Colleen Bos had a thirst for dry mead and no way to quench it.
Bos, a longtime home-brewer, tried her hand at mead because it sounded like fun. Her first batch, a vanilla-flavored, sparkling mead, had a pleasing dry finish.
“I realized, when I went out to try to get mead from the commercial marketplace, that most of it was very sweet,” Bos said. “And the mead that I had made for myself was very dry.
“So I started to become interested in making mead simply because I couldn’t find the dry mead that I liked available.”
Mead is honey wine, an ancient beverage mostly associated with medieval times and countercultural types. That is, until recently. A recent Associated Press video noted that meaderies have tripled in the United States in the past decade to about 150; many are wineries looking to expand their product line.
Colleen Bos is the founder and owner of Bos Meadery in Fitchburg, a small-scale supplier with meads not yet available in shops. Bos filed federal licensing paperwork last week; she expects to sell her meads commercially by summer.
In the meantime, Bos is home-brewing, giving her mead away at charity events in an effort to get folks familiar with it. At a party for The Bricks Theatre at The Old Fashioned more than a month ago, she poured four meads.
Two were sparkling: a semi-sweet pyment made from wildflower honey and pinot grigio grape juice, and a pomegranate pyment with a dry finish, made from pomegranate juice, riesling grape juice and honey, fermented with Champagne yeast. (“Pyment” refers to any mead made with grape juice.)
In fermented beverages, yeast “eats” the sugars, turning them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Different yeasts produce different styles of beer and mead.
“Champagne yeast tends to be a pretty powerful yeast that’s good at taking things down to that bone-dry finish,” Bos said. “It’s also refreshing. We had it in the winter, but it’s a nice summer drink too.”
The ingredients in mead can be utterly simple: Bos’ buckwheat mead, a thicker, darker brew, was made from only buckwheat honey, water and yeast. It had flavors of wet hay and wood. A fourth mead she poured at The Old Fashioned had strong flavors from the chardonnay oak chips Bos used to infuse it.
“I love what oak does for mead,” she said. “It has a little more complexity, I think, because of that.”
Mead can be served hot with mulling spices or chilled. Either way, it’s gaining in popularity — Adam Casey, manager at Star Liquor, noticed “a ton of different meads” at the 2010 Great Taste of the Midwest.
“It’s been growing quite a bit over the last few years,” Casey said. “People get a perception about mead, that it’s an ancient drink. (But) it’s becoming more popular and there’s more variety.
“There are sweet ones, dry ones. Black currant is a big one; that’s probably the prettiest-smelling mead I’ve encountered.”
Star Liquor on Williamson Street stocks wine-size (750 mL) bottles of White Winter Winery mead, made in Iron River. Star carries White Winter’s dry mead, a honey-apple mead called cyser, and a black mead made with black currants ($14-$16).
Star also carries meads from Michigan-based B. Nektar Meadery, as does Riley’s Wines of the World on University Avenue. B. Nektar’s sweet meads like orange blossom, vanilla cinnamon and wildberry pyment ($16-$17) have sold well at Star.
“I’ve always liked the dry ones a little better,” Casey said. “That’s where my palate leans. But some of the sweet ones, the fruit ones, are great. There’s a strawberry one called (Yo Mamma’s) Strawberry Pizzazz that tastes like fresh strawberry.”
Meanwhile, Bos keeps experimenting while she waits for permission to get her mead in stores. She made a black pepper mead with a dry finish that “works remarkably well,” she said.
“It’s kind of an interesting middle ground between wine and beer,” Bos said of mead. “It’s very much like wine, in having sparkling and not sparkling, and the dry-to-sweet variations.
“And yet if you think about craft beers, the way a lot of craft breweries are taking really interesting ingredients like juniper or doing bourbon-barrel infusions to bring unique flavors to beer … mead is a good spot for those creative flavor choices, too.”