Brewsday: Trafalgar Citrus Mead

It may have been noted in these pages before that, when it comes down to it and all is said and done, I’m a nerd. It’s what comes of a high school life spent with my nose in Dungeons & Dragons books, playing hours of Tetris to the point where I’d see it when I closed my eyes to sleep, and a whole lot of time spent in comic book stores.

How I ever got Tina’s attention, I have no idea — but hey, Christmas is a time for observing miracles, right?  And if a guy who knows the Rocket Robin Hood theme off the top of his head can score a woman like her, then how impossible is it really to believe in the Nativity, or for a jolly fat saint to fly at near-light speed around the world on Christmas Eve?

Or that a dude who had a website before he had his own car, and can still compute THAC0 off the top of his head, has never actually tried mead?

It’s incredible, I know.  Mead is a renaissance-faire standard,  a seriously friendly alternative for those whose palettes have yet to develop a taste for the harshness of cheap beer.  For the longest time, I had thought mead was simply a form of mulled wine or a heavier form of cider, which is basically the opposite of the truth; in fact, mead is the very simple product of honey and water, fermented by a combination of yeast and fruit.

Not quite a wine, not at all a beer, mead is a sweet product whose appearance and flavor can vary based on all kinds of things:  how it’s fermented, how long it’s aged, how it’s flavored, and the concentration of ingredients are just a few factors.  You may find it carbonated or still; you may find it dry or cloying.   It’s not worth getting too wound up about, to be honest — the important thing is that, at its heart, what you’re drinking is honey, fruit and water.  If a drink like bourbon is a kick in the pants, then mead is definitely a kiss on the cheek.

And I like kisses!  I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to try, though in my defence it’s not like mead is widely available.  There’s no mead section at the liquor store; there’s not even a spot in among the Fortified Wines, that most eclectic junk drawer of the alcohol retailer.  I actually had to comb through the oddities and party drinks at our local beer store to find some, and even then I wasn’t too sure about it.

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You see what I mean?  Not exactly subtle.  For some reason mead always brings to my mind thoughts of casks and mugs and Viking women; Trafalgar‘s Citrus Mead, on the other hand, seems more interested in capturing the interest of people looking for cool decals for their skateboards.  Even more concerning, the label instructs you that Trafalgar’s mead is “best served cold, over ice”, before saluting you with a “Wassail!”

I will not grumble again about “coldness” as a flavor (I did it enough here, anyway), but suffice to say that this felt like an uphill battle at best.

Not pictured is the mead’s cap, a standard beer top that requires you to dig out your bottle opener.  It’s a little odd to pop the lid and not have any form of hiss or pop, and to see the mead pour out so still into the glass.  It’s visually indistinguishable from lemonade, a nice bright lemony yellow with a cloudy texture.  It makes me curious what the black currant flavor looks like, actually.

Where things get interesting is when the glass gets under your nose, and the expected lemonade-ness is complicated by an interesting, herbal  undercurrent.  On the first taste, it’s a disconcerting combination of sweet and green flavors, but the bright citrus flavor carries both of them along with balance.  There’s a very, slightly, tiny little fuzzy finish to it as well, just to make everything tingly and playful.

At 9%, the mead is stronger than you might find in a Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff Ice, but you wouldn’t notice.  At least, not until you’ve found your way through most of the bottle — then you’re going to notice the alcohol, sneaky like a Chardonnay but (thank God) not headachy like a malt liquor bottled cocktail.

This being my first mead, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s a good or poor example of the type.  I don’t really have the authority to say.  Where I am a viking is in my experience with sissy fruity beverages, and so I feel no hesitation in saying that Trafalgar’s Citrus Mead is competent and enjoyable.  It doesn’t knock you out of the park, but it’s sweet and citrus-y as promised, and provides a safe entry into a relatively unexplored territory of drink.

My only hedge — and this is where my skin-flinty Scottish heritage rears up and will never leave me alone — is that it’s $13 a bottle.  That’s the price of a reasonable wine from some parts of the world (Ontario included), or a good six-pack from any part of the world.  It feels more than a little dear for a drink I’d describe as “competent”, novel experience or not.

Rating:  Two and a half Ebeneezers

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  • http://noblepig.com noble pig

    Hey, I love nerds. I have to try mead…have to. You’ve inspired me.

  • Lily

    If you can find it, Bunratty Mead (from Ireland) is quite good. Dark honey colored, smooth and yummy. Chaucer Mead (I’ve found it at Cost Plus) is OK. Not quite as smooth as the Bunratty Mead, but still acceptable. I believe it also comes with a little spice packet, so there’s another option for you.

    And by the way, yes, I’m also a nerd – I actually have TWO degrees in medieval studies, and I know people that brew their own mead.

  • bosch

    Yeah, Chaucer Mead is your generic “good enough” mead. It’s like the Sam Adams of mead. It’s not crap Bud, but it’s not Chimay, either.

    And, FYI, drinking cold mead on a hot day is very, very refreshing and will get you good and drunk rather quickly. So, despite the price tag, it can be well worth it to make yourself a “cheap date” as it were.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Noble Pig – I’m sure you would find a mead that you’ll enjoy, considering how much variety there is in flavor and quality.

    Lily – Bunratty Mead sounds divine, and much more similar to what I was expecting from mead. And two degrees in medieval studies? That’s just AWESOME. We verily beseek you meekly, to prithy visit us again….grammercy……. (hey, I was a science major – that’s the best I can do).

    Bosch – I can’t wait to have a cheap date with myself!! Particularly because I also hear that I put out.

  • Jonny Canuck

    I don’t know if you’ll ever come across it on LCBO shelves, but Rosewood winery and meadery down here by St. Catherines is become pretty well known for their meads. Their 2006 Mon Cherie Mead (co-fermented with local sour cherries) took a silver in this years Canadian competition. If you can get your hands on a bottle, you wont be dissapointed.

    ANYWAY, wine/mead geekery aside, haven’t come across the Bunratty yet, but I do know you can do alot better than the Trafalgar stuff. (especially for the price, yikes!)

    Jon

  • Jason

    Wow, late, late, late, post for this thread, (geek warning) but you’re not actually drinking mead, any more than drinking Coke would be drinking… whatever the Vikings called a cane sugar beverage. If you’re drinking sweet mead, like Chaucers and the rest, then you’re drinking something that was supposed to be a dessert wine and not real mead at all.

    I’ve been making dry and sometimes sparkling mead myself for the last decade and what you’ve listed doesn’t even touch on the potential depth of the beverage. If you can find it, I would suggest Heidrun Mead, out of Humboldt, California, which is more like a sparkling wine in profile at: http://www.heidrunmeadery.com/

    Just FYI, mead is primarily yeast, honey and water, but also requires some citric acid and nutrients, as honey just doesn’t have what it takes to make the yeast do its dance of love all by its lonesome. When you add fruit to mead, it’s called a “Melomel”, then if it’s spices or herbs (like ginger, cinnamon, or lavender) you call it “Metheglin”, if you split with grape juice it’s called “Pyment” and the other big one is a “Braggot” by splitting the honey with barley malt before fermenting (this is incredible!). Sorry for geeking out on you like that, but I have a 2-year old sparkling blackberry mead (Melomel) that will knock your socks off and certainly elevate the cheap-beer drinker to riding on the waves like a true Viking with your horn in hand. Cheers!