The Oldest Alcoholic Drink?

The Oldest Alcoholic Drink?

Mead is thought to be the world’s oldest alcoholic drink, dating as far back as 7000BC to China.  Mead is honey wine (a fermented drink made from honey, water, and yeast). While it’s similar to beer in that it can involve other flavor additions such as fruit, grains, and spices, it stands in a category all its own with alcohol ranging from 8-20 percent. 

Despite the higher alcohol level, mead is considered healthier than wine and beer as it contains honey which is easier to metabolize and has natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Mead also has high antioxidant properties making it naturally sterile, lasting almost forever, unlike wine or beer.  Due to this, very few sulfites need to be used in the mead-making process to preserve the wine which is another benefit of mead.

Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery

I have not had much mead so was immediately intrigued when I spotted Greg Fischer, owner of Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery, pouring mead at a recent Chocolate Tasting for Morton Arboretum.  I went over and proceeded to try almost everything he had on hand.  Wild Blossom produces several mead categories including Semi-Dry, Semi-Sweet, Sweet, and Specialty Meads as well as a few traditional wines made from grapes.  Fascinated, I set up time with Greg and Scott Moyers (VP of Sales) to dig in deeper to the world’s oldest fermented drink.

Greg has been making mead most of his life in various parts of the world and started his own Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery in 2000. Located in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, he currently makes 10,000 gallons of mead a year and also has 100 of his own bee hives.  The hives are in plains and prairies of the Midwest.

The Bees, Trees, and Flowers

When people talk about wine, they often refer to “terroir”, that somewhat elusive concept combining soil, climate, and weather (among many other elements).  Mead is similar in that bees contribute their own version of terroir based on what flowers they pollinate and where those flowers are located.  For example, Scott told me that buckwheat pollination creates honey flavors of molasses.  Black locust tree pollination creates water-white honey while Linden and Basswood trees contribute to floral and minty notes in the mead.  Chicory creates a light amber honey while clover lends a touch of raisin and floral notes.

While not many studies exist on how different soil types impact honey flavor, Greg said that there are big flavor variations between the same honey from different areas.

Incredibly, Greg also said that it takes one bee pollinating 2 million flowers in order to produce a pound of honey.  One bee hive typically produces 70 pounds of honey in a year with a hive of bees needing to fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey.

The Mead Process

Mead is made with two fermentations. The first fermentation converts the honey’s sugar to alcohol to create the base honey while the second fermentation is where Greg adds the fruit mix into the blend (creating the flavor profile).  Tart fruit works best with mead as it balances out the richness of honey. Most of Greg’s meads are around 8% alcohol but he has a few that are higher than that.

The Meads

Here are some of the meads I tasted from Greg’s Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery. 

Pirates Blood – A very popular and cool-looking skull bottle holds Pirates Blood which is made from hot pepper and capsicum.  I can’t handle many spicy drinks but this one has just enough zippy bite and kick to it to be pleasant without going over the top. 

Strawberry — Jammy ripe fruit bursts from the glass with an earthy undertone of just-picked strawberries. The pure strawberry nose on this is amazing and conjures up warm summer days of sitting in your own strawberry patch.

Hops Mead Pineapple — One of my favorites, this mead has an alluring combination of hops and pineapple with interwoven notes of yeasty flavors and tropical fruit.  If you like hops or even the sumptuous smell of fresh-baked bread, you’ll love this.

Blueberry Pomegranate Sparkling –This mead boasts delicate yet full-flavored juicy blueberry flavors interlaced with the taut acidity of pomegranate. The fact that it is a sparkling wine made it all the more elegant.  This was another one of my favorites.

Meads

Mango Lime – This one was intriguing as I don’t love mango or lime however this combination works amazingly well.  The orange-tone tropical flavors of mango rise to a fresher level with the brisk acidity and tangy notes from the lime. 

Guava Lemon – My first thought on this mead was a soft sea breeze wafting out of the glass.  Tropical notes with fresh mineral tones from the lemon make this one refreshing and airy. 

Marionberry – Oregon is known for growing marionberries which are a blackberry cultivar developed by Oregon State University. Bramble blackberry courses through this lively mead, another of my favorites.

Chili – Dry pepper and dried chili leaves contribute fire while the honey softens the blow.  This mead leaves you feeling warm inside without being too spicy.

All of the meads shared the common thread of flavors that were incredibly fresh, vibrant, and singing with purity.  The flavors literally jumped out of the glass like bottled spring-time. 

On the wine side, I also liked the Bulls Blood which is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah blend barrel-aged for 1 year.  Honey softens the tannins, leaving the wine with red and violet floral notes on the back-end.  Honey can also lift a wine’s fruit flavors up in dry red wines.

Look for these fascinating drinks at Binny’s as well as online at the Wild Blossom Meadery website.  You can also go visit the Meadery yourself.  Wild Blossom offers wine/mead tasting, wine making classes, and beautiful private event space available to rent. Located at the edge of Dan Ryan Woods and Trail, it’s an easy ride right off the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery

https://www.wildblossommeadery.com/
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