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No Ren Fest? No Problem! Gratifi Brings More Mead to Houston

These are just a few of the many meads on the market today.
These are just a few of the many meads on the market today.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

When I hear "mead," I think of the Renaissance Festival.

So I was surprised earlier this week to be contacted by Kevin Strickland, the owner of a newly revamped Gratifi, saying he had just gotten in some mead, which is essentially honey wine.

"Do people actually drink that?" I wondered. I mean, when they aren't dressed like bar wenches and knights in shining armor? Didn't mead go out of style, oh, I don't know, back when we discovered the world isn't flat?

After doing a little research, I learned that mead is still very much a thing. I have friends who are home brewers who dabble in mead. Spec's carries a wide variety of meads--if you consider five different brands a wide variety, which, by mead standards, I do. Flying Saucer currently has a mead for sale by the bottle, and Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant stocks tej, a traditional Ethiopian honey wine.

Ancient and modern meads both start with one thing: Honey.
Ancient and modern meads both start with one thing: Honey.
Photo courtesy Rockwall Brewers

The practice of fermenting honey and water, turning it into mead, can be traced back to around 7000 B.C., though it's debated where, precisely, mead was invented/discovered. Mead is mentioned in the Bible, the Rig Veda, the Aeneid and Beowulf, as well as Greek mythological teachings about Bacchus and Norse mythology. Microscopic remnants have been found in Chinese pottery dating back to 5000 B.C. or earlier.

It reached the height of its popularity in Europe in the Middle Ages, when, as you might have seen at the Ren Fest, kings had mead halls dedicated to drinking the stuff. It was thought to have magical healing powers and to aid in fertility. And it got you good and drunk, which was an even more popular pastime back then, pre-Facebook.

Once people started to get better at making and storing beer and wine and the laws governing the production of alcoholic beverages became more strict, the production of mead waned. Lately it's experienced somewhat of a resurgence, though, due in part to the popularity of mixology and obscure ingredients, but also because it's naturally gluten- and sulfite-free.

So when Strickland was presented with the opportunity to stock some mead at the bar at Gratifi, he figured, why not? I moseyed on over there in my best velvet capelet recently (not really) to taste some of his new stock.

His mead is produced by Redstone Meadery in Colorado, and it comes in beautiful blue bottles with rubber stoppers. He had five varieties, and we opted to taste-test three: The Traditional Mountain Honey Wine, Juniper Mountain Honey Wine and Sunshine Nectar.

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The traditional mead was the most pungent.
The traditional mead was the most pungent.

We uncorked the traditional one first, thinking it would be a good baseline. It's a flat, golden liquid, and it smells pretty much like one might expect alcoholic honey to smell--sweet with the potency of a strong beer. Upon first taste, I got a mouthful of cough syrup flavor, but the honey came through on the back end. It was definitely a better aftertaste than ... during taste.

Next we tried the Sunshine Nectar, a carbonated mead with apricots added during fermentation for a slightly more tangy flavor. For what it's worth, the Redstone Meadery website notes that this mead was a gold medal winner in the session category at the 2006 International Mead Festival. I found this one much more palatable, due in large part to the carbonation. It was almost champagne-like in that it was refreshing, but still possessing of that slight burn of alcohol on the way down.

Finally, we tried the Juniper Mountain Honey Wine. I happen to love gin, so I was optimistic about this one, but Strickland, who is not a gin fan, was less enthused. It turns out that the juniper added to this batch of mead isn't overpowering, as he'd feared. It's subtle and spicy, and actually tempers the harshness of the fermented honey quite nicely, leaving a spicy sweet finish on the tongue. I would definitely order this one again.

For now, Strickland has a limited stock of these three varieties, as well as Honey Wine with Vanilla and Cinnamon and Nectar of the Hops, a plain, carbonated mead. He's hoping to experiment a bit before restocking with some mead cocktails--something I, personally, have never seen in Houston or anywhere else.

Now that he's got a brand new restaurant space with a brand new menu, why not shake things up with some highly unusual mead cocktails? So stop by Gratifi sometime soon to check out the renovations and get your fix of this ancient booze.

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