Mead Rising: Inside The Next Big Craft Movement
Craft beer is exploding across the country, with bars and restaurants exceedingly adding to their selections as brewers revive old styles and get creative with recipes.
As beer’s growth continues, other alcoholic beverages are joining the ride, expanding consumer palates with new flavors and ingredients. One of those beverages is mead, also known as honey wine, which is created by fermenting honey with water. Many other ingredients are often added.
“Mead’s growth has been comparable to craft beers and ciders, and some would argue the growth rate has exceeded the growth of ciders and beers as a subcategory within the overall category of alcohol,” says Brad Dahlhofer, co-founder of B. Nektar in Ferndale, Michigan, one of the largest meaderies in the country. “Because of the growth of the craft beer movement, a lot of people have become more experimental, as a way to find their own niche and be unique. Finding obscure appendix sections in books about brewing beer, they read about making mead, and some grab on to that and use it.”
Mead started out as a hobby for Dahlhofer, but after garnering home-brewing awards and rave reviews from friends, he took the business commercial in 2008. B. Nektar also produces cider and beer. Numerous commercial meaderies have blossomed out of home-brewing beginnings, and there are now more than 300 across the U.S.
B. Nektar pushes the boundaries of what one might expect in mead, with creations like Devil’s Juice, made with chili peppers and smoked pineapple, and Black Fang, with blackberries, clove, and orange zest.
“I think we’re no different than a chef at any restaurant. It’s really about finding inspiration in other places,” Dahlhofer says. “For us, we really like to focus on other cultural food and pairings that already exist. Thinking about it more like Andy Warhol: infusing pop culture to create another message that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
While B. Nektar and other institutions across the country create fruity, spicy, and tart concoctions, the federal government defines mead as yeast, honey, and water. But Dahlhofer, who is legislative chair of the American Mead Makers Association, says it’s so much more than that, and he and other industry leaders are fighting to push for more legal and tax equity with what is known as the Mead Equality and Definition (MEAD) Act.
While mead hasn’t seen the level of saturation of other alcoholic beverages, Dahlhofer says he foresees the beverage’s continued expansion as consumers continue to seek out a variety of beverages.
“It’s not really just about the style or the name of the product. It’s about flavors; it’s about options,” Dahlhofer says. “When all we had were fizzy yellow pilsners, there weren’t many variations. And as craft beer began to take hold and create a place on [tap] handles, you started to see a proliferation of IPAs, stouts, and sour beers. … Mead brings an area of flavor that is not yet represented in the marketplace well.”