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Celebrate mead, drink of the ages

Back in the day — way back — quite possibly even before wine, which has been dated as long ago as 9,000 years, one of our ancestors might have kept some raw, sticky honey tucked away in a skin for nourishment on a journey.

Dipping down for a drink from a stream, some water may have accidentally seeped into the skin. Traveling on, fermentation began, and when the skin was reopened, there was a drinkable liquid that tasted good. What we know today as mead is an ancient fermented drink of honey, water and yeast. However, the mead of today is different from the mead of old, and it is an up-and-coming darling of natural fermentation.

Mead, or honey wine, is not beer or wine. Although there are some similarities to both, mead is in a category of its own. Fragrance is important with mead, and similar to the terroir of grape wine, the honey comes from pollinators bringing in the flavors of local landscapes, each with their own distinct tastes.

But unlike wine, mead is not aged, and unlike the constancy of taste with beer, the flavor of mead can change for each batch based on the honey and yeast used.

Most meaderies try to source local ingredients, helping to support their community. About 300 meaderies are in the U.S., and we are fortunate to have one in the Rogue Valley.

Steamworks Meadery is owned by Peter Paulsen, known to his friends as “Drea.”

Steamworks’ style is different from other meads — lighter, and less syrupy.

“My thing that makes my mead very different from any other ones is how I finish my product,” Paulsen emphasizes. “I usually run it through 3-4 filters before I’m done. I don’t add honey back in like most. Adding honey back in gives it that thick, overly sweet taste. I try my hardest not to have that happen. It’s definitely my trademark.”

Most of his products fall into the honey wine category. The difference, he says, is alcohol. “In the U.S., mead is below 8% and only contains honey, water and yeast, which is rare here. Anything else is called honey wine.”

Steamworks offers traditional-style orange blossom mead, along with a variety of changing flavors, on tap and by the bottle. His Refreshin’ Session, with local honey, is a trendy “boozy lemon lime” that’s lightly carbonated. He and his partner, Julia, hand cut and hand pressed about 15 pounds of each, “so the pure oils are in the mead,” he says. The flavor is a crisp lemon-lime with no hint of tartness.

The Wildflower Jackson uses all local wildflower honey and has a floral fragrance with a rich, lightly smoky taste.

Paulsen says he goes through about 3,000 pounds of honey a year and uses local ingredients whenever he can, and no added sulfites. Flights and small plates of artisan foods are available.

By drinking mead you are keeping a worldwide tradition going that has been a part of humanity for thousands of years.

Steamworks Meadery is at 4149 S. Pacific Highway, #545, outside Phoenix. For information, call 541-897-4469, or see SteamworksMeadery.com.

Reach Paula Bandy at pbthegrapevine@gmail.com and connect with her on Instagram at @pbthroughthegrapevine.