The Meadmaker's Corner: Categorizing Your Mead - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Community.

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When I started looking into making mead it seemed so very simple. Dump some honey in some water, add some yeast, ignore it for a while, and tada! Nectar of the Gods in your bottle. And sure, you can get mead that way, but as I started researching, I found a whole lot more information on the subject. Things started to get complicated. Even categorizing my mead became pretty cumbersome. I found that I would have to search about and look things up. To be honest, the HomeBrewTalk forums have most all the answers you will need. The only down side is I can’t say I’ve found a single place where they are all grouped together neatly and easily accessible. So I shall endeavor to provide newbies to mead making a reference document. Also, I won’t tell if any experienced mead makers check back as a quick reference either.

Categories of Mead

There are several different ways that meads can be put in to categories. The simplest way is by what is added. Of course there will be honey and water, but is there anything else that goes into it, perhaps a fruit juice or maybe even some beer? Then you can think of mead as more of a wine, and divide it up by how sweet it is. Since some people will carbonate their mead, you can even go on how carbonated the drink is. Let’s take a look at some of the various ways to group meads.

What Are The Ingredients?

There are four main groups to divide your mead into, based on the ingredients that you put in. All of these can be further broken down into subcategories, but we’ll just hit the main categories today. The first is considered a traditional mead. This would be just a mixture of honey and water with some yeast added. While at first it may seem like there isn’t much room to make different products here, there are worlds of meads made that fit here. You can tweak the honey to water ratio, use different honey varietals, and use different yeasts. All will change your product quite a bit.
The next main category is fruit mead. These are meads that add in some sort of fruit. It could be apple cider to get a cyser, or you could add in some grape and get a pyment. But that doesn’t end fruit meads…you can add in the juice, pulp, or whole fruits of berries, stone fruit, and so on. If you can get your hands on it either in a juice form, or as a whole fruit, you can add it into your mead.
Then comes the spiced mead category. As the name suggests you have tossed in some herbs or spices (or perhaps even some vegetables.) To make things a bit tricky, if you use fruit and spice, your mead would most likely wind up here (so long as the spice is perceivable in the finished mead.) While you certainly can add any spice from your spice cabinet that you may want to try, I will mention that for mead hops are considered a spice.
The Final Category (Based on the BJCP 2015 Mead Guidelines): The specialty category. One example of this is the braggot. This is adding a barley based liquid into your mead, either before or after fermentation is completed. It is beer-mead. But then you have a wide range of historic meads that you could take on, or if you truly wanted to do your own thing, you can fall under the experimental mead category. Feel free to add whatever ingredients you fancy. There have also been a few sour meads to win smaller competitions in this category.

How Sweet They Are

As you make meads and try to describe them to others, or especially if you enter them into a contest, you will have to be able to communicate how sweet they are. Mead makers have settled on using a well-known system from the wine industry -- describing a mead a sweet, semi-sweet or dry. This is all well and good if you have known samples of each type to compare them to, but it can be a little bit tricky to determine otherwise. We can use the final gravity reading of our mead as a starting point with these ranges:
Dry: 0.990 to 1.010
Semi-Sweet: 1.010 to 1.025
Sweet: 1.025 and up
Now, while this is a great jumping off point, don’t just determine the sweetness by your final gravity. The amount of sweetness the drinker will perceive is a function of the percent of residual sugar, not necessary the amount of residual sugar. You will want to compare your FG to your OG and consider how strong the mead is, what the tannin level is, and so forth. Basically get out your notes from making the mead, compare the final numbers to the chart, then pour yourself a bit and see where you would place it.

How Carbonated They Are

Next up you can categorize and describe your mead by how much carbonation is in it. Again we have three different groups to put the drink into. The first is the simplest: still. If your mead has no carbonation, by design or accident, it is a still mead. Unlike beer that isn’t a problem, as plenty of mead is made to be still, and many prefer it that way. On the other end of the spectrum is sparkling. Again this is a simple one to understand, think of champagne or carbonated water. You don’t want it to gush out when you open a bottle, but you do expect there to be some fizz. The tricky one is petillant. They have enough carbonation to be noticed, so you can’t call it still, but not enough to meet the threshold of sparkling. This is another one that you have to pour yourself a sample, and decide where you think it falls.

How Strong They Are

Now mead can be a very strong beverage in terms of ABV. It can also be made into a sessionable drink for those who might like to enjoy a few with friends, and still have some memories of the session. In terms of mead we can again break it into three levels, hydromel, standard, and sack. This one I do have some numbers to give to you, so we’ll start with our OG:
Hydromel: 1.035 to 1.080
Standard: 1.080 to 1.120
Sack: 1.120 to 1.170
And then we can also look at the ABV of your mead:
Hydromel: 3.5 to 7.5%
Standard: 7.5 to 14.0%
Sack: 14.0 to 18.0%
So, we’ve covered some of the basics of how to categorize your mead. While many people enter competitions, and make their meads to be outstanding examples of a given style, many others just make mead for their, and their friends', enjoyment. Either of these groups can still appreciate the categories discussed above, as they give us a somewhat common language to discuss and describe the beverages that we make. So keep making mead, and let others know what you’ve made.
Not to be a downer, but this is a really incomplete article... I realize that you were perhaps just trying to illustrate an overview of the new BJCP mead guidelines, but how about mentioning even the basic names of the categories for fruit mead (melomel) and spiced mead (metheglin)? You mention cyser and pyment, but there are other named specific melomels, as well as named metheglins (rhodomel, capsumel).
Not the best front page HBT article I've seen...
As a first time Meadmaker. I think this helped me a lot. It's not over worded and very well understood. I know lot more information is out there. As the author states ... It's for the first timers like me.
Thanks Very Helpful