Its festival time – and therefore – Mead time
Last week has been a quite an interesting and hectic one at work, so I figured going to such a festival will be a great ending to it. I brought my ethical and moral bodyguard with me – my wife – to keep me from delving too far into the subject matter of the festival: drinking beer and whiskey (and mead). Little did I know that these roles were to be reversed in only a few hours
Immediately; as we enter the festival, the scent of grains hits us like a wall. No doubt this is the place to be this weekend if you are a beer aficionado. However, with posters of whiskey brands and suppliers covering the walls, there is no doubt that whiskey has a rightful place here as well.
The whole point of the visit today is naturally to go test out new whiskey and beer, but incidentally, I came across the Norwegian mead making company Mjøderiet. Now, as a Mead Fanatic, I could not let this opportunity to taste their mead slip away from me. I also wanted to have a few words with the founders of the company, as I have long wanted to sit down with them and talk about their new venture.
Meeting with Mjøderiet
So I sat down with Stian Krog, The CEO of Mjøderiet, who was clearly quite busy but still took the time to be interviewed. I asked Stian to tell us a little about the adventure Mjøderiet has been on since its launching in 2016.
– Well, since our launch in December 2016, Mjøderiet has had quite a steep learning curve. We have evolved significantly in terms of production techniques from where we were in the beginning. Naturally, we have had to invest in the venture as we went along, both in terms of production equipment as well as the marketing events across the country. Through really focusing on a high presence at festivals across the country, events and a lot of good coverage from the press, both local and national, we have gotten off to a great start. All this has helped to increase the knowledge of mead in the minds of our modern Norwegian customer base. We have gone from “mead ? .. to MEAD!” when meeting new customers.
Our products have had great reception with the vast majority and gotten great feedback from both hardcore beer fans as well as beginners. It’s been a real pleasure seeing the looks on consumers’ faces as they taste mead for the first time. We have also been quite successful in distancing ourselves from the mainstream alcohol suppliers, and in that get acceptance that mead is a luxury product and that we are not actually trying to rip off our customers. It would have been such an easy stamp to get if the only information the consumer had was a bottle with a high price tag. We have raw material costs that are often 5-10 times that of a beer brewer from similar alcohol levels per unit, and we use only real ingredients such as honey (obviously) berries, fruits, spices, etc. Naturally, this accelerates costs but we do get prime products we can be proud of. Luckily, people talk about us, media talk about us and our consumers are happy to be “brand ambassadors”.
We now start to see the fruits of our labor, and we see that mead is a product worth making a business of. With this, I am happy to tell you that we are already expanding our production facilities this spring. In March/April, we are moving into new facilities, where a new production and bottling line is ready, with more fermentation capacity and a whole lot of good old-fashioned can-do-attitude!
Moving up and out – and in
This is fantastic, so: when you move into your new facilities, I assume there will be new flavors, new products and – well…new everything then?
– Yes – with new facilities comes new opportunities. We are aiming for a nice expansion in both volume, assortment, and frequency of how and when we release new meads. So expect both the good old meads and a host of new, exciting meads from us throughout the coming year… Well.. years honestly…
I remember back a year when you started, I contacted you and asked a bit about your products… You mentioned what you called “shop-mead”. I’m assuming that’s the session meads more tailored to fit Norwegian laws for alcohol sold in grocery stores. How about more aged, higher levels alcohol meads?
– The mead for sale in Norwegian stores (less than 4,7 % alcohol) has actually not been such a big thing for us yet, but in the future, we will produce more of it, indeed. Quite a lot has been mead with ABV ranging from 6-9 %, carbonated and served on tap, and often non-carbonated (stronger versions) when sold in bottles. We will naturally continue with these, but to a larger degree have mead available in bottles, given our new facilities. We will also launch new varieties of stronger meads. These will be sold in smaller bottles, due to ABV, flavor intensity, but also price levels. We are also aiming at establishing a barrel programme, which will allow us to age our strong meads in barrels previously containing spirits, wines, and beers.
Let’s talk more about your meads – the ones you brought to the festivals. Tell us something about the history behind them, and what made you decide to focus on these flavors.
By now Stian gets a mysterious smile on his face as he pulls up a few bottles from the small bag he has brought with him from the bar. He warns me that there might be more to these meads than I think … (Edit: I should have listened better).
The Apricot Seduction
– The first one I’d like you to taste is our more sweet type, Apricot Seduction. The basic idea was to make a strong, sweet dessert style mead with apricot and cinnamon – a combo well known from the restaurant world of desserts. I think – honestly – we found a good recipe.
Stian then pops a bottle and pours a healthy serving in both me and my wife’s glass. For the sake of seriousness, I sniffed, swirled and did all the tasting procedures I remembered from my (long time ago) career as a chef and wine-tasting guy ….
The Apricot Seduction mead has a lovely crisp golden color and a clear scent of apricot that somehow overpower that scent of honey in the glass. But that is well made up for with the taste of this golden nectar. The mix between honey and apricot gives a very special flavor – it is a mix that immediately takes me back to when I was a chef, back then my specialty was dessert and I liked nothing less than a good plate of cheese with a sweet wine to go along. It strikes me that this apricot mead would be a successful match to a dish of flavorful cheese.
This is when I realize what I associate that Apricot Seduction bouquet with: the luscious combination of honey roasted walnuts to that of the dessert we called “the roasted goat cheese”. Trust me: this dessert is well worth experiencing – a nice deep-fried goat cheese served with honey roasted walnuts, and the Apricot Seduction mead. (Here is a great recipe for this, feel free to check it out.)
The sweetness of the Apricot Seduction can only be described as “spot on” – neither too sweet nor to dry. It’s hard to say exactly what specific gravity they landed on when developing this recipe but whatever they did, they nailed it. The mead has a healthy 11% alcohol without the alcohol flavor itself being a distinct flavor in and by itself. If one is looking for a balanced mead to start with, this would be a sure winner. This is the first time I tasted commercial mead here in Norway, and the quality did not disappoint. The first glass was empty after a very short time, something which prompted my better half to demand a second glass. A sure winner, no doubt. I realize that my concept of my wife being my ethical and moral bodyguard tonight, might be a mirage, as her smile seemed to go around 2 times, and she asks for more …..
After a while, sipping, talking and enjoying the festival for all it is worth, we meet up with Stian again, in order to have the second sample. We agreed earlier that it would probably be a good idea not to sample neither too much and – certainly not – too fast. Now, Stian asks us to taste a different one, more traditional in style:
– This is “Raspberry”, it was one of our prototypes for how session mead with carbonation could taste, and one that has become a staple with us. We have gradually improved it, for example through filtering, to use lemon as a flavor enhancer and tartness balancing ingredient. It is now at a point where its sweet, but not extreme, and with a lot of raspberry flavor. Add to this the carbonation, which adds freshness and makes it a lot more drinkable. It’s a refreshing, straight-forward mead we get a lot of great feedback on.
Stian now reaches for the tap handle and pours the mead into another, new glass. As the minutes pass we talk about all things mead concerned. I sip, analyze, sniff and try to associate all the wonderful impressions this mead gives me …
The Raspberry mead is perhaps the least adventurous of tonight’s selection, but it is fruity, fresh, very balanced and absolutely delicious. The Raspberry flavor comes straight through, and while it has an alcohol level of 6,8 %, any alcoholic taste is nearly non-existent. I readily understand why this mead is intended to be served carbonated. With that extra dimension of freshness and drinkability, I think serving establishments will have a drink that will be a true hit among a majority of their patrons. Come summer and tourist season starts again, this mead will be the new hit.
In the local city where we live, Bergen, we have thousands of tourists during the summer season. If Mjøderiet’s Raspberry mead would be available, especially for bars and restaurants serving alcohol outside, I easily see our city being famous for more than its historical heritage and nature.
Stian has to leave us to take care of an ever increasing line at Mjøderiets booth, leaving me and my better half discussing the finer points of this mead. It strikes me that we giggle a bit more for no apparent reason…
At this point in time, we decide to take a break and go to eat. This was probably a good idea…
Some 2 hours later we are back at the festival, where people are suspiciously happy. It could have something to do with an amazing range of happiness-inducing beverages….
We now grab a hold of the other half of Mjøderiet’s representatives tonight, Benjamin. I like this guy, and the reason is simple. Not only is Benjamin an absolutely fantastic guy to hang around with, but just check out that beard !!! Of course, he’s a great guy!!
The Blodøks (“Blood Axe”)
Benjamin had brought new beverages for us to test, well .. drink .. What he presents us with is their Blodøks (Norwegian for Blood Axe, which is also the name of one of Norway’s ancient viking kings). This braggot (a mix of beer and mead) is a collaboration brew with their former location host, Lysefjorden Mikrobryggeri, which Benjamin also works for. It’s quite clear that with his background as a brewer, he is also well versed in what it takes to make a successful hybrid between craft beer and mead.
The Blodøks is made on a recipe for a double red IPA, which is actually a scaled-up version of Lysefjorden’s Red IPA, a session amber IPA of 4,7 %, with copious amounts of honey. They have also added grape juice and raisins for extra complexity. When properly fermented the way Mjøderiet does it, you get this extra dimension to the IPA which really gives a
whole new meaning to braggot. The braggot develops the flavour of a perfectly crafted beer with a fantastic honey flavour on top of it, which leaves a long lasting aftertaste which a normal IPA just can’t provide. The colour is a warm amber brown, the smell is distinctively honey, grain and hops, and the brew has just a small amount of head retention. All this combined creates a brew that dances across your tastebuds and slide down your throat with ease, leaving you with a strong desire to drink more.
I have made braggots myself several times, but I have no problems realising that what Mjøderiet and Lysefjorden has done here is nothing short of perfection. Some might say this sounds biased and perhaps it is – I can only say that after having had three or four drinks off the braggot I am a True Believer; this stuff rocks! It wasn’t until after the 3rd round I was reminded that why the name of the braggot carries the very fitting name “Blood Axe”: not only because of the Viking reference and color – if you drink enough of this, its basic effect will hit you like an axe to the face!
Benjamin now taps glasses of a crisp spelling mead. Its tartness is striking, its flavor alluring. Enter – the Rabarbær (RhuBerry )
This mead is actually something of a mishap, which probably ended up better than the original was planned to be. We had been busy with festivals and other stuff for a while, so when we came back to check on the mead, it had actually continued to ferment. Originally we targeted it for 5%, and significantly sweeter,. We ended up at 8.5%, semi-dry and quite tart. The rhubarb character was dominating while the strawberry came a bit in the background. We thought it was actually quite good, so we decided to bottle is as it was – and we haven’t regretted that decision!
The Rabarbær (RhuBerry) quickly rose to become something of a customer favourite on Untappd – well above Pasjonsfrukt (Passionfruit) and Bringebær (Raspberry), our former bestsellers. It will be very interesting to see if we can re-create this “ mistake” the way it happened, but nevertheless, we aim to give Rabarbær a comeback in 2018, and in a larger batch.
Both me and my wife have been holding back while Benjamin explains and strategically pass the glass of mead past our anticipating faces (and noses). I feel like a kid at first day of school as he finally hands us each a glass of the “mishap”. Honestly – I can’t for the life of me understand why this is a mishap!
Bring me some more
The RhuBerry is a really a curious little mead. It is, as Benjamin explained (delightfully) tart – the kind you definitely expect from rhubarb, but opposed to raw rhubarb this mix with strawberry and raspberry gives the mead a rhubarb-y, yet soft acidity, without leaving your face feeling like a prune as raw rhubarb does.
It is a drink that would go fantastically well on a warm summer day, especially when adding a little ice to it and perhaps a few slices of apple (that’s just personal taste though – I know many that would outright refuse to mix this beauty with anything, just as any whisky lover would refuse to mix a 24 year old single malt, single cask whisky with coca cola).
Drinking this straight is an experience in itself. If you have had sweet drinks beforehand, the RhuBerry will certainly neutralize and calm your system. That is: unless you have several servings. If you have already had a number of these, you will just simply want to continue – I guess that’s part of its magic….
I find myself thinking back to my days as a chef and wondering what wonderful dishes I could utilized this mead with. One would certainly be making a sherbet out of the mead. After a heavy meal, a sherbet with this flavour would be a hit in a fine dining restaurant.
The chef in me sees the RhuBerry as the main ingredient in a world class sherbet or as a component in any desert calling for tartness. This is a mead that certainly deserves a variety of uses – and praises – from chefs all across the world.
Full steam ahead
I decide I have to end the tasting itself here, before I forget the interview itself. I turn back to see Stian come over with his great warm smile. I ask him to sit with us as I’d like a few more questions for the interview.
“Stian – this festival can only be described as the bees knees (pun intended)… I already know from eavesdropping that you have had quite a few new leads for sales, and that pretty much everyone is greatly impressed with your mead. Tell us – what does the future bring for Mjøderiet? Any hints or teasers?
– 2018 will be a very active and hectic year for Mjøderiet. Along with the guys from Monkey Brew in Trondheim we will release a super-exclusive small batch with berries. This is currently aging in barrels which has earlier held their Imperial Stout “Demon Box”, and another barrel that isn’t ready yet. This will be the first barrel aged mead in Norway, so naturally we are super-excited.
In addition we will be making other meads closer to Rhu-Berry, that is in a more tart/dry direction, with fruit and berry characteristics. These will be made with carbonation for taps in bars as well as bottled versions and/or in stronger varieties. The idea is to launch these as a local and adventurous alternative to wine, for the restaurant market.
We are also taking a road-trip to the good ole’ U.S.A, where we will plaster our name and Norwegian quirkiness on a full 3 fantastic collabs with some American legends of mead. We will be working with mead superstars such as B. Nektar, Superstition and Rabbit’s Foot. No surprise that we are very much looking forward to this trip. I’m sure you as a mead-freak can understand how much we are delighted to be able to learn tips and tricks from our U.S counterparts. They have been making mead for decades and are light years ahead of Europe, both in regards to the industry itself and in regards to production methods.
We will be bringing special ingredients from Norway to combine these with local (U.S) honey and local barrels for aging. The U.S market has far better access to oak barrels (previously holding liquor, wine or beer), than Norway. Even though it’s somewhat uncertain whether or not these will be accessible on the Norwegian market in any significant volume, it’s still important to have a great relationship with our international friends. We travel, we live, we learn.
Festivals, markets, events and more mead
Perhaps not so surprising, we will naturally be visiting a lot of festivals and events throughout 2018. For anyone who want to know where they can meet us: follow us on Facebook . We use Facebook as our main communication channel to our market and fans. Anything we do, goes out there. It’s not always easy to communicate in a correct fashion when we also have to consider Norwegian advertising regulations (in regards to alcohol), but we do our best. Sometimes we can inform at length about our new adventures and plans, and sometimes we have to moderate ourselves significantly to stay within the limits of the law. So we try our best to have a good balance where we keep our fanbase excited, and the lawmakers content.
Stay tuned, as they say.
With this, we hear a low-muffled howl from the mead bar, clearly indicating they have a need for both Benjamin and Stian. The line is long, and the mead flows fast. It’s time for our mazers to go back to what they do best – MEAD!
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