Rush Lane & Co., photo by Tracy Cox
Ambrosia. Nectar. The Drink of the Gods. The ancient Greeks believed mead was mystical dew descended from the heavens. It’s the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man and became especially popular in Europe during the Middle Ages, referenced by medieval writers like Chaucer and in classic works like Beowulf.
Today, mead is back on the hot list. Bartenders across North America are finding new and creative ways to mix the honey-based brew into delicious cocktails that will warm you up from the inside out.
“Mead is soft and sweet and carries notes of honey and spice,” says Jonathan Whitwell of V Bar in San Jose, Calif. He likes using mead instead of simple syrup to sweeten and balance whisky or barrel-aged gin. “Even served cold, it always has a warm characteristic.
Here are five spots to try a mead-based concoction.
V Bar at Hotel Valencia Santana Row, San Jose, Calif.
Bartender Jonathan Whitwell combines mead with another spirit you don’t often see in cocktails—Scotch—to create the Valentino Miel, a riff on the classic Blood and Sand drink, named after a 1922 silent film. Whitwell’s version uses Chaucer’s Mead, a Californian brew, and is named for actor Rudolph Valentino, who played the matador in Blood and Sand.
The James Joyce Pub, Fredericton, N.B.
The Crowne Plaza Fredericton Lord Beaverbrook Hotel makes its own mead using honey harvested from its rooftop beehives. The hotel’s pub carries the largest selection of local craft beer in the province, but it serves a couple of mead cocktails, too, including a mead, melon and pineapple martini and The Killer Bee, an absinthe and mead concoction.
Rush Lane & Co., Toronto, Ont.
Bar Manager Zak Doy showcases mead’s versatility by using it in a bright vodka, lemonade and ginger beer cocktail served over ice, and in a floral gin drink incorporating rosewater syrup, lavender bitters and a rose petal and lavender bud garnish. “I’ve always preferred the taste of honey to sugar, and [I appreciate] its openness to being coupled with other flavours,” Doy says.
Eveleigh, Los Angeles, Calif.
When one of Eveleigh’s suppliers had leftover raw wildflower honey, chef Jared Levy tried making his own mead, using the bitterness of hops to help balance the sweetness of the honey. The delicious result is combined with gin, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, crushed ice and wild blueberry wine from Maine in the refreshing two-toned Take A Hike cocktail, garnished with a blueberry skewer.
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