Exploring the category of mead with Malling Mjød
For centuries, people around the world have been making “mead” by adding water to honey, and let yeast change the sugar content to alcohol.
In the Nordics mead was a widespread drink for the vikings which is made obvious by its prominent place in Norse mythology. Despite being a stable drink through centuries, in recent times mead seems to have been lost to history.
Today most people associate mead with a sweet substance poured in a wooden cup by a guy at a Renaissance Faire with a funny hat. However, many small producers in the states as well as in Scandinavia are challenging this perception by re-discovering the qualities of mead or reinventing it altogether in an attempt to bring it into the 21st century.
According to Norse mythology mead flows in abundance from the udder of the goat Heidrun living on the roof above the great halls of Valhalla (hall of the slain). Thanks to Heidrun, each night the “Einherjar” can quench their thirst for their evening meal in Odin’s halls after a long day of battle training on the Ida Field. Einherjar are viking warriors fallen bravely in battle and brought to Valhalla by the Valkyries to train for the great battle against the giants in the events leading to Ragnarok – the apocalypse of gods and men. Another famed mention of mead in North mythology is the tale of how Odin steals the “Poet’s Mead” from the giant Sutting (this particular myth inspired our mead cocktail Skjaldemjøden)
One of the local Danish mead producers who have set out on the quest is reinvent mead for our time is Malling Mjød. We have talked to the two founding partners Torben Mølgaard-Andersen and Michael skjødt Jørgensen to get a feel for what mead is all about and where the trend is heading these days:
When did you embark on this mead production adventure and what’s driving the project?
We started to practice in 2011 – we started in a utility room and made our first and biggest mistake ever … we only made 25 liters! We subsequently agreed never to make that mistake again. So we quickly expanded to barrel volume. But barrels require more space so we quickly grew out of the pantry and was subsequently kicked out of our private homes as production expanded so we found some “real” facilities in Malling and that’s where the mead is produced today.
The reason why we embarked on the mead jouney was that we for many years had been associated with the Viking community at Moesgaard, but we were not fond of the often sweet wines (mead) presented there. So we decided to rock the boat a bit brew something totally unheard of – dry mead.
This is also why our mead is not aimed at the Viking community, but instead target wine, cocktail and food enthusiasts. In this segment it is “allowed” to challenge the norm and explore the new. We make for mead for food – mead that can be used where one would otherwise often serve a white wine. We also make more sweet versions which are probably easier to use in cocktails.
In Denmark many associate mead with beer – but what is mead actually?
Mead is wine – not beer… In fact Mead is the mother of all wines. Mead is between 4-5000 years old and does not originate in Scandinavia, but in Africa and Asia, where “the magic potion” have been found during excavations and the like. Mead is a simple wine and is made from three ingredients – honey, yeast and water – while beer is made with other ingredients and methods.
The traditional mead is brewed sweet – very sweet – with a myriad of different berries and herbs. More modern versions are brewed with chili, coffee or chocolate. At Malling Mjød we explore American mead types – dry wines – which can be used for many different purposes. We prefer this type partly because it’s a better fit for us Danes, but also because dry mead is much more challenging to make for the brew master. The delicate floral nuances have to be coaxed forward and the acid must be balanced etc.
How is mead made in other parts of the world?
Eastern Europe is huge in terms of mead production – the sweet drops have been brewed and drunk here for several hundreds of years. Here they are specialized in making very sweet wines with high alcohol content. In the US they have been heading in another direction for the past 20 years focusing on contemporary and dry wines. In Scandinavia traditionally we are 3-4 years after the Americans and we expect that the interest in mead will grow in the coming years. We can feel that interest is growing already. To be fair mead has always been made in Denmark but mostly by beekeepers and history buffs – but it seems that new winds are blowing and different kinds people are picking up on the interest.
What is unique about Malling Mjød?
Malling Mjød is the first Danish brewery to produce dry mead commercially – we only use Danish produced quality honey, sourced from local beekeepers. We focus on locally foraged fruits, berries and herbs and we don’t add sulphites or chemistry in our wines. Moreover, we store and mature the mead for a long time as maturation provides deeper flavor nuances and a more clear and wine like product.
How how do you recommend people to enjoy your mead?
Malling Mjød is best enjoyed in a chilled white wine glass. Drink it in large sips and swirl it around in the mouth. In this way you sense all the delicate flavors – acidity followed by sweet honey notes both of which are strongly felt in the nose. You can even develop your own version of Malling Mjød’s wines by adding herbs from the garden and let it soak for a few hours – this yields an amazing result. You don’t need to drink a whole bottle. Screw the lid on and store the bottle in a dark place for five years. You will now find that it is completely different wine. It becomes rounder, fatter and more easy to drink – with age it becomes more sherry like. In fact it’s best after 20 years, but we can’t wait for that!
For more information about Malling Mjød visit www.mallingmjod.dk – here you also find inspiration for how to use mead in cocktails and what the wine is good to serve with.
To explore the possibilities that mead offers in relation to cocktails we have interviewed Jesper Skov, who have been collaborating with Malling Mjød to put mead to use in the contemporary bar. Read the interview about mead cocktails here to find inspiration for mixing and some conrete recipes among others a mead martini!