The following discussion applies to all the mead styles, except where explicitly superseded in the sub-category guidelines. This introduction identifies common characteristics and descriptions for all types of mead, and should be used as a reference whenever entering or judging mead.
- Sweetness. A mead may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. Sweetness simply refers to the amount of residual sugar in the mead. Sweetness is often confused with fruitiness in a dry mead. Body is related to sweetness, but dry meads can still have some body. Dry meads do not have to be bone dry. Sweet meads should not be cloyingly sweet, and should not have a raw, unfermented honey character. Sweetness is independent of strength. Note that tannin levels can affect the perceived sweetness of mead (more tannin makes a mead seem drier), but acidity is more related to the quality, balance, and enjoyment of the sweetness. The purpose of identifying a sweetness level is primarily to aid in the ordering of a flight. Minor differences from stated sweetness level should not be heavily-penalized or considered a disqualifying fault.
- Carbonation. A mead may be still, petillant, or sparkling. Still meads do not have to be totally flat; they can have some very light bubbles. Petillant meads are lightly sparkling and can have a moderate, noticeable amount of carbonation. Sparkling meads are not gushing, but may have a character ranging from mouth filling to an impression akin to Champagne or carbonated water. Minor differences from stated carbonation level should not be heavily-penalized or considered a disqualifying fault.
- Strength. A mead may be categorized as hydromel, standard, or sack strength. Strength refers to the alcohol content of the mead (and also, therefore, the amount of honey and fermentables used to make the mead). Stronger meads can have a greater honey character and body (as well as alcohol) than weaker meads, although this is not a strict rule. Well-made stronger examples may have difficult-to-detect strength. Minor differences from stated strength level should not be heavily-penalized or considered a disqualifying fault.
- Honey variety. Some types of honey have a strong varietal character (aroma, flavor, color, acidity). If a honey is unusual, additional information can be provided to judges as to the character to be expected. Note that wildflower isn’t a varietal honey; it is specifically a term used to describe a honey derived from an unknown source or from mixed flowers or blossoms. Consider providing a description of the honey if it is not listed in the Mead Exam Study Guide or other BJCP references. Identifying the source (state or region) and season of the honey can be useful information for the judges.
- Special ingredients. Different styles may include fruit, spice, malt, etc. Judges need to understand the ingredients that provide a unique character in order to properly evaluate the mead. Oak additions do not have to be specified (but may be at the entrant’s discretion); oaking is acceptable in every mead style. Excessive oaking is a fault, just as in wine; any use of oak should be balanced and complimentary. A declared use of oak should not be interpreted as requiring the oak to be a primary flavor.
Standard Description for Mead
When individual mead style descriptions use the phrase Standard Description Applies, refer to the sections below that have the same names as are used in the style descriptions. These descriptions are incorporated by reference into every style where they are mentioned. Statements in the individual style descriptions build on, modify, or supersede the standard descriptions below.
- Appearance: Clarity may be good to brilliant. Crystal clear, reflective examples with a bright, distinct meniscus are highly desirable. Observable particulates (even in an otherwise clear example) are undesirable. Highly carbonated examples usually have a shortlasting head similar to Champagne or soda pop. Some aspects of bubbles or head formation that may be observed and commented upon include size (large or small), persistence (how long do they continue to form?), quantity (how much are present?), rate (how fast do they form?), and mousse (appearance or quality of foam stand). The components of bubbles (or head) will vary greatly depending on the carbonation level, ingredients and type of mead. In general, smaller bubbles are more desirable and indicative of higher quality than larger bubbles. The color may vary widely depending on honey variety and any optional ingredients (e.g., fruit, malts). Some honey varieties are almost clear, while others can be dark brown. Most are in the straw to gold range. If no honey variety is declared, almost any color is acceptable. If a honey variety is declared, the color should generally be suggestive of the honey used (although a wide range of color variation is still possible). Hue, saturation and purity of color should be considered. Stronger versions (standard and sack) may show signs of body (e.g., legs, meniscus) but higher carbonation levels can interfere with this perception.
- Aroma: The intensity of the honey aroma will vary based upon the sweetness and strength of the mead. Stronger or sweeter meads may have a stronger honey aroma than drier or weaker versions. Different varieties of honey have different intensities and characters; some (e.g., orange blossom, buckwheat) are more readily recognizable than others (e.g., avocado, palmetto). If honey varieties are declared, the varietal character of the honey should be apparent even if subtle. The aromatics may seem vinous (similar to wine), and may include fruity, floral, or spicy notes. The bouquet (rich, complex aromatics arising from the combination of ingredients, fermentation and aging) should show a pleasant, clean fermentation character, with fresh aromatics being preferred over dirty, muddled, yeasty, or sulfury notes. A multi-faceted bouquet, also known as complexity or depth, is a positive attribute. Phenolic aromatics should not be present. Harsh or chemical aromatics should not be present. Oxidation is a big detraction in most mead, and most frequently appears as a strong sherry-like or light molasses-like character. A subtle, sherry-like oxidation character can add complexity in some situations, but not if the oxidation ruins the character of the mead. Alcohol aromatics may be present, but hot, solventy or irritating overtones are a defect. The harmony and balance of the aroma and bouquet should be pleasant and enticing.
- Flavor: The intensity of the honey flavor will vary based upon the sweetness and strength of the mead. Stronger, sweeter meads will have a stronger honey flavor than drier, weaker versions. Different varieties of honey have different intensities and characters; some (e.g., orange blossom, buckwheat) are more readily recognizable than others (e.g., safflower, palmetto). If honey varieties are declared, the varietal character of the honey should be apparent even if subtle. The residual sweetness level will vary with the sweetness of the mead; dry meads will have no residual sugar, sweet meads will have noticeable to prominent sweetness, semi-sweet meads will have a balanced sweetness. In no case should the residual sweetness be syrupy, cloying or seem like unfermented honey. Any additives, such as acid or tannin, should enhance the honey flavor and lend balance to the overall character of the mead but not be excessively tart or astringent. Tannin can make a mead seem drier than the residual sugar levels might suggest. Artificial, chemical, harsh, phenolic or bitter flavors are defects. Higher carbonation (if present) enhances the acidity and gives a “bite” to the finish. The aftertaste should be evaluated; longer finishes are generally most desirable. A multi-faceted flavor, also known as complexity or depth, is a positive attribute. Yeast or fermentation characteristics may be none to noticeable, with estery, fresh and clean flavors being most desirable. Alcohol flavors (if present) should be smooth and well aged, not harsh, hot, or solventy. Very light oxidation may be present, depending on age, but an excessive molasses, sherry-like or papery character should be avoided. Aging and conditioning generally smooth out flavors and create a more elegant, blended, rounded product. All flavors tend to become more subtle over time, and can deteriorate with extended aging.
- Mouthfeel: Before evaluating, refer to the declared sweetness, strength and carbonation levels, as well as any special ingredients; these can all affect mouthfeel. Well-made examples will often have an elegant wine like character. The body can vary widely, although most are in the medium-light to medium-full range. Body generally increases with stronger and/or sweeter meads, and can sometimes be quite full and heavy. Similarly, body generally decreases with lower gravity and/or drier meads, and can sometimes be quite light. Sensations of body should not be accompanied by an overwhelmingly cloying sweetness (even in sweet meads). A very thin or watery body is likewise undesirable. Some natural acidity is often present (particularly in fruit-based meads). Low levels of astringency are sometimes present (either from specific fruit or spices, or from tea, chemical additives or oakaging). Acidity and tannin help balance the overall honey, sweetness and alcohol presentation. The level of carbonation can vary widely (see definitions above). Still meads may have a very light level of carbonation, lightly carbonated (petillant) meads will have noticeable bubbles, and a highly carbonated (sparkling) mead can range from a mouth-filling carbonation to levels approaching Champagne or soda pop. High carbonation will enhance the acidity and give a “bite” to the finish. A warming alcohol presence is often present, and this character usually increases with strength (although extended aging can smooth this sensation).
- Overall Impression: A wide range of results are possible, but well-made examples will have an enjoyable balance of honey flavors, sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol. Strength, sweetness and age greatly affect the overall presentation. Any special ingredients should be well-blended with the other ingredients, and lead to a harmonious end product.
- Ingredients: Mead is made primarily from honey, water and yeast. Some minor adjustments in acidity and tannin can be made with citrus fruits, tea, or chemicals; however, these additives should not be readily discernible in flavor or aroma. Yeast nutrients may be used but should not be detected. Oak aging is allowable in any category as a subtle to noticeable enhancement without causing the mead to be an Experimental Mead; excessive oak is a fault.
- Vital Statistics:
|hydromel:||1.035 – 1.080||hydromel:||3.5 – 7.5%||dry:||0.990 – 1.010|
|standard:||1.080 – 1.120||standard:||7.5 – 14.0%||semi-sweet:||1.010 – 1.025|
|sack:||1.120 – 1.170||sack:||14.0 – 18.0%||sweet:||1.025 – 1.050|
Note that the perception of sweetness is a function of the percentage of residual sugar, so don’t rely only on FG to determine sweetness. Consider the OG, strength, tannin levels, and to a lesser extent, acidity, in assessing sweetness.
IBUs: not relevant for anything but braggot, but bittering hops are optional even in this style.
SRM: basically irrelevant since honey can be anything from almost clear to dark brown. Cysers are most often golden. Other fruit-based meads and pyments can have orange, red, pink and/or purple hues. Braggots can be yellow to black. In all cases, the color should reflect the ingredients used (type of honey, and fruit and/or malt in some styles).
Competition Entry Instructions
- Mandatory Requirements:
- Entrants MUST specify carbonation level (still; petillant or lightly carbonated; sparkling or highly carbonated).
- Entrants MUST specify strength level (hydromel or light mead; standard mead; sack or strong mead).
- Entrants MUST specify sweetness level (dry; semi-sweet or medium; sweet).
Minor differences from stated levels should not be heavily penalized or be considered a disqualifying fault.
- Optional Requirements: Entrants MAY specify honey varieties used, as well as the source and season of the honey. If honey varieties are declared, judges will look for the varietal character of the honey. Note that the character of a varietal honey will be identifiable as distinct to the source flowers, but may not resemble the source plant, tree, or fruit. For example, orange blossom honey has the character of orange blossoms, not oranges; blackberry honey is only distantly like blackberries, although it is an identifiable character. If a mead is oak-aged and the oak character is noticeable, the oaking can be specified. Judges should expect to detect oak, but not as a primary flavor.
- Category-Specific Requirements: Some categories require additional information, particularly in categories other than traditional mead. For example, declaring specific fruit, spices, or special characteristics. Supplemental materials may be provided to judges if an obscure or unusual ingredient or method is used.
- Defaults: If no attributes are specified, judges should evaluate the mead as a semi-sweet, petillant, standard strength mead with no varietal honey character and no special ingredients. Competition organizers should make every effort to ensure that judges are provided the full set of attributes of the meads being evaluated.