Add Mead to That

Discover an exceptionally good cocktail component

Cocktails of Copenhagen is dedicated to bringing you straight talk from the Danish spirits and drinks scene. This is an unsponsored article written and contributed by Michael Jørgensen of Malling Mjød.

Everyone knows mead as the liquid of choice for Kings and Vikings chiefs. However, in spite of wide misconception categorising mead as the predecessor to beer, “mjød” (as it is called in Denmark) is, in fact, a type of honey wine. Besides the presence of ethanol, it doesn’t actually come close to being categorised as beer.

Mead is fermented honey must. Yet, though the ingredients imply it, mead doesn’t have to be sweet. The meads of today, and indeed the ones we prefer in Malling, are crisp and dry, leading the mind onto Oloroso sherry rather than a cold pint.

What’s more, mead is wonderfully simple to make. Mix honey with water and leave the must out on the kitchen table for a couple of days. Natural fermentation converts the honey sugars into alcohol which, depending on the bees and where they have collected the nectar, will pertain flavours of a Summer meadow, the forest or flavours found along the beach.

Unfortunately, we cannot claim that mead is the invention of the Vikings. Although historical records proof mead to have been the favourite beverage in Scandinavia at the time, mead is known in virtually all parts of the world, albeit under different names, and can be dated 3-4,000 years back in time.

As honey was known to be an exclusive, rare and expensive commodity, mead was most often only drunk by kings and nobles. In Denmark today, the honey wine – if not forgotten – is often frowned upon. This is most likely due to the insane sweetness of traditional mead which doesn’t quite fit the “modern” palate. The fiery sweetness of mead means it has limited usability on its own. But as an alternative to honey syrup, it functions marvellously well in cocktails.

Lately, cocktail bars in Denmark have opened their eyes to the modern honey wine. Honey on its own is a fantastic companion for an almost endless combination of ingredients and is super susceptible to flavours from other components used in cocktails. Similarly, mead should be viewed as an amplifier of taste. Its flavour enriches and reinforces the other ingredients in a drink. And that is precisely why the spirit – sweet as well as dry – is great for cocktails. 

Mead provides three layers in a cocktail; base, aroma and (in spite of the dryness) sweetness. But more so, because mead is so simple to make, you – as a Mead-createur – have the option to play with all the flavours of your garden. Add whichever herbs, fruits or spices you like to create a new base of expression in classic cocktails.

La Cassandre

By Malling Mjød

1 part Gin
2 parts Dubonnet
3 parts Sloe Mead 2018 from Malling Mjød
Shaken with ice, strained and served with a lemon peel

Modern mead cannot be compared to the sweet classic, as modern mead is lighter and more vinous. The honey wine is flexible and provides many opportunities, as you can use it both as the main component or combine it with other ingredients in a more complex style of cocktail.

In recent years, the culture around mead has proven more progressive and forward-thinking, reviving old traditions and pushing the spirit in new directions. Since we at Malling Mjød didn’t much like drinking the traditional sweet wine, we decided to create something more contemporary. The vision was to create something new and fresh, exclusively Danish and mainly using local ingredients. We thought to ourselves: What would the Vikings drink if they were here today?

The dry mead, which is our darling at Malling Mjød, has an amazing ability to add balance to overly sweet cocktails, providing a more complex sweet and sour mouthfeel to it. This is mainly because of a high acidity usually found in dry meads.

What champagne is to wine, similarly, mead can be carbonated to create en exclusive honey-bubble wine with an unbelievably creamy palate and hint of honey sweetness. Method Traditional is mead made with a method of fermentation exactly like the one you would use to make Champagne. As such, it comes as no surprise that the latest new trend from the mead front is the PetNat (Petillant Naturel) a natural ‘sparkling honey wine’. Before full fermentation can occur, the PetNat is poured into bottles, allowing for a build of pressure and a high volume of bubbles to develop.

The PetNat is a delight on its own, but when used as a topping for cocktails in the same style as champagne or prosecco (Sprits, French 75 or whatever your imagination can manifest) it becomes an unmissable element in cocktail creativity. At Malling Mjød we have also succumbed to the creative freedom this type of natural bubbles and have launched Brus Lee, a mead-based sparkling wine currently only available in our small wine house in Malling. We also currently have a batch on rest for 1 out of the recommended 3-year storage period, soon looking forward to the final result.

Whether you decide to make your own mead or have a go at sampling the ones at Malling, one thing’s for certain: the better mead you use, the better your cocktail will be.

Malling Mjød have recently started the Facebook group Mjød Cocktails in the hope of gathering mead fans, bartenders and mixologists and give them a place to go – to inspire, share recipes and get curious on mead

Author image
Miriam Gradel
Much like the case of the chicken and the egg, I've never really been sure whether I started as a journalist or as a bartender. However, one thing's for sure: both require whiskey!