If you ever want to take a break from craft beer in Maine, there are lots of other fermented and distilled beverages being crafted in the neighborhood to fill the void. Meads, which are essentially honey wines with origins in the distant past, come in a variety of flavors from super sweet to dry, and with many added fruits and flavors, such as blueberry, rhubarb or strawberry. Modern meads are often beautifully packaged and inherently interesting, bringing a bottle of mead to an event is a fun way to experiment with your palate (and the palate of your friends) a little.
I enjoy the occasional sip of mead, but haven’t really delved into the breadth of it’s character. So when I caught sight of a local mead described as an “iced tea mead” that was “carbonated honey wine with natural flavors” I stopped to check it out. Carbonated mead? Iced tea? It piqued my interest enough to put the Maine Mead Works Ram Island Iced Tea Mead into my basket.
Portland-based Maine Mead Works have been harnessing the output of local bees since 2007, and are known for their HoneyMaker line of meads that are available not only in beer and wine stores, but in larger grocery and specialty food stores. Their line of meads includes dry, sweet and even dry-hopped meads, and a variety of herbal and fruit infused meads as well. While I have tasted several of these and were pleased with their complexity, fruitiness and crispness, this was the first time I’d ever come across a carbonated or “sparkling” mead.
Expecting a tea base, I was surprised to see that the color that poured out of Rams Island bottle was not a muddy brown, but a golden straw color similar to an IPA or a pale ale. The aroma was very herbal – with some minty notes coming through. I didn’t see anything on the label about mint, but assumed that something considered to be a ‘natural flavor’ was at work. Turns out it does have some lemon and mint, so I was not imagining those aromas.
The first sip was a surprise, too. Unlike many iced teas I’ve had, this was not heavy, earthy, nor overly sweet. It reminded me almost of a tea brewed with herbs in the sunlight. The tea flavor was not pronounced, but present, the characteristics of the black tea are there initially, then get taken over by some of the other flavors. The honey, too, was balanced and added a summery component, rather than a heavy or cloyingly sweet one. Each sip finishes with a little bit of mint, and it stays in your mouth like the last remnants of a mint candy.
The carbonation only helps to lighten the feel of this mead, and it’s a great match. It is also only 7% ABV, so it is a bit weaker than wine, meaning that it’s okay to drink a little bit more of it. This is the perfect drink to serve chilled on a warm afternoon, while watching spring unfold in Portland, which I hear may actually happen sometime in the next few weeks.