By Rebecca Canfield
From ancient times, familial celebrations have involved mead. In fact, the word honeymoon derives from the old English tradition of providing newlyweds with enough mead to last an entire cycle of the moon, or a full month.
Because mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey, the tradition was aptly called “the honeymoon.” It was also believed in ancient times that if the mead was proper, the process would produce a son.
Mead is one of the oldest and most consistent types of fermentation in the world, as most countries have bees, and thus, honey. Their climates are not all conducive to growing either grapes or barley to make beers or wines. As such, the tradition of mead making is a world-wide phenomenon.
A surprising thing about mead, however, is that meads are not all thick and sweet, as one might imagine. According to Liberty Hill mead home brewer Howard Eland, meads can be crisp, dry, sweet or bold, and have as many variations as beers and wines do. However, Eland’s wife, Suzy, says that once a person has had a great mead, there is nothing else quite like it.
Mead is still a popular beverage today, though some of its associated folklore has passed by the wayside. The process of mead brewing, or mazing, has also become more popular as home brewing has become more common, especially in Texas.
Additionally, today’s mazing, at least on the competitive level, can be much more sophisticated than merely mixing honey and water, the way that some ancient mead brewers did. It involves a process that brewers say is part science and part creativity.
According to Eland, the best way to learn mazing, is to either join a home brewing club like Texas Carboys, Eland’s home brewing club, or to make friends with someone who home brews, and watch the process unfold.
“Meads are not particularly easy to make, and I think that is what made [Eland’s] brews so impressive,” said Amanda Butterfield, Austin Home Brew Festival’s event producer. “They are harder to make and [his meads] were so good. They were clean. They were crisp. They were not too sweet, and they were just really well done.”
Eland, who has been a home brewer since 1997, recently began entering competitions, and was surprised to find out that two of his meads took second place in the Texas Mead Cup in September. The two second-place entries included a braggot (a mead made with both honey and barley malt) called the “Round Rockin’ Raspberry Truffle” and “Cinder’s Summer Cyser” (a mead made from apple juice or apple cider). The meads, which were all made with Round Rock Honey, were both inspired by Mrs. Eland, who learned about mead while working as a wench at the Texas Renaissance Festival in the 1980’s. She said a turkey leg and a glass of mead was the best way to end a long day at the festival. However, when she quit working for the festival, the thing she missed most was the mead.
Because of this, in the mid 1990’s Howard Eland began researching mazing, in an effort to try and recreate his wife’s favorite beverage. At that time, home brewing wasn’t quite as popular as it is today and mead could be quite difficult to find. However, once Eland made his first batch in 1997, he was hooked on the process, as it relied on combining Eland’s love of science and his love of art to make the perfect mead.
Unlike other hobbies, Eland says the joy he gets from mazing is twofold. There is the joy found in the process of creating the perfect mead from start to finish, and then a second level, as he and his friends get together and enjoy the fruits of his labor. Friends and neighbors love to be invited over to Eland’s pool-side barbecues, which always include mead, and a popular gift for friends’ weddings, always includes bottles of Eland’s home brewed mead.
Currently, Eland has been working on brewing some of his favorite creations for the 2016 Austin Home Brewer’s Festival on Nov. 4 where he will be a featured brewer. Eland was elated to find out that he was one of 20 local brewers selected for the honor.
“Some people wanted to buy it from us, and we can’t sell it, so they are learning how to do it because they loved it so much that they wanted a case of it,” stated Suzy Eland.
Getting a license to sell mead, Eland explained, can be a complicated process, so for the meantime the Elands are just making mead for personal consumption. However, thoughts of possibly selling mead someday have been tossed around, though for now, there are no actual plans.
Although mazing competitively can be a bit expensive, Eland says a person can get into home brewing for around $120. Eland also says a home brewing kit is a good, inexpensive way to try home brewing without purchasing expensive equipment. This way, people can find out whether they really like it before they spend money on some of the more expensive machines.
This year, Eland will be bringing four meads to the Austin Home Brewers Festival, including his two winning meads, the Round Rockin’ Raspberry Truffle and Cinder’s Summer Cyser, but will also be adding a Buckwheat Belgian Braggot and a Round Rockin’ Raspberry Melomel.
Although what started as a hobby for Eland has transitioned into more of a lifestyle, his wife says she doesn’t mind a bit. She enjoys drinking the fruits of his labor, and says that it isn’t hard work encouraging her husband to keep on going.