Choosing Honey for Making Mead
August 10, 2010
Honey is made by bees collecting flower nectar from flowers, mixing it with a few enzymes, and then sealing it in wax. This process actually makes honey very stable, as it will not ferment or mold unless water is added. Honey will sometimes crystallize, but it is still very usable.
If a hive is placed in an area where there is predominately one type of plant flowering at that time with a few weed exceptions, beekeepers are allowed to call the honey a single variety honey by the name of the plant. Therefore, if a hive is placed in an apple orchard, and the beekeeper believes the honey to be made out of at least 80% apple flower nectar, then the honey can be called apple honey. However, if that guarantee cannot be met, they honey will usually be labeled as wildflower honey, or not labeled at all.
At last weekend’s mead class, they had about 30 different jars honey, in which we got to taste by dipping toothpicks into the jars. I have to say, pumpkin honey was probably my favorite, as it had a little bit of spice to it. I didn’t care for chestnut, as it seemed a bit bitter to me.
So what honeys make the best mead? The first rule is to taste the honey. If it doesn’t taste good, it won’t make a good mead. After that, fruit honeys are pretty good with the exception of melons, which can give off sulfur. We were told to stay away from maple honey, and pine honey apparently creates off flavors such as menthol. We were also told that buckwheat in general does not make a good mead. I tasted the dark colored buckwheat honey, and it was very malty, but they had a second Eastern Oregon honey that was much lighter in color and tasted very different that they said made a good mead. So this proves that there are exceptions to the rule and reinforces that the honey should be tasted first. However, they did suggest that the darker buckwheat honey could be good if blended with other honey to tone it down while perking another honey up.
In the case of the two buckwheat honeys tasting different, according to Honey.com, “the darker the honey, the more apt it is to taste stronger and more robust. The lighter colored honeys are usually more delicate and sweeter in flavor.”
They told us that orange blossom honey and fireweed honey make some very good mead, and recommend it for beginners. I have seen a lot of orange blossom honey from the homebrew stores, but never fire weed. Also, I usually see clover honey in the grocery stores, which makes a decent mead.
After my class, I went down to my local Saturday farmer’s market to see what I could turn up there. Again, I found orange blossom honey which is imported to this region, and clover honey. I also turned up blackberry honey, which I realized to be a lighter milder honey than the other varieties. Still, it tasted good and would probably make a decent mead while supporting my local region.