Thursday, September 25, 2014

Texas Mead Fest 2014

Last Saturday, after completing my Chicken Ranch presentation to the Red Hat ladies, I went by the 3rd Annual Texas Mead Fest, held at Rohan Meadery just outside La Grange. The Wife and I went two years ago, when it was also held at Rohan Meadery, and had a great time. Last year it was in our back yard, at Texas Mead Works in Seguin, but we missed it because of a wedding.

I was flying solo this time, so it wasn't nearly so much fun. But I wanted to go since I'd entered two bottles of my homebrew mead in their mazer competition, and wanted to see what my scores were. My plum melomel had some issues--an unpleasant nose for one--and I knew it wouldn't do great, but my vanilla ice wine tea metheglin was very good and I really wanted to see what the judges thought. So to bide my time until they announced the contest results, I did tastings. And I've gotta say, there were some mighty impressive meads to be had here (a few less-than-stellar ones as well, but luckily I only sampled two that were disappointing). First up was Rhapsody (below), a semi-sweet blackberry melomel from Meridian Hive Meadery out of Austin. I've never heard of them before, but they had interesting meads listed on their blackboard. I had to give them a try. The mead had a nice reddish color and had a nice, fruity bounce in the mouth, like a good sangria, only lighter. Honey notes were subdued, and with an alcohol content of just 6.7 percent, it would appeal to anyone from the 80s who went nuts for wine coolers. And I don't mean that as an insult. This is a nice, easily drinkable mead that's perfect for a hot summer day when a higher alcohol content is a liability.


Next up was a bochet, or "burnt mead" from Enchanted Manor Winery, the folks who supply the official Texas Renaissance Festival mead. I confess I've had this before, and knew what to expect. Bochet is made by cooking the honey until it turns almost black--it's reduced and carmelized--and the result is a sweet, robust body with a creamy mouthfeel and rich, complex flavor. I've toyed with the idea of attempting one on my own, but fear of botching things has made me reluctant to take the plunge. Maybe this winter I'll work up the nerve...


After the semi-sweet blackberry and bochet, I wanted something drier, so I returned to Meridian Hive to try their dry black button sage metheglin. This was a mead that really stood out. I could tell its well-balanced quality. There were notes of honey and sage, yes, but also butterscotch (non-sweet, which took me a while to identify) and a very distinct undertone of liquorice. I despise liquorice, so obviously I did not like this mead. Be that as it may, I could still appreciate its well-constructed nature. People who like absinthe will find this a likeable, low-key alternative. After that, I tried Meridian Hive's oaked tupelo honey (below), a 7 percent semi-sweet traditional mead, mainly because I've never had tupelo honey before, let alone a mead made from it. It was very pale and crystal clear in the glass, almost straw-colored. And it was easily the lightest, most delicate mead I've ever tasted. It reminded me of a good pinot grigio, it had that quality to it, and was just barely sweet. It was crisp and bright, and it impressed me a good deal. I was disappointed The Wife wasn't with me, because this was a mead she would love.

oaked tupelo

About this time they announced the homebrew competition winners. The contest has become a lot more formalized since that first one two years ago, with entries being due weeks before the festival and all sorts of beer/wine/mead judging regulations. In 2012 you just showed up with a bottle and gave it to them. This way is better, for no other reason than the fact we didn't have to wait around forever as the overwhelmed judging staff worked its way through hundreds of bottles. Cutting to the chase, I didn't win. I didn't place. My plum melomel was hurt badly by the off scent it gives off ("vegetable" was the official description on the score sheet) and its acid was too high, but despite that it finished higher than my prickly pear and fig melomels I entered before. My vanilla ice wine tea metheglin, though, that's what I was eager to see. And even though it didn't place, it scored 38 out of 50 possible points, by far the best showing I've ever had. The judge wrote "A nice, very drinkable mead. It looks like you achieved what you were after." Yay! My initial impression is vindicated. The only downside is that I made this as a one-gallon test batch, and it's almost all gone. I will tweak the recipe and try to improve (more tannin and a touch more acid) once this infernal move is completed. But still, I'm very happy with this result.

After that, I had one ticket left, so I threw caution to the wind and tried Meridian Hive's raspberry chipotle mead. I've made jalapeno mead before, and know how difficult it is to get the right balance of sweet and heat in this type of mead. And raspberries can either be sublime or awful--there seems to be no middle ground in drinks. So even though I love raspberries and chipotle, I was wary. But holy moly, this stuff was fantastic! Easily my favorite mead of the day. The raspberry gave it an up-front fruity profile, but it didn't scream "RASPBERRY!" It was more subdued, less sharp, more like dewberries maybe. I found that very interesting. Even more interesting was the smoky chipotle heat--more heat than I was expecting with chipotle, but a restrained, disciplined heat. It reminded me for all the world of the pleasant burn you feel in the throat when drinking a good brandy. Folks, I savored this mead. I would've taken home several bottles, were it not for the fact that this was an experimental batch and they didn't have it in bottles--only growlers that cost $45 a pop. I couldn't swing that. But seriously, I hope they put this into production. It's that great.

raspberry chipotle

So yeah, if you get the chance, check out the Texas Mead Fest. Or check out Dancing Bee (our favorite from 2012), Griffin Meadery, Darcy's Vineyard or Thorin's Viking Mead (actually, Thorin was a no-show as far as I can tell, but we'll give 'em some love anyway). Mead is fun. It's historical. It has all the diversity of wine, if not moreso, and I suspect meaderies are becoming the new boutique hobby that wineries were a decade ago. And I can't say I can complain.

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