How to Host a Mead Tasting Party

FOR A MEAD/WINE TASTING

First you must choose the type of tasting you would like to host.

  • Vertical Tasting: Tasting one specific type of wine/mead from the same producer but different years. Ex: Tasting Chaucer’s Traditional   Mead from 2007, 2009, and 2011.
  • Horizontal Tasting: Select one type of wine/mead from a specific year but different producers. Ex: Select a 2006 Cabernet from 4 different wineries.
  • Old World vs New World Tasting: Select one type of wine/mead from the Old World (Europe-France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, and Portugal) vs the New World (North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)
  • Wine and Cheese Tasting (Click here for a specific pairing guide between wine and cheese)
  • Wine and Chocolate Tasting (Click here for a specific pairing guide for wine and chocolate)
  • “Priceless” Tasting: Withhold the price to prevent taste bias
  • “Price-Point” Tasting: Used to establish a baseline price to compare ‘apples to apples’ in a given flight of drinks
  • Big Eight Wine Tasting: Offer the world’s most popular and influential wines in the market. The Red Wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah/Shiraz. The White Wines include Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio.
  • Blind Tasting: Number the specific bottles and allow guests to write their own notes about each drink based on their senses.

Determine your guest list and send out invitations at least 2 weeks in advance. I prefer to use evites since they’re free. Also when deciding a number of guests remember that one 750ml bottle can serve up to 12 people if using the 2oz tasting rule.

Pick a place where there is enough table room and chairs to comfortably seat your guests and the flights of wines/meads/beer. Decide whether you want the tasters to bring their own glasses or not. Don’t rinse the glass between servings because a single drop of water can dilute your wine/mead.

Design a Tasting Card that specifies the type of drink, the year, and brief description. Allow room for guests to record the drink’s distinct appearance, aroma, flavor, etc. Make sure you bring a sufficient amount of pens/pencils.

Print out a small handout on how to properly taste wine/mead/beer.

Provide relaxing, smooth music to create a blissful ambiance.

Some general rules for tastings:

  • Whites before Reds
  • Dry before Sweet
  • Older before Younger

Provide plain bread and water for guests to cleanse their palates between tastings. Hold off eating till later because spicy aromatic foods can influence the tasting.

 

References:

How to Host a Wine Tasting Party

How to Host a Wine Tasting

Liquor and Wine Outlet How to Host a Wine Tasting

Real Simple How to Host a Wine Tasting 

The Nest How to Host a Wine Tasting Party

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Getting Started: When to Bottle?

It is very important to know when it is the appropriate time to bottle your mead. Because mead ferments slowly, it is possible to bottle mead that still ferments while in the bottle. The mead can become a “sparkling mead” and the fermentation can create enough pressure to cause the glass to break. So please be cautious when bottling.

There are many different methods to determine when your mead is done fermenting.

  • 8 weeks method: Wait a minimum of 8 weeks before you bottle your honey. This method however varies with the type of honey used, amount of honey, and the ingredients used in the recipe. Hence, I recommend other methods first before resorting to this.
  • Airlock method: Once the airlock stops bubbling, wait an additional 2-3 weeks to bottle.
  • Flashlight method: Take a flashlight and shine it through the mead. Check for the clarity of the mead-if there are any particles floating or bubbles traveling in your mead, then it is NOT ready to bottle. Also check if the top and bottom of the mead is clear. If there is still some dead yeast that has settled at the bottom, even after re-racking, then it is still NOT ready to bottle. FYI: this method is not useful for melomels because they tend to be too dark.
  • Chemical Method: Fermentation can be stopped manually through the addition of certain chemicals. Potassium sorbate can be added just before bottling to prevent any additional fermentation from occurring BUT it will not stop an already active fermentation. Potassium metabisulfite (Campden Tablets) prevents wild yeast, bacteria growth, and oxidation in your mead.
  • The Specific Gravity Method: This is the most scientific and accurate method to determine if fermentation has stopped. This requires an original gravity (OG) reading and a present gravity reading. When the specific reading falls to about 0.1 of the original reading, then it is time to bottle. Another way is to multiply the OG by the rate of the attenuation of your yeast (which is on the yeast packet) and subtract that result from the OG. That number is your target gravity (TG). Then take a current gravity reading of your mead. If that gravity reading is the same as the TG, then it is time to bottle.

References:

  1. Target/Final Gravity Question
  2. To Bottle or Not To Bottle?
  3. Mead-Lovers FAQ
  4. How to Halt the Ferment of Mead

Mead Glassware

Believe it or not there is actually a purpose to serving mead in different glasses. Start by knowing the different parts of a glass.

For instance, the lip of the wine glass is the top edge of the glass and can either be cut and polished top (left) or a rolled top (right). 

the difference between cut rim and rolled rim [after Riedel]

The opening of the glass should also be smaller than the wider part of the glass in order to concentrate the aromas. The glass should be transparent (no images) and colorless so that your mead’s color appears more richer. Wine glasses with stems prevents the drinker from touching the bowl so that there are no fingerprints obscuring the glass and that your fingers are not warming the wine above proper serving temperature.

Appreciating the aromas of your mead is another special enjoyment. As you pour your mead into your glass, the aromas will begin to fill the glass in layers according to their density. At the bottom of your glass will be the heaviest layer (the wood and alcohol aroma). Then the middle layer of your glass will contain the green vegetal and earthy mineral aroma. The top layer will contain the lightest vapors (the flower and fruit aromas). Therefore different glass shapes are available depending on which particular aroma you want to feature. Slender glasses magnify the lighter floral and fruit aromas. Glasses that hold more than 25 ounces allow you sniff through the layers by inhaling gently and consistently for more than 10 seconds.

The shape of the glass also affects how the drinker will perceive the taste. A glass with a wide top requires us to sip the drink by lowering our head. But a glass with a narrow top requires us to roll our head back and lets gravity do its work and make the liquid flow. This delivers the mead to different zones of the palate.

For instance Riedel Rheingau glasses (left) have a gently curved lip around the rim so that your tongue will unconsciously curve up when sipping. The fluid therefore bypasses the acidity taste receptors on the tip of your tongue and instead travels to the sweetness taste receptors on the back of your tongue. The Riedel Rheingau glass is thus used for meads that have a more acidic taste. The Riedel Montrachet glass (right) has a wide rim that steers the fluid to the acidic taste buds. This glass is used if you wish to emphasize the acidity of your mead in order to balance the taste. The I.N.A.O. glass (middle), commonly called the  “all-purpose” glass, is generally used for any mead.

Riedel's Rheingau glassI.N.A.O glassRiedel's Montrachet glass

Sparkling meads should be served in glasses that hold 6.5 ounces or more and be narrow and tall to channel the bubbles in a continuous stream or be tulip-shaped (with a narrow mouth) to trap the aromas and bubbles.

The following chart is from the Riedel Glass company in Austria.

Riedel Red Wine GlassesRiedel White Wine GlassesRiedel Dessert Wine Glasses

References:

2 B A Snob 

Mead Made Complicated 

Wine Spectator 

Types of Meads

Because mead has such a diverse cultural background, there are many different mead variants.

  • Acerglyn: Mead with honey and maple syrup
  • Balche: Mexican mead made with Balche bark
  • Black Mead: honey and black currants
  • Bochet: Honey is caramelized before adding water
  • Braggot: Honey and malt; with or without hops
  • Capsicumel: Mead with chili peppers
  • Chouchenn: Mead in Brittany, France using buckwheat honey
  • Cyser: Honey and apply juice fermented together
  • Czworniak: Polish mead using 3 units of water for each unit of honey
  • Dandaghare: Nepalian mead with Himalayan spices
  • Dwojniak: Polish mead with equal amounts of water and honey
  • Great Mead: Mead that’s been aged several years, unlike short mead
  • Melomel: Honey with any fruit
  • Metheglin: Mead with herbs and spices
  • Morat: Honey and mulberries
  • Omphacomel: Medieval mead with verjuice (unriped grapes)
  • Oxymel: Mead with wine vinegar
  • Pyment: Mead with red or white grapes
  • Rhodomel: Mead with rose hips or rose petals
  • Sack Mead: Greater honey vol. yields higher alcoholic content
  • Short Mead: Mead that ferments quickly
  • Show Mead: Plain mead with only honey and water
  • Tej: Ethiopian mead with gesho
  • Viking Blood: Mead with cherry juice

References:

  1. Mead 
  2. Mead Styles and Mead by any other Names
  3. Comprehensive Guide to Types of Meads

Storing Mead

“Store mead in a cool, dark place.” – (insert reference of choice)

Is that it? After all that meticulous brewing, does it all boil down to one final simple step? In a sense yes it does. But despite the step’s simplicity there are other factors to consider that can ruin the quality of your mead that you’ve worked so hard for.

A general rule of thumb is to consume your mead within 3 days after opening. If you’ve recorked it then you have about a week before spoilage. However there is no set timeframe of how long a mead can last before its flavors are altered. Afterall each mead depends on the quality of the honey.

When using corks, place the bottles upright immediately after bottling for two days to let the cork harden. Then place them on the side to keep the cork wet to prevent the cork from shrinking and drying out. If that occurs oxygen can enter and ruin your mead. If you waxed over the cork bottle then you can store it upright. For still meads, place the mead in a 55-70 degree F setting.

blog pic

Passing the Test: How to Evaluate Mead

These slides from BJCP teach you what exactly you’re looking for when tasting a mead. They also released a Mead Exam Study Guide.

Mead is evaluated based on its style. The most common categories offered in competitions include: traditional, melomels, methelglins, braggots, and mixed category.

Factors that are taken into consideration when judging your mead:

  • Aftertaste:
  • Aroma:
  • Appearance:
  • Bubbles:
  • Carbonation:
  • Color:
  • Cork:
  • Drinkability:
  • Flavor:
  • Mouthfeel:
  • Strength:
  • Sweetness:

The most basic concern when judging your mead is BALANCE- balance between the acidity-sweetness-tannins, and balance between the honey taste and other taste like fruit or spice. You then want to make sure you can distinguish the honey in taste and aroma. Lastly you want to focus on the expression of the additional flavors (fruits or spices) that will affect certain factors when judging your mead such as color, taste, and aroma.

According to BJCP these are steps to take when judging mead:

  1. As soon as the sample of mead is poured, inhale the aromas and jot down your notes.
  2. Then check the sample for color, carbonation, and clarity.
  3. Smell the mead again and take a SLOW sip. Distinguish the flavors you are tasting, where in your mouth the flavors seem to be more prominent, and how the sample feels on your tongue. Was there a lingering aftertaste and what was it?
  4. Between each sample cleanse your palate with water or plain crackers and bread.

There are more resources available at the BJCP Mead Exam Resources

References:

Beer Judge Certification Program- Index to Mead Guidelines

BJCP Mead Scoresheet

Bella Online 

Preamble to “A Treatise on Mead Judging”

Getting Started: The Racking Process

Racking is defined as transferring mead from one fermenter/carboy to another. It is important to rack the mead in order to filter out the spent yeast, to separate mead from fruits and herbs, and to clarify the mead.

Racking Steps:

1. Sanitize empty carboy, stopper, airlock, siphon hose, and racking cane. (Tip: We use the dishwasher to store the bottles and fermenter during brewing to free up some counter space in the kitchen)

IMG_6050

2. Position the fermenter on a tabletop/counter and the empty carboy on a chair or floor to let gravity move the mead.

3. Attach the hose to the racking cane and begin siphoning your mead from the fermenter to the empty carboy. Pay attention to the bottom of the racking cane to ensure that no spent yeast is being siphoned.

IMG_6064 IMG_6061

4. Use your hydrometer to measure the specific gravity. The must should have fallen to about 1.030 or less.

5. Place the stopper and airlock and return the mead to the cool, dry place.