In this tasting video I’m joined by Matt Ritchey and Lauren Bloom from Bløm Meadworks in Ann Arbor, MI. We cracked open my not-so-tiny, 40ish-year-old bottle of Wawel Mead from Poland and saw how it fared! Plus we talked about making mead and more. So much fun!
Prefer to read than watch? Check out the transcript under the video.
Lauren: It smells nice.
Tammy: Yes, it does smell nice.
Matt: Yes, I like that smell.
Tammy: All right, anybody have anything else to say before we dive in?
Tammy: Hello and welcome to My Tiny Bottles, the project I’m exploring my grandmother’s legacy of miniature liquor bottles, one tiny bottle at a time.
Tammy: I’m your host, Tammy Coxen, and I am here with not one but two awesome friends of mine who also happen to be the owners of Bløm Meadworks in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Tammy: And I’ve invited you here to taste mead, but before we get to that, why don’t you introduce yourselves? Matt?
Matt: I’m Matt Ritchie. I do all the production here at Bløm Meadworks. My background is in craft beer. But because of some gluten issues, I stepped back from my role as head brewer of a brewery, and we moved back to Michigan and opened Bløm Meadworks.
Tammy: Yeah, it’s really hard to get told you’re allergic to your job.
Matt: Yeah, that was a tough day.
Tammy: Well, the brewery’s loss was our gain for sure. And Lauren.
Lauren: I’m Lauren Bloom, I’m the other owner of Bløm Meadworks. I didn’t have a background in craft beer, but I had a background in local food sourcing and we kind of paired those together. So Matt with his interest in breweing, couldn’t have gluten, me trying to source local Michigan ingredients, we ended up on mead and cider.
Tammy: And you do it very very well and have created an amazing community space which I also love. And that is where we are. And as I said I brought you here, or I came here, I brought us all together today to taste some mead.
Tammy: So this is not the kind of mead that you made. You make thse dry, carbonated “session meads” you call them. This? This is not that. This is a classic Polish mead. The label says Polish honey drink. It says Miojt Pitny Trojniak. Trojniak means three parts, so that means two parts water to one part honey in the fermentation. And then it also says down here it’s also got some fruit juice and some natural flavor.
Tammy: I love your meads, but I don’t have a lot of experience with the sweet stuff. Every time I’ve had it I’ve just been, like, “oh, this is sweet.” How much do either of you know or appreciate sweet meads?
Matt: So ironically enough compared to what we make, I actually have a big sweet tooth. So I do love and I’ve always enjoyed traditional mead. That’s really where my interest in mead came from before we even looked at doing the session style of mead.
Matt: So I’m definitely looking forward to trying this. But yeah, I can only drink a little bit of sweet mead usually. That’s part of the reason we went for the session style originally.
Tammy: Well, fortunately it’s a tiny bottle! Although a big tiny bottle about twice as big as the usual ones.
Tammy: How about you, Lauren? How do you feel about the sweet style?
Lauren: I don’t usually have as much of a sweet tooth as Matt does. But I have tried a fair share just because we’re often in environments where people are sharing meads. And I’m kind of the same way. I like it maybe almost as kind of like a dessert wine. Just like a little sip or two, but it’s really kind of saturates my palate. So I wouldn’t want to sit down and have a big glass of it, but a sip? I’m here.
Tammy: As a little treat.
Lauren: Yeah, exactly.
Tammy: All right, well, we should just dive right into the tasting, I think. Well, as quickly as we can.
Tammy: How do you open a bottle like that? Because opening the bottles has turned out to be the most exciting and unexpected part.
Tammy: You have helpfully provided scissors, so I’m gonna start there. By cutting off this little… Oh wait! It just came undone. I didn’t even have to cut it.
Matt: The wax broke?
Tammy: Yeah, the wax broke. Okay. Good. All right, let’s see.
(Tammy starts unwinding the cord around around the neck of the bottle. It takes a while!)
Lauren: What’s the winding pattern?
Matt: This is a good show, anyway.
Tammy: How many licks to get to the inside of the tootsie pop?
Matt: How many twists to get to the mead?
Tammy: Wow, they really made you work for this.
Lauren: It’s nice, builds anticipation.
(Tammy’s finally done unwinding)
Tammy: Oh, okay. So now it kind of looks like a cork
Lauren: It does.
Tammy Are we just supposed to pull?
Lauren (after the string pops out of the bottle with no cork attached): Well, maybe at one point… How about a cork screw?
Tammy: How about a cork screw!
Lauren: Is it going to be small enough?
Tammy: Well, I guess we’ll find out. You know, it’ll go one direction or the other…
Tammy: It’s very stiff. It’s like it feels very sugary.
Lauren: Have you had any corked tiny bottles?
Tammy: I’ve had one other one. The cork just ended up inside. I Have a sneaking suspicion that might be what happens here.
Matt: Oh, oh… we drilled a hole!
Tammy: We did drill a hole. We have chunks. Okay, well I see liquid. I see liquid. So we have made it.
Tammy: It doesn’t immediately smell like something that’s gone bad. I mean, like anything that calls itself wine, you know, I worry a little bit.
Tammy (pouring samples): It’s definitely got some chunky bits in it. I could be cork, but I think there’s also definitely some sediment happening in here, which doesn’t at all surprise me.
Tammy (pouring more for Lauren): Oh Lauren, yours is a little short. You got all the cork. You’ve definitely got the floaties there.
Lauren: Got my fiber!
Tammy: Alright, so let’s give it a whiff.
Tammy: Ooh! It doesn’t smell bad. It actually smells good.
Matt: It smells a lot like mead.
Tammy: Well, that’s good!
Lauren: It has a sherry-ish smell.
Tammy: I totally agree with that. Sherry or port?
Matt: I get a port smell.
Tammy: Yeah, port for sure. That kind of fruitiness.
Tammy: I found a review site where they talk about meads and they’ve tasted a bunch of different things. So they had tasted some old bottles that I think were around the same age as this one, 1980s, and they described it as “black currant dominated,” “incredibly balsamic honey,” and “just honey madness!”
Lauren: Really like raisiny, dried fruit kind of smell. It smells nice.
Tammy: Yes, it does smell nice.
Matt: Yes, I like that smell.
Tammy: All right, anybody have anything else to say before we dive in?
Lauren: Nice color, a little caramely.
Tammy: Yes, black currant would do that if that’s one of the fruit juices involved.
Matt: It’s not really producing any legs. There’s a few tiny ones coming back down.
Tammy: Or maybe they’re so long they’re just staying up there.
Tammy: Alright, I’m going in.
Tammy: It’s not making us make the best worst faces. It’s not… it’s not objectionable.
Matt: No, it’s definitely not. I mean, I’ve definitely tasted a lot better meads but it’s not terribly bad.
Tammy: And have you you tasted better meads that are 40 years old?
Matt: Can’t say that I have!
Lauren: I’ve tasted a lot of meads that were far worse than this!
Tammy: So I guess the first thing that comes to mind for me is it’s not nearly as sweet as I thought it might be.
Matt: Yeah, it finishes sweet, the late palate gets sweet, but I agree, I was expecting a lot more sweetness early on. Maybe that’s the 2 parts honey as opposed to 3 parts honey you were talking about.
Lauren: It definitely has a fortified wine flavor.
Matt: Two parts honey is going to finish a lot sweeter assuming the same yeast. But yeah, definitely caramely. A little bit of late berry.
Tammy: Any specific berries anyone’s finding here?
Lauren: I can’t really pick out a specific fruit. I almost get more of like an oaky flavor, like a wood aging.
Tammy: Which just might be like a little oxidation or something.
Lauren: But not in a unpleasant way.
Matt: Yeah, I definitely get oxidation. But kind of like Sherry, we were talking about that. It’s not, to me, it’s not a bad thing.
Tammy: Kind of tasty.
Lauren: Yeah, I kind of like it. I didn’t expect to, I’ll tell you! But I can’t pick out a particular fruit. I don’t think I’d be able to say, oh, this is a…
Matt: I get like a tiny bit of cranberry, the way it’s almost bitter, but that could just be oxidation that’s causing the bitterness.
Tammy: Sure. And I don’t mind that bitterness.You know that I like the bitter amari and things like that. So I actually really appreciate when it’s got a little bit of a back to it to balance the sweetness.
Lauren: Are we assuming like a 15-18%?
Matt: I would assume closer to 12%.
Tammy: You know there’s nothing… oh wait, here it is, alcohol by volume, 14%. So, you know, right in the middle of your two 2 estimates.
Tammy (tasting again): Hmm. I have to learn not to jump to conclusions because my first reaction was, eh, but then I had a second sip and I like it better on the second sip. And that’s almost always been my experience tasting these old bottles. You know, they don’t like being cooped up inside little tiny bottles either and so once they get out and spread their legs a little bit they can open up some.
Lauren: A lot more enjoyable than I expected.
Matt: Yeah, it held up way better than I was expecting. It still has a tiny bit of like a cough syrup in the late palate, but it’s light. I mean, I’ve tasted fresh meads that were five times that.
Tammy: I was gonna say – it probably had cough syrup when it started.
Matt: Maybe it mellowed over the years.
Tammy: That’s the interesting thing I think. I don’t think they still make this specific one. So this is pronunced Vavel, spelled Wawel. And I don’t think that’s made anymore. So we wouldn’t be able to taste it against a modern example. But you know, how much will this have changed? Anybody have any experience with old old sweet meads?
Matt: No, I mean, I’ve had like eight-year-old straight meads though never with fruit in them. That’s about as far back as I’ve had tasted.
Tammy: Yeah, and sweet things tend to age/store longer, right? Like they’re not going to go off as much? Like I guess what I’m thinking about wine, you know, sweet vermouth can last longer than dry vermouth, so sugar kind of can have a preservative effect.
Matt: Which is counterintuitive right because you think of it as food for things.
Tammy: Yeah, I’m just gonna say it has a preservative effect as long as nothing gets in there to eat it!
Lauren: As opposed to going off, what about off flavors that you would get from fermentation? Do those tend to exacerbate over time or kind of mellow over time?
Matt: I would say more mellow over time. That’s part of the aging. That’s why you have to age big meads it’s just because there’s so much yeast activity you’re getting other esters and things like that. Even if you don’t want them, there’s just so much fermentation happening you gotta wait it out.
Lauren: Do you want to talk for a second about adding nutrient during fermentation for mead? We get to taste a lot of home brewed meads too which is really cool, and as people are learning about fermentation they’re learning to identify some of those kind of off flavors.
Matt: So yeah, a lot of what happens in fermentation is going to be dependent on your nutrient level. So if you think about the southern French ciders, you know, the process, they’re cutting out the nutrient and that’s arresting the fermentation. Something similar can happen with mead because there is like almost no nutrient for the yeast present.
Tammy: So by nutrient you mean like vitamins, minerals, like the sorts of things anybody needs besides to sugar?
Matt: The analogy we like to give is if we tried to survive on Twinkies. We might be alive, but like, we wouldn’t be happy.
Lauren: You’re not gonna thrive.
Matt: So, mead fermentation, same thing. You have to add those external nutrients in. And in old school mead a lot of times it was with fruits and things like that. You’ll see old recipes that call for adding raisins to it. Same idea.
Tammy: And raisins have yeast and stuff on them too, right?
Matt: They’re also bringing in the nutrients. Some of the nutrients you need to try and get a healthy fermentation out of it, so you don’t end up with just like a cough syrup bomb or a weird ester profile.
Lauren (referring to the Wawel): Because it really doesn’t have any of that.
Tammy: It’s really quite smooth and drinkable. This is definitely up there. I haven’t had a lot of the sweet tiny bottles that tasted good. This is actually a really pleasant surprise.
Tammy: But, that said, I would maybe still enjoy a palette cleanser! As I said earlier, you make some dry sparkling session meads. Got anything you think would be an interesting chaser to this?
Matt: Yeah, our Christmas Mead is cranberry and ginger, and I got the cranberry side on this. If we don’t want the ginger to interfere, we also have a black currant mead that could pair quite well.
Tammy: I’m gonna let you decide, you are the mead maker.
Matt: Let’s go black currant.
Lauren: Those will both be good pairings because they’re a little bit on the sweeter end of what we do. They’re going to be the middle of the spectrum from dry to sweet. And not necessarily the commercial spectrum, but what we call dry to sweet. So they’re a little bit on the sweeter end for us. And having something that’s totally dry against this would be a little much.
Tammy: So session mead… What’s that definition as you guys use it or as other places use it?
Lauren: So we kind of borrowed session mead from the beer industry. When you think about a session IPA it’s usually a little bit less intense hop profile and often a lower ABV. So you can sit and drink 3 or 4 across a couple hours, versus a real hop bomb that’s 8%, where you’re only going to have one or two. Our meads are 5-7% alcohol. They’re drier, they’re carbonated. So compared to a traditional mead you can sit and have you know 2 or 3 pints of it and feel fine. It’s not going to totally saturate your palate. Plus we pour in 12 ounce pours, it’s meant to be consumed in larger volume than traditional mead.
Tammy (pointing to Polish mead): Yeah, this as a 12 oz pour would be a lot.
All (clinking glasses of Bløm currant mead): Cheers!
Tammy: Yeah, totally different flavor profile.
Tammy: What’s the role of honey? Like, did anyone taste honey in hte old one? Matt, you would have I think the most attuned palette for honey. This (pointing to Bløm mead) I taste the honey. And maybe that’s just because I’ve tasted a lot of your meads, I’m like, oh yeah, that’s the honey part.
Matt: I didn’t think honey, I’ll be honest with you. It was the fuit I was picking up, which you get a lot of in a lot of your big meads today. The joke is they’re fruit bombs.
Lauren: Which is interesting, right, that you would taste the honey actually a little bit less in something that’s sweeter? Our brain really associates honey with sweetness. If you think about eating honey and you take away the sweetness, it’s really hard for our brain to see what’s left. Yeah, it’s interesting that the sweeter one tastes less honey as we think of it.
Matt: This was fun.
Tammy: Yeah, that was really fun. Any last closing remarks on our Wawel?
Lauren: I’m impressed, Wawel.
Matt: Yeah, I really didn’t expect it to hold up!
Tammy: All right, well if you want to find out more about me and the Tiny Bottles Project, you can do that at my tiny bottles on social media or at mytinybottles.com.
Tammy: If you want to find out more about these guys, where can people find you?
Lauren: We have a website, it’s drinkblom.com. It’s also @drinkblom on all the social medias.