I’m filing this under beer reviews rather than liquor because I don’t really feel like I’ll be doing enough mead/cider reviews for them to warrant their own category yet.
Nectar Creek appears to produce *only* carbonated session mead. A Session (not Saison) for those not familiar with the term derives from a kind of low ABV beer intended for people who want to drink, but then need to actually get out and do something. These are the kind of beers you can drink all day and not really get drunk because by the time you’ve had your second, the first one is almost out of your system. (Note: You can get drunk on them, it would just take so many that you’d likely be full long before you got a comfortable buzz on).
Mead, traditionally, is pretty high ABV when compared to beer or cider, because the sugar content of honey is much higher than grains or apple juice. Many meads are bottled at 12% ABV or higher. If ratebeer.com is any indicator of the type, they are seldom lower than 11%. All of the top 10 rated meads are 13.5% or higher. That expectation colors a lot of my thinking going into this tasting.
Nectar Creek seems to have set their sails to filling the niche for drinkable, carbonated mead without the heavy alcohol kick. With their strongest bottle clocking only 6.2% these meads are the little brothers of any other mead. This threw the tasting for a bit of a curve.
The number of ingredients in mead is pretty small. If you’re tasting one of the more common styles it tops out around four. In this case honey, water, yeast and unfortunately sulfites. My tasting panel would normally consist of myself and TruantMuse but after one sip she acquired an instant headache that threatened to turn into a migraine and begged off of further tasting. I was not personally aware of sulfite sensitivity prior to this evening or I might have read the label more closely. Subsequent trips to the bottle shop and liquor store have shown sulfites in a good portion of the offerings in the beer/cider/mead category so this should not be taken as a problem unique to Nectar Creek. It is actually quite hard to get a shelf stable product to market without adding some form of preservative.
Process established we tasted two flavors from Nectar Creek, Sting (Ginger) and Cluster (Cranberry/Strawberry).
I want to start with the good points here. The nose does give strawberry in abundance, you can really taste it through your teeth. The drink is light, carbonation isn’t overwhelming and it doesn’t flatten out as quickly as some malt beverages or session beers.
The downsides however are many and manifold. The sulfites are quite possibly the biggest hurdle, while they incapacitated my crew I was able to soldier onward and finish the tasting. There is a definite mineral quality to the mead that I don’t usually get from my own attempts at making mead without preservatives. The flavor was more reminiscent of a macrobrew than anything I have tasted in recent memory. The berry flavors abandoned ship after the nose and what honey or sweetness you could expect from a mead followed soon after. On the palette the brew was watery and lacked complexity or character. The above mentioned metallic after-taste took any enjoyment out of the bottle pretty quickly. I’m not going to accuse the bottle entirely, but after a single 500ml bottle, I felt like I had been gut punched and did not feel the need for another.
I want to be clear, I don’t think this was bad. It was just not good. There are many many offerings in this field. Gluten free has gotten a huge ramp from cider so there is no lack of fine things to drink if that’s your limitation. At $8 a bottle this is not something I would demand of my beer steward and getting any in quantity for a party seems a non-starter.
Again once opened, decanted and sampled the drink has a fine nose for Ginger. The flavor is less pronounced that the berry flavors of Cluster but still ambient. Once that clears however we are left with a less enjoyable product than before. The astringent nature of ginger flavors that normally brings heat and a citrus bite is absent. Similar in aspect to a weak store brand ginger-ale the flavor dies off quickly and doesn’t return.
Carbonation is good and maintains the lightly fizzy aspect that makes me suspect mechanical carbonation rather than bottle conditioning.
All in all, I think what happens during production makes a big difference. Rather than finding a reasonable way to stop fermentation at 6% ABV and keeping the natural sweetness of the honey that remains, I think we have a product that is fermented to completion and then flavored and diluted to the desired level. Similar to a liquor NDP who dilutes 95% rum and expects to retain some of the character of plantation or Agricole.
I leave you here with Dr. Ian Malcolm who has said it better than I could…