To make better meads, one must adequately track the meadmaking process for later analysis. Similarly, one must develop an unbiased opinion of his or her mead, and likewise have a means for evaluating the merits of one mead versus another. In the past, my tasting notes are minimal on the meads I have made, and thus I don’t feel I have the best handle on how to improve my product. I also don’t have great notes on the meads I have tasted commercially and amongst friends. Hence, it is imperative that I agree on a mead review format.
The Formats that Already Exist
A quick search for mead reviews on google provides four options for developing valid mead reviews (admittedly, two are nearly identical). Let’s take a look at these.
The BJCP Guide. The Mead Judge Certification Program, part of the overarching Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) provides the definitive starting point for creating any mead review format. Most (maybe all?) amateur mead competitions are run using the BJCP style guidelines, and evaluate against five metrics: appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression. In addition, all entrants to the competition must state the strength (hydromel, standard, sack), sweetness (dry, semi-sweet, sweet), and carbonation (still, petillant, sparkling) of the mead. Honey varieties and ingredients are a plus (note, for certain categories ingredients are required).
The GotMead.com Commercial Review. In response to a few unruly forum posts bashing meads in a less than scientific manner, the folks over at Gotmead.com posted a rather straightforward format for evaluating meads. This guide leans heavily on the BJCP Guide, but allows for some artistic license in evaluating. It stresses the importance of noting “the name and location of the meadery, the name and location of where you tasted it, and as much other demographic, company and venue information you can get.” These details are especially important when considering that temperature (storage and of the mead itself), light, and oxygen exposure all have significant impacts on the final taste. While this guide was specifically posted for evaluating commercial meads, it has great parallels to home evaluations as well.
The Meadist Review. If you haven’t checked out what Paul Reiss is doing over on Meadist, you should take a look. In addition to helping push the mead industry forward through both the Honey Wine Herald and as Art Director for the American Mead Maker, he has proposed his own commercial mead evaluation rubric, with a special category for branding rather than overall impression. This adds a nice finish to evaluating a commercial mead, especially considering that the branding may be what pushes you, the consumer, to choose one bottle over its competitors merely inches away. The final rating given is then a numerical average of the five underlying scores for appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and branding.
Here at TBM, and later at MeadMakr.com (seriously, I will one day make that site active and move content over), I’d like to incorporate the branding aspect of meads as it adds another element that is significant in the overall mead drinking experience. The only pitfall is rating it equally with the other characteristics of the mead. Packaging is great when considering why one company may do better than another. But is it equal to the flavor components of the mead? I’ll have to think on it a little more.
The American Mead Maker Review. In the latest edition of the American Mead Maker, a new (and hopefully recurring) section was added titled Mead Reviews with Dak & Kyle. The two reviewers are heavily experienced in rating beverage flavor characteristics based on history at ratebeer.com, and leverage this to provide reviews for commercial meads. The reviews provide a general description of the mead in question, and suggest pairings to appreciate the mead’s better qualities. The sum up the review with a grade (presumably A+ to F) for the overall impression, but do not provide intermediate ratings.
The TBM (and later MeadMakr) Format
Here at TBM, we want to be scientific about our measurements, as well as qualitative to the finer aspects of a mead. Hence, we’re going to build on what is provided here, and add some technical aspects to our reviews.
One of the key factors in mead is the final sweetness level, however this is not often reported to the user on the bottle. It may say it is a dry, semi-sweet, or sweet mead, but the flavor impact can be greatly impacted by the acidity levels. The higher the acid level, the less sweet the mead will taste. To counteract this, I propose including actual measurements of the final gravity to understand best what the end result is (it also helps to create clone recipes!).
Similarly, I’d like to include actual alcohol content. A little known fact about the alcohol labeling requirements of the TTB is that they only require that the mead’s alcohol content is within 1.5% of the actual alcohol content on the label, yielding a full 3% range for alcohol (if it is printed as 12%, it could be anywhere between 10.5% and 13.5%).  Similarly, if the alcohol content is between 7% and 14%, it can merely be labeled as “Table Wine” or “Light Wine.”  These are drastic variations, and will greatly impact flavor when comparing two similarly labeled meads. Unfortunately, measuring alcohol content may be a pipe dream at this point, as there is not a highly reliable method available without having access to the original gravity. It will get included for now as a value to have in a formal review, but may never get populated for commercial reviews (further reading here).
To wrap it all up, any and all TBM reviews shall contain the following (and are likely to change at some point as I work through these reviews):
- A few sentences to paragraphs describing the mead in question, flavor notes, suggested pairings, and overall impression.
- Overall Impression (average of the first four values)
- Branding (not to be included in rating, but included for evaluation nonetheless)
Characteristics of Interest
- Alcohol content (measurement method TBD)
- Residual sweetness (as measured by an hydrometer or refractometer)
I hope to have the first official review in the coming weeks, so check back soon for more!