Thursday 7 November 2019


So, mead: I mean, you can't really call it a divisive drink because nobody drinks it, therefore there's no-one to be divided by it. It's just that stuff you sometimes find in heritage gift shops which sometimes seems like a good idea for an elderly relative but more often not, and anyway, have you ever tasted it? It seems familiar enough while at the same time being unknown. I feel sure that I must have drunk it, I can feel the stuff coating the inside of my mouth, honey, yes, that's what it's made from, maybe a faint alcoholic rasp at the back, it's up there with egg nog as something you never want to tangle with unless you've decided to live in a cave in the Welsh Marches. Perhaps it's good to steep fruit in? If you like your fruit almost inedibly sugary? The stuff stopped being an everyday drink at the time of Beowulf, surely.

But here we are in 2019 and what do you know but I find myself sitting at a bar in Peckham Rye, where a good many hipsters have taken root, tasting 21st Century mead with its creator, Tom Gosnell, who - following an epiphany a few years back in the US, where mead is big, or bigger than it is here, anyway - is determined to get mead back on our tables, where it belongs. Seriously. His meadery - I'm not making this word up - is a mile away and he sources as many of his ingredients locally as he can. Not only that, but he offers a whole range of mead sensations, none of them in the least like what I think mead might be.

We actually start with several examples of mead-in-a-can, which is a funkier, more contemporary kind of mead done as a long drink, plenty of sparkle, only 4%, so the same as a glass of beer but evidently not, especially in the form of Gosnells Hibiscus Mead and I'm not making this up, either. Yes, we are in SE15, but Hibiscus? Only, guess what? It's really not bad. Comes out of the can a deep blush colour, looks a bit like a Kir Royale, sits there quite confidently in the glass, the honey undertow (you can't escape it, it's still mead, even if there is plenty of water mixed in) working with the drier hibiscus additions and the fizz to stop your palate from furring over completely. Yes, it's weirdly stimulating and refreshing. Indeed I'm so startled that all I can do is sit there saying Well I'll be damned under my breath. I don't even want to give my glass up when we move on to the next round of beverages.

These, by way of contrast, are your more classic mead stylings, presented in a smart glass bottle, not a can, and once again I am caught on the hop. Two in particular: Gosnells Finsbury Mead (5.5%) and Gosnells Saffron Walden Mead (7.5%) leave me writing Rather fantastic in my tasting notes, and Forget you're drinking mead. The Finsbury Mead actually uses honey from Finsbury, just up the road, and I start to entertain the slightly hallucinatory idea that I'm drinking the essence of London, a concept I rather like. We're talking about something slightly sterner than the canned stuff, not dry exactly, but not a Sauternes either. Also with a hint of p├ętillant. Someone suggests that it would go well with a blue cheese. I nod, as if what I think might matter.

And this mood returns, not surprisingly, with the Gosnells Hackney Mead (a full-on 9%) which Tom Gosnell describes as Telling the story of the summer which the bees have experienced. I don't even do a double-take at this. We're not in wine territory, nor are we in craft beer or cider country, although the latter might be this kind of mead's nearest rival, what with the pastoral overtones and a sense of reaching back into a shared past. Complex, I manage to write down. Still, I feel I'm doing well to achieve as much as that. Complex is what this whole thing is: not just the drink itself but the need to reclassify this kind of mead as something better than a mere comedy beverage. It is a whole new taste and one which will take some processing. We finish up and I leave Peckham Rye, fuddled and yet, somehow, slightly sharpened.

Two points remain: Tom Gosnell himself is in a very cheerful mood, not least because he's just inked deals to supply his product to the United States and Korea, two countries with a confirmed taste for the new mead; and if you want to buy some from the Gosnells website, it's £25 for a 75cl bottle of the Saffron Walden variety. Which suggests to me that now might be a good time to invest in some bees, especially if you live in Hackney.


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