Schramm’s Mead: The Seductive Alternative Alcohol

Wednesday, February 12, 2020 - 11:35am

Mead has unflattering image problems, and the most common imagery may be what you think of at your local renaissance fair. That drink is overly sweet yet insipid — a drink you would reluctantly sip as you wistfully pine for a drier, sharp-tasting beer. You may wonder how an ingredient as aromatic and complex as honey can be reduced to what amounts to little more than alcoholic, sweet and yellow water.

Compared to its more popular cousins, beer and wine, mead has yet to grab the attention of mainstream culture. But the production and quality of craft mead has exploded within the past decade, with some of the finest meads coming from the state of Michigan. At the center of that boom is Schramm’s Mead, the storefront of the eponymous Ken Schramm: author of “The Compleat Meadmaker” and referred to by many mead-brewers as “The Godfather of Mead.” 

Schramm’s Mead is located within a cluster of well-established restaurants of Ferndale in the heart of Nine Mile Road. You may find the storefront of Schramm’s quite comely aside from the garish American stars with its blue background painted on its side facing the parking lot. Walking in, you find the interior is anything but garish; you are greeted by a warm, cozy bar and tasting room and knowledgeable bartenders passionate about the meads they have on tap.

Before I encountered Schramm’s Mead, I had been indulging in sweeter dessert wines such as the 2014 - 2016 batches of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling. It’s a surprisingly crisp but light drink — a wine that almost reminds you of a dry-sweet cider made from Granny Smiths as opposed to a wine made of white grapes. This is a drink you savor on its own, perfect for a night-in while binging Netflix. Yet a dessert wine like this feels somewhat incomplete. You crave full-bodied drinks which possess a thick, luscious mouthfeel that complements their intensely sweet and fruity profile. What you crave, in essence, is an alcohol unicorn to provide the perfect finish to your day.

A brief look into Schramm’s tasting menu shows that Schramm’s specializes in melomels, meads which include fruits along with honey in the fermentation process. You may be confused about this kind of mead if your previous experiences with mead were solely with ghostly renaissance fair varieties. Given the bias towards berries, you may wonder whether these meads have some passing resemblance to young ruby port wines or perhaps even to a Korean raspberry wine called bokbunja.

Among the selections are the raspberry mead and the blackberry mead, excellent starting points for your adventure. Upon first taste, you may be stupefied by the sheer intensity of honey flavor and aroma that sings throughout each sip. The tartness of either the raspberry or the blackberry alleviates the heavy-hitting sweetness of the honey while also complementing the honey with a fruity and jam-like quality. Taking a second sip, you are intrigued and amazed at how the honey and the berry harmoniously express their individuality without compromise, similar to the proud, unabashed confidence of Shakira and J.Lo performing “Let’s Get Loud” at the LIV Superbowl halftime.

Following the raspberry or blackberry mead, you may be piqued by the boldly-named “The Statement” — a sour cherry mead. Like the raspberry and blackberry meads, the flavor of the Batalon cherries melds inconspicuously with the sweetness of the honey. Fans of sour flavors may rejoice to find that compared to the raspberry or blackberry meads, the sourness of the Batalon cherries takes the center stage compared to the sweetness of the honey. “The Statement” is reminiscent of the 1976 London live performance of “Europa” by Carlos Santana, in which the sour tartness of the cherries melodically riffs across your tongue in the midst of honey-like synthesizer melodic chord progressions.

But perhaps no night is complete without trying Schramm’s “Heather” mead. Unlike most of the other selections, “Heather,” as its name suggests, consists solely of Scottish Heather honey. In contrast to many of Schramm’s offerings, “Heather” provides a flavor reminiscent of vanilla and oak barrels — somewhat similar to a whiskey, yet packed with a honey aroma bordering on caramel. Consider the possibility of the “Heather” as a whiskey substitute in an old-fashioned, or instead simply enjoy “Heather” for the drink that it is — a showstopping, exclamatory punctuation to end your mead-drinking experience.

You may be concerned that a prerequisite to enjoying a bottle of Schramm’s for your nightly Netflix binges would involve driving to Ferndale. Luckily, Schramm’s is available across many locations within the state of Michigan, including Ann Arbor stores such as Blue Front and Plum Market. Not all of Schramm’s products are available in these locations. Notably, the “Heather” is disappointingly missing from these available meads.

In the cold, overcast winters of the Midwest, any reminders of warmth and sun provide a welcome respite to an otherwise dreary day. During the winter, Schramm’s Mead is a powerful but demure reminder of the warmth and joy that lies ahead of the harrowing weather. In the height of spring and summer, Schramm’s is a celebration of nature’s luscious bounty that flourishes throughout Pure Michigan.

Schramm’s Mead is located at 327 W Nine Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220.