View Full Version : Really old mead tasting . . .

Dan McFeeley
11-18-2008, 04:38 PM
Happened to come across this article by Charlie Papazian, a tasting of meads over 60 years old.

Here's the link:


and the text from the article:

Here are some excerpted notes from one two bottles of Gulval Mead we opened and tasted.

Mead #1: No label or markings except for a cryptic whitewashed “C” inscribed over the number “47.” We assume that this is a bottle of some kind of mead made in 1947. That makes it 61 years old at time of our tasting. We carefully handle the bottle. There is lots of sediment on the side of the resting bottle. The cork has seeped some of the contents and threatens us with crumbling. With awe and respect Grosvenor masterfully removes all traces of the crumbling cork from the bottle.

There is an aroma of apple/cider with hint of cinnamon. We now think the whitewashed “C” stands for Cyser. Cyser is a popular form of mead made from apple juice and honey. Not having been labeled this is obviously early experimental mead which Lt. Col. Robert Gayre had used to help develop his recipe formulations for the meadery he was to open two years later.

As this mead stands and airs it seems to improve quite dramatically. Vanilla-like aromas/flavors develop with time in our glasses. 30 minutes later during dinner I suddenly realize that there is a faint but very distinctive aroma of brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is wild yeast which contributes a very unique character to fermented beverages. It is a signature character of Belgian-style wild yeast fermented Lambic beer and also common in Italian Chianti wine.

The brett character in the 61 year old cyser mead is a wonderfully welcome revelation which we all notice. It confirms our guess that this is indeed a cyser. Brettanomyces occurs naturally on skin of apples and is not unusual in fermented apple ciders. After 61 years the Brett. emerges faintly and is evident with a trained palate and after initial airing of this mead/cyser.

Mead #7: On our third evening of tasting meads we’re joined by our English friends Ray and Kay Marriott. We open a bottle of 1949 Gulval Bochet. It is fully labeled with a yellow ribbon affixed to the side of the musty bottle. Curiously there is absolutely no sediment thrown by this 59 year old mead. At the time we didn’t know what the term “Bochet” refers to. We must conclude that due to the lack of any sediment this mead has no added fruit or herbs, both of which would have varying amounts of tannins which would have precipitated out. This mead is 100% honey mead, but we’re perplexed because it has a dark and tawny color to it.

We chip away at the hardened wax seal, carefully extracting the wet cork in its entirety. We are amazed that the cork has held up so well. We pour our glasses and continue our amazement. It is a deep copper color. How can pure honey mead have such a deep color? Bochet? The explanation was later to be revealed in the name.

The aroma was magnificent and upon our first sip Grosvenor immediately realized our find, “This exceeds all the other meads in quality. Wow.” And he and I chuckled with glee.

Right: Label from bottle of fruit melomel. Likely cherry.

It has a perfume vanilla-like and sweet aroma. Ray, who has an extensive food chemistry background, explains that the vanilla-like character could be coumarin, a floral vanilla-like flavor compound that can develop during fermentation. He’s quite certain of the character. We continue to taste without knowing what “Bochet” refers to.

I detect an undercurrent of yarrow (flower) and a well integrated toffee and textured sherrified (as in Sherry wine) character. I refine my visual observation - the bochet has a dark red ruby-like color and his absolutely brilliant. There is a bit of ketone (acetone-like alcohol) that is evident but its presence is very light and volatilizes and dissipates rapidly. The alcohol strength is not exceedingly high for mead. I am guessing it in the neighborhood of 12%. Its body is medium dry with supple sweetness. This mead is an ultimate experience in pleasure.

We later discover that bochet refers to “burnt mead.” There is little other information. I only assume that at the time of formulation the honey had have been scorched by heat resulting in the caramelization of sugar. This would explain the complex toffee-like character, the deep color and lack of tannic sediment.

The entire three-day experience of investigative tasting of the mysterious and the unknown left me with a much higher regard for mead and especially the potential for aging my own meads, which will continue to "cellar" for years to come.

11-19-2008, 12:44 PM
I find it interesting and somewhat exciting that meads can last this long and still be good. I have a few of my original bottles now approaching 4 or 5 years old and was starting to worry that they might be no longer fit for consumption because of age.

11-19-2008, 03:21 PM
This was a good article. It was also in the last issue of Zymurgy and I read it there. I hope some one is trying my meads in 60 years.....

Medsen Fey
11-19-2008, 05:00 PM
I hope some one is trying my meads in 60 years.....

It'll take that long for the fusel alcohols to die down in some of mine.... :rolleyes:
But I'm aiming to be there when they do.

In the MLD archives on the main site, there are some posts about the Chouchen makers in Brittany that are interesting. They typically use Chablis yeast, and age the meads like 1st growth white Bordeaux wines. Apparently with the honey(s) they use, they can age for decades.

11-19-2008, 07:35 PM
Andy Stawski of Stawski Distributing brought some 40 and 20 year old meads that his father made in Poland. Wayne, Vicky, myself and a couple of other folks got in on some of that action. WOW is all I can say!!

11-20-2008, 12:06 PM
Let me add a word to Pete's comments about the Stawski old meads...


I have never tasted any mead as smooth, or as complex, as those. They had been aged for decades in European oak barrels -- apparently Andy's father forgot about a couple of barrels way in the back of his mead cellar. I'm glad that they were rediscovered again! ;D