. These factors render mead a nuanced and hyper-local product perfect for the food and drink-obsessed population of the Bay Area.
Produced in a range of flavors, mead can be sweet enough for the rosé-lover but many brewers favor drier versions with deeper complexity. Referred to often and very romantically as “honey-wine,” mead surprises with its alcohol content – usually about 10-15% – so it’s dangerous to treat it like beer or cider. At the suggestion of our charming hostess, SF Mead’s Sarah Jones, we tried it in a cocktail. While the honey tones and warmth of mead tend to pair very well with bourbon, we opted for a combination of sparkling wine and a spicy ginger syrup. The recipe for the cocktail is simple enough, but we felt it highlighted both the versatility and clear flavor of the classic California Gold mead.
We heartily recommend stopping by the tasting room to try out the California Gold as well as the dry, floral Orange Blossom and the astonishingly good limited run of Apple Pie. Head over on a Saturday afternoon or call for an appointment to try this blossoming trend immediately. Check out the SF Mead website (http://www.sfmead.com/) for more retail locations – including Whole Foods across the Bay Area so, really, where’s your excuse? – and details. Prepare yourself.
Oh, Bee-Hive Mead Cocktail by FWE
Makes one cocktail
- 3 oz SF Mead’s California Gold
- 1-1/2 oz your favorite sparkling wine, we used Gloria Ferrer from Sonoma
- 3/4 oz -the smaller side of a jiggers worth ginger simple syrup (see our recipe below)
- Strip of lemon peel
In a large cup filled with ice cubes combine these ingredients and stir until chilled. Strain into your serving glass. Take the lemon peel and run around the edge of the glass then drop into the drink and serve.
For the Ginger Simple Syrup (from epicurious.com)
- 1/4 pound ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
Bring the ginger, sugar, and water to an easy simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once sugar is completely dissolved, put on a low simmer for at least 30 minutes. This process will concentrate all that ginger flavor in your syrup. Once it has reached a good consistency, take off the heat and cool completely. You can store this simple syrup in your refrigerator for up to two weeks.