The Art of Eating (the fortress of culinary badassery that has rapidly become my favorite food magazine) goes in big for the omnivorous exploration of obscure topics. This issue, it’s mead (honey wine) that receives an epic treatment worthy of Watergate or World War I.

Right off the bat, the piece goes up against one of the most universal and pernicious beliefs about mead: that it’s sweet and syrupy and kind of boring. Julia Herz of the International Mead Association replies, when asked what mead tastes like: “That’s like asking what wine tastes like!”

Granted that she has a vested interest. But the story does a great job of setting up the various challenges involved in making good mead, and the various variables that an ambitious mead brewer can seize hold of and tweak at will. The first and foremost of these is the type of honey used; Intermiel (an apiary and meadery in Quebec) produces 20 different varieties of honey, and a wide variety of meads that range from a sweet goldenrod honey-based brew to meads mixed with fruit (or rose petals) to wildflower honey dessert mead called Benoite that packs a 14 percent ABC and spicy flavor.

As is typical with an Art of Eating story, the piece digs deep into its subject, exploring mead’s likely prehistoric origins (rain falling into a tree trunk laden with bee-stored honey), its status as a drink of the wealthy among the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and its role as the beverage of choice among the manly men of the Nordic North in Europe. By the time you’re done reading the piece, you’re ready for a big-ass mug of fermented bee juice.

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