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When I was in Anchorage last January I kept an eye on the sky, and after visiting Midnight Sun Brewing Co. was able to fit in a quick visit to Celestial Meads amidst beer extravaganzas.
And it was exciting.
Celestial Meads was opened last year by Mike Kiker, meadmaker and homebrewer extraordinaire.
This is the second Alaska meadery to open in the last couple of years - Homer's Ring of Fire meadery being the first - and each produce phenomenal meads. In fact, recently at the International Mead Festival both meaderies brought home medals. Celestial Meads brought home a gold for Razzery Cyser and a silver for Odin's Gift. Ring of Fire brought home two silvers for Red Currant Reserve and Tart Cherry Reserve, and a bronze for Local Apple Cyser.
Mead is basically a honey beer. Instead of using a malt base for the fermentable, honey is used. And depending on the variety of honey and additional ingredients, meads take on numerous characteristics.
Mead styles are separated by different attributes. Sweetness is defined as dry, semi-sweet or sweet. They can be sparkling, still or petillant (lightly sparkling), and they are categorized by strength, honey variety and special ingredients.
Traditional meads are made with honey only; a melomel is made with fruit, and specifically, cyser is made with apples and pyment is made with grapes. A metheglin is made with spices, and a braggot is a mead with the addition of malt.
In the short time I spent visiting Celestial Meads, my tour went through a large lineup of about 14 different meads that Mike has been madly brewing. I was in for a treat, never before having the chance to sample so many high quality meads back to back. And because they were served back to back, it was a great learning experience to taste the nuances between each varietal of honey.
This is what Celestial Meads excel in. Unlike larger commercial meaderies, which strive for consistency, Celestial celebrates the differences between honey varieties and ingredients, creating a somewhat rotating menu.
I had five meads that really stood out to me. One of the expensive but well-crafted meads was Miel Noir. This sweet melomel is made from raw tupelo honey (hence the cost) and hand-picked Alaska black currants. It has a complex spice and fruit taste typical of the honey, which is produced only in northeast Florida. Another mead, Southern Heat, has a lovely peppery spice because of it.
The differences between the varietals is distinct. Desire, made with desert wildflower honey, was spicy with a fruit finish. Clarity was crisp with a dry finish. It had a definite Riesling character.
Belgique, a metheglin (mead with spice) had almost a bubblegum aroma and heavy orange flavors. It was lively and bright. Gingerly, another metheglin, had a ginger aroma up front with a slightly tart flavor from the addition of red currants. Celestial describes it as "a lively mead with an earthy finish," and I loved it.
Celestial Meads can be found online at www.celestialmeads.com. It has tastings on Fridays, and ships its wares. If visiting Anchorage, Celestial Meads is an eye-opening experience to the high quality of Alaska meads.