hist-brewing: Re: Heather Honey Meads

Dan McFeeley mcfeeley at keynet.net
Sat Jan 20 08:54:02 PST 2001

Steven Sanders wrote:

>- --- Kirsty Pollock <kirsty.pollock at mpuk.com> wrote:
>> Heather honey is apparently (according to my friend who works in a small
>> winery which makes a lot of mead and are always doing research for new
>> products) another one that takes a very long time to finish - but a very
>> good mead when it is!
>I read in (this is from distant memory, so author/title info may be
>off/misspelled) Acton/Duncans "Making Mead" that heather mead takes
>upwards of 20 years to age properly. Has anyone else heard this?
>Twenty years seems like an inordinate amount of time to me. 

Acton & Duncan took their cue from Brother Adam and said that eight
years was a good time for aging a heather honey mead.  To my knowledge,
no one has ever given 20 years as the proper aging period for mead.

Brother Adam also insisted that mead could not come to full maturity
unless it was aged in wood, something beyond most home meadmakers.
The used sherry casks he liked to use are hard to come by, large and
cumbersome, and difficult to work with!

Acton & Duncan expressed a bias for their English honeys saying that
they are more full flavored than honeys from other countries.  They
said that because most meads are similar to delicate white wine, the
lighter and milder honeys were generally the best for mead, with the
exception of heather honey.  The best meads, Acton & Ducan said, were
made from single varietal honeys.  Clover, acacia, orange, rose, 
wild-rose and rosemary honeys were particularly good.  Mixed blossum,
what we would call wildflower honey, came next, however, its flavor
is somewhat lacking in quality compared with the varietal honeys.

This also echoes Brother Adam, who said that only the light honeys were
suitable for mead, preferring clover or lime honey.  Darker and strong
flavored honeys would only lead to disappointment, he said, with the
exception of heather honey.  Heather honey was used to make his sack
metheglyn, something Brother Adam said rivaled the finest of good sherries.

Acton & Duncan's advice needs to be read carefully and with a critical
eye.  This is an old book, originally published about 1967.  Whereas
many meadmakers today prefer to make their traditional meads emphasizing
honey character alone, experimenting with a variety of light and dark
honeys including blends, Acton & Duncan felt that mead lacked character
unless it had added astringincy from tannin and also recommended the
regular use of malic and tartaric acid.  This sounds like a style of
mead heavily influenced by British home winemaking styles, but not true
to the character of mead at all.  They also show little awareness of the
dangers of stuck fermentations caused by the pH drop when acid is added
to a honey must.  In comparison, it's interesting to see how Charlie
Papazian's advice on meadmaking changed with time.  At first he
recommended regular use of acids but later changed this, saying acid
should only be added to taste, if at all.  Charlie also gave recognition
to the English preference for light honeys but argued against it, saying
that meadmakers have always used the honeys that were available to them,
including the darker honeys.

Dan McFeeley
mcfeeley at keynet.net

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