What exactly is mead in the first place? Some people say it’s the oldest fermented beverage on earth. Others say wine was first, and some say it’s beer. Does it really matter? In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” Regardless of what theory you hold to, it is one of the simplest ways to make alcohol. Honey, water, and yeast is all it takes.
Based on the simplicity alone, isn’t it possible that a prehistoric man stumbling around looking for something to eat came across a busted up hive that was filled with rain water and wild yeast and decided to take a drink? He’s not sure what this is. It’s sweet and cool. After quenching his thirst, his head begins to feel funny, and the ground feels as if he’s walking on quick sand and he’s seeing two of everything. Filling his medieval camelbak with the remaining liquid, he heads back to the cave and Girls Gone Wild was truly born. Many people have no clue what mead is, and the home brewer eager to educate begins with, “It’s one of the oldest fermented beverages.” Hopefully, it’s followed up with a bottle or two of mead. Even when sampling a mead, many people aren’t sure what they are drinking. Is it a beer, a wine, or a combination of the two?
Today it comes in a variety of styles, from eye-crossing sweet dessert meads that taste as if it is equal parts honey and water to some that are so dry you can’t tell there is any honey in it at all. It can be completely still, slightly sparkling, to explosive geysers leaving you and your ceiling dripping with the stuff holding an empty bottle. I know about the latter first hand. BJCP lists three major styles (24 ~ 26) with three subcategories giving you a total nine.
I’ve been making mead for some time and even wrote an article about it. I have made about four different batches since my article, and friends have loved it and are making requests and asking for more. With these rave reviews and demand at an all-time high, I decided to enter it in the America’s Finest Homebrew Competition. More on this later.
As many of you know, Los Angeles Ale Works has reached their Kickstarter goal and are looking to make stretch goals. If you don’t, click here to learn more. I was being nosey and taking a look at who has backed the campaign and what other projects those people helped fund. I came across a fellow BierKast blogger and took a look at the projects he supported, one of which was Golden Coast Mead. Once I saw mead, I search their campaign and found that they hit their target and were located in San Diego, just 2 hours away. I had to get a bottle or two and tried to schedule a visit. A quick search with Google and I was on Golden Coast Mead’s homepage. I read through their site and fired off some emails asking where I could find their mead and asked for an interview. Frank Golbeck, CEO and Head Mead Maker quickly replied. I was going to be in San Diego for the America’s Finest Competition Awards, and Frank directed me to a place called Bottle Craft. What an amazing store. It was filled with all of San Diego’s finest craft brews. I could have spent a month’s pay in there easily. With a little help from the staff, I purchased the last two bottles of Golden Coast Mead. I got skunked at the America’s Finest Homebrew Competition–guess my friends have the same caveman palate as I do.
The following week I agreed to meet Frank at Stone Brewery’s company store in Oceanside. We spent over an hour talking about Frank’s passion for mead and a dream that started in 2007 with Co-Founder, Joe Colangelo. They were sitting on the porch, sharing a bottle of mead that Frank made in the basement, when Joe said, “Frank this is good, and our friends just love it. That means people will buy it.” After graduating from Berkley, they joined the Navy where the dream continued to grow, standing watches during the middle of the night, thinking about what to do when he got out of the Navy. In 2009 they started recipe development and performed a double blind taste test with 50 of their friends. Mirth in a Bottle was the clear winner. The initial goal was to do a trial run of 6 commercial batches and see if it could be profitable. They are now on batch 8 and opening their own facility. They currently only have Mirth in a Bottle available, which uses locally sourced raw orange blossom honey. It’s a semi-sweet bridge between a wine and a honey-based beverage. They are working on a couple of test batches using avocado honey and sage honey. With each type of honey comes different flavors, and each one ferments differently. All their honey is raw with no processing.
The talk quickly changed to the critical role that bees play in our food production and the challenges they are currently facing. From Colony Collapse Disorder and the theories behind it to migrant bee keepers and the unethical business practices and even to mites and parasites that create ZomBees. No wonder the cost of honey and produce is going through the roof.
After our conversation at the Stone Company Store I drove over to their property. They filed for the permits in September 2011 and just received the license to produce in December 2012. With a few more modifications they will be able to produce Mirth in a Bottle at their own facility. The fermenter has been delivered, and after the drains go in the fermenter can be installed. There are no plans for a tasting room, but they do plan to attend events and have tastings at various establishments that carry their product. After a short visit and a quick photo, Frank blessed me with a bottle of their mead.
With the first two bottles chilling in the fridge from last week, this one takes the total to three. After the hour and half drive home, I was ready for a drink. I exchanged the bottle from Frank for a chilled one I hid in the back of the fridge. Mirth in a Bottle is a semi sweet mead coming in at about 12.5%. Having the palate of a prehistoric man, I have never been one to distinguish the subtle flavors in beer or meads. I just know after a while, my head feels funny, it feels like I’m walking on quick sand, I see two of everything, and I talk in cursive. Frank challenged me to detect the citrus and to try different glass styles and different temperatures from chilled to room temp. I must say, it was a challenge to have enough left over for the room temperature tasting. I could easily smell and taste honey and was even able to detect the slightest citrus flavors lingering in my mouth after a sip.
So, to answer the question that you have all been screaming at your monitor. WHERE CAN I GET SOME GOLDEN COAST MEAD??? They are self-distributing and have not made it up to the Los Angeles area yet. Frank is originally from Orange County, and he hopes to have it available in Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa. I guess you will need to plan a vacation for San Diego, stop by Bottle Craft for some Mirth in a Bottle by Golden Coast Mead and for all your other San Diego craft brew needs. Thank you Frank for sharing your mead, your passion, and your service to our country.