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If you've never tried mead before and are curious if it fits with your tastes, you're probably wondering is mead sweet or bitter or a combination? Like grape wine, honey-wine or mead can vary in flavor and asking "is mead sweet?" is too simple a question to describe the complexities of this drink. The assumption is usually that mead is sweet because it's honey based, but to think that is to deny all the various other ingredients a good mead can have. Let's go over some of the variations of mead and the dynamic tastes that can arise from it to find out is mead sweet.
Honey and What the Bees Had
Many people assume that all honey is sweet because they've only had sweet honey, but have you ever seen the different categories of honey and tasted how they differ? Bees feed off of different flowers and plants and that can greatly affect the flavor of the honey, for example, have you ever heard of Apple Blossom Honey or Tulip Honey? Depending on what kind of honey is used for the mead can change how sweet the mead is.
Take, for instance, the Maple Honey Mead which uses Montana honey as its base. The honey produced there is often derived from wild nectar sources, the almond groves in California, and plants natural to that part of the county. That honey would be wildly different than honey produced on the east coast unless the bees were fed a specific diet for flavor. But, even then it proves the point. Another example is the Dark Honey Mead, which uses a darkened honey to help make the mead robust and semi-dry. Again, the kind of honey used greatly affects the mead and can make it more or less sweet.
What Kind of Yeast?
Yeast is another main ingredient in mead, but a specific kind of yeast: wine yeast. Some mead makers will use a champagne yeast or red wine yeast but the most popular is white wine yeast. It all depends on the flavor you're trying to achieve and if you want the mead sweet or dry. Some mead makers will create mead hybrids and so you may find some meads that don't use wine yeast at all.
While you may not see what kind of yeast is in the mead, the description of a particular mead will answer is the mead sweet. You can bet that if it's semi-dry or dry that it won't be. Part of the reason mead is called honey-wine is that it is a lot closer to wine than beer and while beers aren't often referred to as dry, wines are. So, think of those kinds of meads in that light and that the kind of yeast used is a big factor in that.
Beyond the Honey
This is where you can have a lot of fun with mead, going beyond the honey. Mead is often more than the fermented honey and yeast, they'll add fruits and spices to deliver a more dynamic flavor. That is the fault in asking "is mead sweet?", there is so much more than that. For example, the Elderberry Honey Mead is a sipping mead likened to a port. Asking if this mead is sweet would be rather difficult to answer because honey is and elderberry isn't, but what people talk about more is the texture of the mead.
Another mead that goes beyond fermented honey is the Chokecherry Honey Mead. This mead is used with a wild cherry that grows in Montana and probably means that the flavor is double-downed if using Montana bees. The Chokecherry Mead is on the sweeter side and shows that unlike the Elderberry Mead, mead can be sweet.
The other ingredients in mead greatly affect whether a mead is sweet or not, including the spices. Honey-wine isn't only bitter or sweet, it can have a zing to it. The Spiced Honey Mead shows this as fact and not just in the name.
So, Is Mead Sweet?
Well, yes and no. It depends on what honey was used and how long it was fermented, what kind of yeast was used, and what other ingredients are brewed in. Mead is a dynamic drink that runs the gamut of flavor, not bound by the sweet and bitter spectrum but expanding the palettes of those who get to enjoy this ancient honey-wine.
When asking yourself “is mead sweet?" take a look at the bottle or head to a mead-tasting event. See for yourself how that question doesn't begin to address the flavors of mead. You're sure to have to keep some notes on which variety you like and there are many. Soon you'll be asking yourself which mead pairs with what food and in what way but, that is a whole other can of worms.
Enjoy the drink of royalty!