Sleeping Giant

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan

Style: Wildflower mead aged in rye whiskey barrels for one year.

ABV: 19.5%

Purchased for: $25/375 mlSleeping Giant

Appearance: pale gold with big thick legs.

Nose: Brown butter, oak, overdone fruitcake, dandelion stems.

On the palate: Sweet and full bodied. Honey, citrus, cut clover, old oak, woodruff.

Finish: Sweet and viscous. Some acrid oak and orange peel. Then fades slowly.

Parting words: This is a good one. It’s much more drinkable than the first bourbon barrel finished mead they did. The bitter edges of the mead are taken off by the barrel aging and probably my cellaring for even longer. I still have one bottle held back in reserve.

It’s a cliché, but this mead is dangerous for the pocketbook and the brain. It tastes like a before dinner drink but it’s at an after dinner ABV. The price is steep but it’s a one-off and delicious. Sleeping Giant is going to be really hard to find at this point, but consider my recommendation as an endorsement of all B. Nektar barrel aged meads. Sleeping Giant is highly recommended.

Zombies Take Manhattan

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USAZ take M

Style: Imperial Apple Mead with cherries added and finished in rye whiskey barrels.

Purchased for:$14/500 ml

ABV: 12%

Appearance: Gold with a reddish tinge.

Nose: Spicy and fruity. Caramel apples, marachino cherries, a bit of curry.

On the palate: Medium bodied and fizzy. More caramel apple but with a little oak, butterscotch and cherries jubilee.

Finish: Semi-sweet and quick fading. A slightly tannic flavor lingers in the mouth though.

Parting words: I’m sick to death of zombies. I never found them all that interesting or scary in the first place but now that they’re everywhere I find them irritating too. What does that have to do with this review? Nothing, I just needed to say it.

The Zombie Killer Cyser with cherry added was one of the first of these 500 ml, horror themed meads from B. Nektar that I enjoyed. Zombies Take Manhattan is a higher ABV, barrel finished version of that product. I’m not sure where the “Manhattan” element in the name comes from and I’m too lazy to do any research on it right now, but I suspect it may be finished in Tuthilltown Manhattan Rye barrels.

As you can see from the “style” category above, they did a hell of a lot of stuff to this zombie. It pays off. It has all the good things barrel aging a mead or beer can bring, but without some of the weird, bitter flavors that sometimes plague barrel finished meads.

The price is high, but you get half a liter and it’s higher ABV so it’s all good. This is an excellent product. Zombies Take Manhattan is recommended.

Black Fang

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USABlack Fang

Style: Mead with blackberry, clove and orange peel

ABV: 6%

Appearance: Dark burgundy. Not much effervescence after the pour.

Nose: Wild blackberry, sandalwood, hint of honey and citrus.

On the palate: More lively than expected. Medium sweet and spicy. The blackberry is front and center, but the clove slowly builds in strength until it takes over my whole mouth. The orange peel is a background balancing note.

Finish: Tart berries with an orange peel body guard with the clove doing the same slow sneak attack thing it does on the palate. Like a vampire. Or something.

Parting words: This is the second of B. Nektar’s horror-themed fruited & spiced meads I’ve tasted. The first one was mango and black pepper(with an Evil Dead tie-in. I love that flavor combo but the mead I did not love. It was good, sure, but the pepper didn’t come through and the mango only came trough enough to offset the bitterness of the honey. Not much different than their Orange Blossom mead. I was disappointed.

This is a much more successful product. Nosferatu (one of my favorite horror films) is the cover star this time. The label blurb is chock-full of cheesy vampire jokes (“CAUTION: Keep away from sunlight. Product will not sparkle in sunlight”) but the bottle is full of tasty. One of the things I admire about B. Nektar is their willingness to try just about anything. Not every experiment works but you never know if something will work unless you try, right? Black Fang (at about $8 for 500 ml) is recommended.

The Naughty Ginger

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USA.Naughty Ginger

Style: Spiced, hopped mead

ABV: 6%

Appearance: Pale gold and pretty fizzy.

Nose: Ginger, honey, spice.

On the palate: Light, effervescent and spicy. Easy on the entry, not much in the mouth but some light spice.

Finish: Much more assertive after a gulp. Heat lingers on the tongue, Madras curry powder, a bit of gingery soapiness.

Parting words: The Naughty ginger is a much more drinkable ginger mead than the Schramm Series Ginger Mead B. Nektar put out a few years ago. That was like being tied down and having raw peeled ginger stuffed into every orifice. The ginger flavor in that wasn’t aggressive, it was downright violent.

This ginger is naughty but not a sociopath. The hops and coriander balance out the ginger and give it a pleasant curry taste that is fun drinking and even food friendly. This is a very successful mead and very much worth picking up. Naughty Ginger is recommended.

2012 in Review, Part I: Michigan beer & mead.

Compared to the ongoing tumult in the whiskey world, the world of Michigan beer and wine was an ocean of calm in 2012. Calm, but not dull. Optimistic, joyful, or hopeful might be the best words to use. The world of craft beer, Michigan continues to be a leader despite increased competition. Bells is taking its place as one of the largest and most successful microbrewers in the country. Founders and New Holland confirmed their positions and justified their positions as leaders in the movement as well.

Many brewers experienced various sorts of growth in 2012. One of this blog’s favorites, Arcadia Ales, announced that they are expanding their operation and moving to the belly of the beast, as it were, Kalamazoo, Michigan, home to Bells. They will keep their pub and restaurant in Battle Creek, but the majority of the brewing operations will be moving into the new facility. They also expanded their canning operation to include their delicious Sky High Rye. Also expanding was Jolly Pumpkin. They are set to open a new pub and restaurant in Royal Oak, Michigan, Sipology’s home town, sometime soon. The place was rumored to be opening last fall but the Jolly Pumpkin never appeared. The bankruptcy of the former owner of the building the brewery has its eye on may be to blame for the delays. Real estate problems aside, the growth in popularity of sour beers has brought a lot of interest to Jolly Pumpkin. Milking It Productions is already in Royal Oak, and has also been slowly expanding their range and their reach. Their Jet black lager and Sno White Ale (recently reviewed) are both excellent and quick sellers judging by the short amount of time they spend on shelves. The “up north” brewers, like Short’s, North Peak and Keweenaw have continued to expand their offerings and distribution as well.

B. Nektar meadery in Ferndale, currently just a mile or so from Sipology HQ, is also moving and expanding. The new facility is a five minute walk from the old one and will include a tap room. It will no doubt be an improvement on their current set up for tastings: three card tables with bottles and a cash register. B. Nektar continued to release interesting meads with mass appeal this year, like Zombie Killer, Evil Genius and Naughty Ginger. Their most intriguing release this year was Sleeping Giant, a wildflower mead aged in former rye whiskey barrels. They were expensive ($24 for a 375 ml bottle) but promise to be one of the coolest things they’ve done. Maybe I’ll review it soon. Maybe I’ll just let it languish in the cellar for a few years.

2012 in wine and cider next.

Evil Genius IPA-style Mead

Maker: B.Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USA

Style: Hopped mead

Vintage: 2012

ABV: 6%

Appearance: Chablis-colored, effervescent.

Nose: Whipped wildflower honey spread, paper white narcissus, dried flowers.

On the palate: Floral and slightly sweet. The bitterness of the honey and the bitterness dovetail into a very weird, but delicious and even refreshing taste.

Finish: Sweet honey at first, then a long, hoppy, floral bitterness.

Parting words: I’ll gladly admit that I am one of the contras when it comes to the hops-madness that the beer world still seems to be in the grips of. Part of it is just my

nature, but another part of it is a love for rich, malty, toasty porters and stouts and fruity, sweet wheat beers. I came into Evil Genius as a skeptic.

But this is a very good mead and as far as I know a unique product. Hops and honey seem like they were born for each other after a few sips. Granted, there isn’t much complexity here, but it’s so weirdly refreshing it doesn’t even matter. B.Nektar’s Evil Genius IPA-style mead is recommended.

Imperial Funky Monky

Maker: B.Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USA

Style: Cherry Melomel

ABV: 12%

Notes: Hopped

Appearance: Fizzy burgundy.

Nose: Honey, cherry, not much else.

On the palate: Medium-bodied, lighter than expected. Quite sweet. Lots of cherry, with the cherry’s tartness balanced off by the bitter notes from the honey. Honey also adds sweetness, of course and there’s lots and lots of it in here. Also a bit of a concord grape juice taste.

Finish: Sweet, not much else.

Parting words: This stuff is supposed to be hopped, but for the life of me I can’t find hops anywhere in the mix. To call Funky Monky one-dimensional would be wrong, but it’s not very complex either. Just a lot of cherry with a bit o’ honey. I think they were going for something like a cherry lambic (called a Kriek), given the monk angle. It works as a fun, funky warm-weather dessert wine and it’s priced like one. I just wish there was more going on. Imperial Funky Monky is mildly recommended.

B. Nektar Orange Blossom Mead

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USA

ABV: 12-14%

Appearance: Bright gold

Nose: Sweet, orange peel, lemon, orange blossom.

On the palate: Full-bodied, sweet. Orange blossoms (duh), lavender, tarragon, bay.

Finish: A bit of fruit, then a long, clingy, honeyed bitterness.

Parting words: This one is slightly different from the wildflower mead, but I don’t think I would do well in a Pepsi challenge situation. This bottle has been open for a while, but I haven’t detected much, if any, change in the flavors or aromas. This would support the bottle’s assertion that it ages well. Maybe I’ll buy another bottle to lay down to test that hypothesis. At any rate, this is a well-crafted, well-balanced, straight-ahead Orange Blossom Mead. Recommended.

B. Nektar Wildflower Mead

Maker: B. Nektar, Ferndale, Michigan, USA

Varietal: Wildflower

ABV: 14%

Appearance: Pale straw, like young chardonnay.

Nose: Honey (duh), pear, wild herbs, sweet hay.

On the palate: Full-bodied, lightly sweet, Riesling-like with a bit of citrus, but still lots of wildflower honey character, especially as the glass warms.

Finish: Lightly bittersweet and clingy. Slowly fades to a pleasant sweetness.

Parting words:  I’ve long been eager to review B. Nektar’s Wildflower mead if for no other reason than to establish a baseline for tasting their other, funkier, offerings, and also becuase the meadery is about 2 1/2 miles from my house. It doesn’t disappoint. It’s more elegant and delicate than Oliver’s Camelot mead, but still delivers plenty of varietal character as I said above. It’s a good deal more expensive than Camelot, but Camelot is probably underpriced and B. Nektar’s wildflower honey is better so it all evens out. This is mead to be savored, not slammed. Recommended.

Camelot Mead

Maker: Oliver Winery, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

ABV: 11%

Appearance: Light straw, like a chardonnay.

Nose: Honey (duh), apples, citrus blossoms.

On the palate: medium bodied, big sweetness, fruit juice, more floral notes, followed by a slightly bitter honey flavor.

Finish: Pretty light. The fruity sweetness lingers in the cheeks and frankly makes my teeth hurt a little.

Parting Words: Camelot is a good beginner’s mead. In fact, it was one of the first products ever produced by Oliver Winery when it began nearly forty years ago. It’s light and sweet, not too bitter, but still has a decent amount of honey character. Works well on its own or as a dessert wine. Not life-changing, but at under $10, it’s hard to complain too much. Recommended.