Posted On: 04/02/2018
One of the biggest problems facing Martin Brothers Winery in Hermann is that customers have tried its product before. You’d think it would be easier to sell what is purportedly the oldest alcoholic beverage ever made, but a lot of people hate mead – for good reason. Many meads are overly sweet and overrun by adjuncts or artificial flavors that don’t disguise their flaws. But you can forget the golden goblet your nerd friend made you try at his Tolkien-themed birthday party – Martin mead isn’t like that.
“We’re applying wine principles,” said head winemaker Patrick Martin. “The wine concept, historically, is to highlight the flavor of the harvest, so we’re using modern-day winemaking techniques to accomplish that goal.”
According to Martin, a lot of mead producers use a “historical technique or recipe that predates Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister.” They don’t benefit from the centuries that the beer and wine industries have had to refine their methods and cater to consumer interest because mead hasn’t enjoyed the same popularity. (Sorry, Beowulf.)
“It all starts with the honey,” Martin said. “So, we obviously taste the honey by itself the same way that a winery would taste the grape by itself at harvest. But for us, we’re deciding on what type of flavors are in this honey … what type of yeast could be used to highlight or destroy these flavors … then we determine what kind of oaking strategy are we going to use to really lock those flavors in.”
Made up of just those three elements – honey, yeast and oak – it’s amazing how different the meads taste. “We think of honey as a sweetener, but honey is extremely diverse,” said Derek Martin, Patrick’s brother and winemaking partner. “There’s a lot that honey itself has to offer.”
The wildflower variety tastes like pure, complex honey with a surprising dryness and a tart, grape wine-like finish. It’s rich gold in color, like a bath bead. The Lucerne Blossom Mead is lighter with a less honey-heavy flavor and a lighter, straw color. It has heavy vanilla extract, lavender and clove on the nose with a creamy baking spice character on the palate and an almost menthol, smoky floral finish.
Such complexity and balance are no accident. Take the Orange Blossom Mead. “We noticed when we were tasting it that there [was] very, very subtle vanilla, a very rich floral note, and there was a hint of that bitter orange peel-type note in the honey itself,” Patrick said. “So for that one, we had a handful of yeasts that would really help us unlock those flavors. ... We used American oak because American oak has those vanilla-type notes [which] helped magnify it.”
Even those who have dated far too many Anglophiles and are ready to take a stand against the sickly sweet nostalgia of the ancient brew might find something new here. Life really can be all honey and wine.
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