The Wide Angle: Mead that tastes like it smells
“So Eric, how is the homebrewing going?”
Well Steve King, let me tell you how it’s going — not that you asked, but I couldn’t think of anybody else, so here’s to an awkard start to a column.
As some of you may or may not have known, I have taken a dive into my ancestral Norwegian roots, when people named Eric had sweet nicknames like “Bloodaxe,” and took to brewing honey mead last summer.
It’s true. There was a Norwegian ruler named Eric Haraldsson who ruled the country around the mid 950s who had the name Eric Bloodaxe, which instantly makes him cooler than I am.
Of course introducing myself at a media event might be considered overdoing it a touch.
It is also true I started brewing honey mead last summer to make up for the fact I couldn’t do anything else at the time. Sarcastically: Thanks COVID. It’s been a delightful endeavor and so far I’ve only hosed down the kitchen twice due to pressurized bottles of honey goodness.
In over a year’s time I’ve made some truly good mead. Chokecherry, cranberry, juniper berry — KIWI! — all have contributed to tasty evenings of relaxing by a fire or on a couch.
Some have been better than others, but none of them truly terrible — until now.
As I’ve grown more comfortable with my craft, I’ve begun to experiment with different flavors of honey and for a long time I’ve been eyeing what buckwheat honey might taste like in a wonderfully crafted batch of mead.
Buckwheat honey is particularly nutritious as honey goes and is created from the flower of buckwheat. It’s dark in appearance and rich in taste. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about buckwheat honey at the time. This is going to be important in the near future so keep this in mind.
All I knew at the time is that this was a different kind of honey and I wanted to try it to see how the flavor was on the palette and how it differed on the tongue from my other brews. I’ve started to become a nerd on this as of late, saying things like “it’s got a rich tang on the front end” and “palette.”
Granted, I still don’t know what I’m talking about half the time, but I can recognize that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I’m talking about it.
You’re going to regret asking how things are going Steve.
So buckwheat honey required me to do a little research on the flavor profile. I put a lot of trust in bees, but when I’m using something for the first time it’s pretty wise to check up on it.
I visited the website Worker Bee and read an article on buckwheat honey and came to read this by Brian Dykstra: “I do have to warn you, unless you grew up on a farm, the smell of buckwheat honey might be off-putting. It typically resembles barnyard warmth.”
This set me back a little. I didn’t grow up on a farm but we had horses on the edge of town and I remember visiting my grandparents acreage just outside of Spencer, Iowa, so needless to say, this raised a flag I clearly chose to ignore because “warm barnyard” carries with it a certain connotation … if you will.
The article explained the honey as containing notes of caramel and chocolate among other flavors. Dykestra wasn’t wrong. I really enjoyed the taste and so I stuck my nose in the honey and took a big pull — instantly I was transported back to my grandparents acreage. Every scent I pulled from the honey reminded me of horses, used straw and mornings at the race track.
Another flag went up when talking of used straw, but I chose to ignore it thinking, “the smell can’t possibly transfer to taste.”
I sometimes wonder how I got this far in life.
After fermentation took hold I tasted the brew to see where we were. I’ll tell you what, “barnyard warmth” has a taste and as you might have guessed, not a good one.
Determined not to chance wasting something that may age well, I gave it two weeks of rack time with three sticks of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and plenty of acid in the form of orange and lime juice.
After two weeks it was time to rack again and so it required another taste and it was … better? This time I got drastic and mixed together a hefty batch of filler that was just about all honey and enough water to dissolve it.
I’ve got another week to see where we are and I really don’t want to throw it out, but once you’ve tasted warm barnyard … I think the taste is still with me.