While beer, wine and spirits get most of the attention in the world of craft alcoholic beverages, San Diego’s Billy and Suzanna Beltz believe that mead’s time has come. Mead is a beverage made with fermented honey and various adjunct ingredients, and while it is often associated with Renaissance fairs or Vikings, it has a long, storied history through many cultures.
The Beltz’s Lost Cause Meadery in San Diego just celebrated its third anniversary, but they have already earned an impressive number of awards, and their flavor creations are truly unique, using the defining characteristics of different honey varietals to pair with other ingredients to create complex combinations that stretch the boundaries of mead.
• Strike the Sun is an 11.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) mead made with Brazilian acacia honey, sunquats, Riesling grapes and kiwi. It features a light golden color and a bright aroma of lemon blossom and white grape, reminiscent of a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. On the palate, citrus sweetness is pronounced in this full-bodied beverage, but it is balanced by substantial acidity and a flinty minerality. Despite the sweetness on the tongue, it finishes light, with a tangy lemon acidity dancing on the roof of the mouth.
• Made with black currants, raspberries and vanilla, and aged in American oak, Haxa is a decadent 12% mead. Featuring a vibrant red color and aroma characteristics of Pinot Noir and port, including sweet raspberry, cedar and smooth oak, the black currant character emerges as it warms. Given the sweetness of the aroma, the surprisingly tart berry flavor with bright lemony notes comes as a surprise, but it is rounded out by rich sweetness. With a heavy, unctuous mouthfeel, the mead leaves substantial legs in the glass as it leads to a finish of sweet berry and smooth oak. This mead somehow takes the flavor of fresh-picked ripe raspberries and improves upon it.
• Along with all the brewers who created Black Is Beautiful beers to raise money for worthy social justice organizations during 2020, Lost Cause created a Black Is Beautiful mead to raise funds for the California Innocence Project and Game Changer. This 12% ABV mead is made from caramelized honey with almonds, cacao, vanilla, black cardamom and chicory, and is a deep reddish-brown in color with golden highlights. The seriously complex aroma brings together earthy, spicy, herbal, floral and alcohol notes, along with coffee, anise, a light golden-raisiny sweetness and smooth brownie batter. The flavor is dominated by caramel and milk chocolate, but with spicy undertones, and the finish is bright citrus with high alcohol notes. The full, rich, mouth-coating body and mouthfeel make sense given the sweet finish, but complementary alcohol heat keeps it from being cloying.
• While many of Lost Cause’s mad scientist creations have very complex aroma and flavor profiles, Sweet Reckoning raspberry mead with hazelnuts is lovely in its simplicity. It smells like … raspberries and hazelnuts. It tastes like … raspberries and hazelnuts. Reddish-brown in color, medium bodied and more sweet than dry, with notes of alcohol present in both the aroma and the flavor due to the 11.5% ABV, this mead would pair beautifully with the chocolate dessert of your choice.
Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.