It has been so long, friends, since we’ve had a review of anything but a book on here. Sure, there was a play review in January, and a poem review last May, but nearly a year has passed since we last shared a review of beverages. This should be remedied, so grab a glass and a seat while I tell you about last Saturday’s Meadfest.
On hearing that the B. Nektar Meadery of Ferndale, Michigan was having a mead-tasting festival, several friends and I decided to conduct ourselves thence. I was put in charge of all Beowulf references, and packed my Chickering accordingly.
þa wæs Geatmæcgum geador ætsomne
on beorsele benc gerymed;
þær swiðferhþe sittan eodon,
þryðum dealle. þegn nytte beheold,
se þe on handa bær hroden ealowæge,
scencte scir wered. Scop hwilum sang
hador on Heorote. þær wæs hæleða dream,
duguð unlytel Dena ond Wedera.
Then a bench was cleared, room made in the hall 491
for the gathered Weders standing in a troop;
the courageous men took their seats,
proud in their strength; a thane did his office,
carried in his hands the gold ale-flagons,
poured bright mead. At times the scop sang,
bright-voiced in Heorot; there was joy of warriors,
no small gathering of Geats and Danes.
þær wæs sang ond sweg samod ætgædere
fore Healfdenes hildewisan,
gomenwudu greted, gid oft wrecen,
ðonne healgamen Hroþgares scop
æfter medobence mænan scolde
be Finnes eaferum, ða hie se fær begeat,
There was tumult and song, melodious noise, 1063
in front of Healfdene’s battle-commander;
the harp was plucked, good verses chanted
when Hrothgar’s scop in his place on the mead-bench
came to tell over the famous hall-sport
of Finn’s sons when the attack came on them…
I shared these lines of the mead-hall, along with various diverting kennings, until we reached our destination. We were not immediately certain, on doing so, that we had reached it. The rosy lenses of our expectation sought the promised tent and musicians and honey-drink on a grassy knoll amid a few trees. Even if the grass were a bit much to hope for, Ferndale is known locally as a chic and trendy hotspot, so we were surprised to find ourselves in a janky parking lot between the brewery and its industrial neighbors. It struck us as the mead-tasting no one had ever heard of. Michelle, conductor of our chariot, reckoned that our Hipster Quotient had skyrocketed, to which our friend Adam remarked “Man, I knew I should have worn tighter jeans!”
Huddled against the brisk breeze, our crew meted out beverage tokens to try 11 of the varieties available and recorded our impressions at the tables and folding chairs standing in for mead-hall benches. The wind whipped our cups over if ever we were careless, and the sun, overly concerned by the possibility of bothering us, kept hidden.
Against such a backdrop, the meads were welcome. Some had been brewed to resemble an IPA beer in mouthfeel and strength; others had a thicker, more traditional texture; still others had had fruit or spices added to impart different flavors. Here are our notes:
The Beer-Like (served on draft)
Lager-Style mead: sweet but not oversweet, no bad aftertaste. PCS approval.
IPA-Style Evil Genius: Lightly carbonated mix of honey and hops. “Nose of wine, taste of Kool-Aid.” “That really just tastes like I ate a field of flowers.” Grapefruity. Like unto Jerome more than Ambrose or Bernard.
Necromangocon – made with mango juice, honey, and black pepper. Very bubbly. Smells of mango, tastes peppery. Peculiar.
Apricot Cardamom – fascinating and strange. Very tangy, spicy, not hard cider-y. Smells more like apricot than it tastes. JCS approval.
Zombie Killer – technically a “cyser,” or blend of honey and apple cider, with tart cherry juice added and light carbonation. Apricot tang; very fruity. Like a Lambic beer. “Sparkling black cherry juice” (which I misheard as “carrot juice,” and was instructed to buy an ear trumpet for reasons both practical and sartorial). JCS approval.
Wildberry Pyment – Made with clover honey, shiraz grapes (pyment = mead/wine mixture), and wildberry concentrate. This last made it slightly like cough syrup. Very winey. Blackberry jam. Ooof da. Increasingly hard to drink. Sweeter, peppery?
Unicorn – smells like different cough syrup, different fruits. Less sweet.
The Traditional (or thereabouts)
Rainbow – sweet, traditional smell, but drier taste; a field of delight!
Orange Blossom – less like syrup; Kool-Aid with chalk. Smells light; floral.
Wildflower – very sweet, thicker, more traditional, yeasty, field-like. JCS, MH approval
Episode 13 – orange blossom/buckwheat honey mead, aged in a bourbon barrel. Curious to smell; sweet, then quite smoky to taste; thicker in mouthfeel with a toasted vanilla aftertaste; almost meaty, the way buckwheat can be; and “like unto whiskey-flavored gelato.” PH approval, enough to buy a bottle of it.
Gamen eft astah,
beorhtode bencsweg; byrelas sealdon
win of wunderfatum. þa cwom Wealhþeo forð
gan under gyldnum beage,…
“Onfoh þissum fulle, freodrihten min,
sinces brytta! þu on sælum wes,
goldwine gumena, ond to Geatum spræc
mildum wordum, swa sceal man don.
The glad noise resumed, 1160
bright-clanking bench-music; wine-bearers poured
from fluted silver. Wealhtheow came forth,
glistening in gold, …
“Accept this cup, my noble lord,
gold-giving king; be filled in your joys,
treasure-friend to all, and give to the Geats
your kind words, as is proper for men…