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View Full Version : The Evolution of Taste...or the Evolution of Mead?



ckbryant
06-25-2010, 11:08 PM
I'm sipping a traditional clover mead at the moment...nothing special at all, 3 pounds clover honey to the gallon of mead, Red Star Premier Cuvee yeast. The batch was started November 15, 2008. But I can't quite figure this thing out.

I opened the first bottle two months ago, in April, and it was nothing like love at first sight. My notes say "a hard one to love"..."overly grassy, vegetal, even a kind of muddy quality." I finished the bottle, but never cared for it. In fact, I was prepared to write off all-clover meads altogether.

And yet here we are, two months later, and I am in love with this mead. I roused out a second bottle, thinking I might blend it with an overly tart orange blossom mead, from the days when I was experimenting with various acid levels to find the "right" one (incidentally, I'm increasingly convinced that the right level of acid addition is zero), and I thought: why not have a glass straight, see if my impression has changed.

Dry but rich--the aroma by itself is nothing much, but roll it on the tongue and inhale, and...ahhhhh...ancient memories of meadows in springtime. Muddy? No--a kind of mellow almost-buttery quality, underneath the rolling green hills that fill the nasal cavity.

And I keep turning it over in my mind: what happened? Did the mead change? Or did I? Did two months--or bottle-to-bottle variation--work this alchemy, or did it simply take a few glasses worth to train my palate to appreciate the sensation of an all-clover traditional mead?

I'm thinking in particular about an experience I had last year, when I proclaimed the hot months of 2009 "The Summer of Cocktails," and set our household on a systematic exploration of probably a hundred different mixed drinks. I picked up a bottle of the bright red Italian spirit Campari, an intensely bitter and herbal concoction, mixed it with soda, and detested it. Mixed an Americano--Campari, sweet vermouth, and more soda. Revolting. But so many sages of cocktail culture spoke so admiringly of the drink! Italian mixed drink culture, such as it is, rests on Campari! Negroni: Campari, gin and more sweet vermouth. Ugh. Campari and orange juice...lots of orange juice...and it was at least quaffable. Even if only just.

But the next day, damn me if I didn't find myself thinking of nothing but Campari...longing, almost, for another go at it. I made a second Americano that evening: beautiful! Today, I keep Campari stocked in the bar, and enjoy a Negroni or Campari Soda for an aperitif.

Now, did the Campari change in that time? Of course not. I changed--I acquired an acquired taste. Taste is such a damn funny business. There are times I wonder why I write tasting notes in the mead journal. When I look at a tasting from a year ago, that's some other guy talking: I'm never going to be that person again.

fatbloke
06-26-2010, 03:59 AM
Well with the mead, it could have just been that the extra time was all it needed.

As for Campari, it's not a spirit, more of a "fortified" wine (like vermouth etc), but it's meant to be bitter. Like an aperitif etc.

Sure it's an aquired taste, but like with anything as you get older, you tend to move away from the sweeter end of flavours and more toward drier, salt/bitter etc.

With the meads, if you read up on some of the more traditional makers methods, then you'll see that they often age them for what we might consider excessive lengths of time.

For instance, the late, great Brother Adam, of Buckfast Abbey and bee keeping/breeding fame. As far as I can find, he only used his "comb washings" to make his meads, but once made they were aged in Oak for 7 or 8 years....

Me? luckily for my changing tastes, being here in the UK (especially down on the south coast) gives me access to some of the most excellent, yet foul smelling French cheese (like epoisses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89poisses_de_Bourgogne). Stinks to high heaven, but cut the crust and it's amazing.......)

Plus some of the wines, wow! I used to really hate red's, but about 20 or so years ago, I just wanted to drink some one day. Why? I don't know, but I haven't looked back since then.......

regards

fatbloke

AToE
06-26-2010, 05:47 AM
Your experiences seem like mine, I'll have something that is either bland, just OK, or outright bad... then a little time passes (even as short as a couple weeks) and BAM, it has transformed.

Medsen Fey
06-26-2010, 08:51 AM
I think you are right about palates changing, and acquired tastes. They have done scientific testing on the sense of taste, and it is a highly variable sense that is subject to all sorts of extraneous influence. One study showed how color affects taste and they documented that looking at the color red enhances the perception of berry flavors. The serving temperature is well documented to have an impact on perception of sweetness and tannins. What you ate for lunch will impact your taste buds all afternoon. The setting, companionship, music, food and other factors in your environment will all have an impact on your perceptions of a drink. Take a glass of mead and take a sip after a piece of cheese, then take a sip after a slice of tart apple and see how the mead changes (or rather how your palate changes).

It takes training and practice to isolate and ignore those outside factors, but trained tasters can be remarkably good at doing so. They can concentrate their perception to pick out the character that is present in wines consistently. My palate is not even close to that level, but I keep practicing.

None of this is to suggest that meads don't change. We all know they change dramatically, and during the first year or two, those dramatic changes can occur over a very short time interval - one or two months in some cases. So if you taste a 5 month old mead, and then taste it at 7 months, it may very well have transformed from ugly duckling to swan. To me, that is the most magical aspect of making mead (well... maybe the 2nd most magical aspect. The first being the effect mead has on the ladies ;D ).

Tannin Boy
06-26-2010, 09:46 AM
Great Post....

I too have developed an acquired taste for cider I made this past fall.
Used a Chestnut Barrel for aging and it started out a bit harsh and rough
if you will. As many mention here on the board, a bit of back sweetening
( Raw Cane Sugar is Best ) IMHO and now look forward to the before dinner
glass or two.... The same thing has happened with a melomel of cranberry I
also made about Christmas time and it was just fine at the 2 month point, but at
the 6 month time period I find a bit of additional honey makes all the difference in
the smoothness and mouth feel?

Good Brewing...

fatbloke
06-26-2010, 02:20 PM
Great Post....

I too have developed an acquired taste for cider I made this past fall.
Used a Chestnut Barrel for aging and it started out a bit harsh and rough
if you will. As many mention here on the board, a bit of back sweetening
( Raw Cane Sugar is Best ) IMHO and now look forward to the before dinner
glass or two.... The same thing has happened with a melomel of cranberry I
also made about Christmas time and it was just fine at the 2 month point, but at
the 6 month time period I find a bit of additional honey makes all the difference in
the smoothness and mouth feel?

Good Brewing...
Are my eyes deceiving me? is that a "colonial chappie" who actually seems to understand that Cider, is cider i.e. fermented apple juice and not "cloudy" apple juice ???

Perhaps he's just an educated chappie who understands the difference between English and "American" English?

Either way, a most excellent deduction there my friend :glasses2::headbang::alien:

Not so sure about a chestnut barrel though, I'd have thought oak would be better, but WTH! whatever you find suits your taste the best eh!

Well done with your efforts though, don't forget to spread any hints and tips you pick up or develop.

regards

fatbloke