It's remarkable to consider that over several millennia, humans have tried ingesting just about everything in the pursuit of sustenance or bliss. More often than not, experimentation ends in disappointment, if not sickness or death. But every now and again the outcome is wonderful. Just imagine, then, the reaction of the first prehistoric brute to guzzle fermented honey water -what we now know as mead.
Where and when that first buzz might have occurred is hard to say. Mead's origins are ambiguous, but earliest archaeological evidence suggests our fortunate forefather may have lived in northern China around 7000 BC. Wherever it came from, mead has been widely produced throughout Asia, Africa and Europe since earliest civilization. As food historian Maguelonne ToussaintSamat noted, "[Mead] can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks."
Across cultures -from the ancient Egyptians, Hindus and Greeks to the Celts, Slavs and Germanic tribes of Europe -mead gained a reputation for all sorts of preternatural properties. But its popularity through the ages owed much to simplicity, which perhaps explains why it was the alcoholic beverage of choice for many cultures until its general decline a few hundred years ago.
The need for mead didn't disappear entirely, though. Helped along by popular culture and curiousity, mead is making something of a trendy comeback among libation tourists who need drive only 50 km from Victoria to Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery, just west of Sooke.
Started in 2003 by husband-and-wife team Bob Liptrot and Dana LaComte, Tugwell Creek was the first commercial meadery licensed in B.C. It now produces a broad range of mead styles, from very dry to very sweet, that are available in most private liquor stores in Victoria. Still, it's worth making a beeline to Sooke to learn about mead-making and taste a bit of history with the following:
WASSAIL GOLD - SACK MEAD 2006
12 per cent ABV, 375 ml, $18
Similar to sparkling wine, this pale, strawcoloured mead is dry and slightly effervescent. There are floral notes on the nose, as well as spice and even a hint of brine. On the palate, it has a surprising dryness and moderate acidity that I did not expect in a honeybased wine. Indeed, it has a pronounced citrus tang, mixed with spice and a degree of nuttiness. Unfortunately, it has a rather long and -dare I say it -sour finish that is not agreeable. Perhaps it could pair well with some cheeses, but I'm not in a hurry to find out.
SOLSTICE METHEGLIN 2009
11.5 per cent ABV, 750 ml, $19
Pale gold with aromas of ginger and baking spice, Solstice Metheglin is closer to what I expected mead to taste like. Off dry, it has pastoral aromas and flavours of sweet wildflower honey, tart apple skin and zippy ginger in a moderate finish that would go well with chicken, fish and even spicy dishes.
BRAZEN BLACKBERRY - BLACKBERRY MELOMEL 2008
13 per cent ABV, 500 ml, $18
As a honey-based wine, it is intuitive to think of mead as a golden liquid. Not so with the Brazen Blackberry Melomel, which is a cloudy garnet colour in the glass. On the nose there are whiffs of clove, while on the palate it has definite black fruit character and a moderate finish, making it a pleasant sipping companion with soft cheeses.
KICKASS CURRANT MEAD 2009
12 per cent ABV, 750 ml, $30
A kick in the ass usually comes as a surprise, and Kickass Currant Mead is no exception. At first blush it can easily be mistaken for a big red wine; the spice, acidity and full-bodied character is quite comparable. And like a big red wine, it would pair well with grilled red meat, wild game and cured meats.
VINTAGE SAC - SWEET MEAD 2007
18 per cent ABV, 375 ml, $27
This dessert-style mead has the most pronounced honey colour and character of all the meads produced by Tugwell Creek. Sweet and syrupy, it has a golden colour that looks like it was pulled right out of the hive. Rich with floral aromas and flavours, as well as a hint of spice, this is one mead that is as enjoyable to sip as it is talk about.
Note: Tugwell Creek Honey Farm and Meadery, 8750 West Coast Rd., just west of Sooke, is hosting a Honeybee Awareness Day on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. In addition to mead tasting, visitors can learn fascinating facts about bees, participate in activities, and see the farm's resident beekeepers in action.