The Golden Mead

Brian Schlueter and the wall of mead at Moonstruck Meadery, 2221 Madison St. Schlueter and Moonstruck recently won a double-gold medal in international competition for the meadery’s Capsumel, a mead made with chili peppers. Schlueter said it’s a major victory for both Moonstruck and American mead, which is enjoying increased attention of late.

The Spear-Danes quaffed it by the hornful at Heorot, a hall draped in golden splendor described in the 9th century Old English long poem “Beowulf.”

And a millennium later, at a little corner storefront in Olde Towne Bellevue, that gold is doubly draped over an American version of the drink that made the Danes and Geats hale and hearty: the fermented honey potable known as mead.

Earlier this month, Moonstruck Meadery at 2221 Madison St., learned it had been awarded a double-gold medal at VINUS 2013 — an international competition among meadmakers, vintners and other purveyors of strong spirits — for its Capsumel, a signature mead at Moonstruck fermented with chili peppers.

In short, Capsumel is, for all intents and purposes and by the judgments of sommeliers of international renown and other experts, the best mead in the world.

“It’s like the World Series and the Super Bowl in the same award for the U.S.,” said Brian Schlueter, founder and president of Moonstruck, which began operations in 2011. “It’s not one of those things they give out all the time and for it to be given to a mead made in the United States, where mead is still kind of coming into its own, it’s a pretty big statement.”

Moonstruck’s meads have won other awards in other competitions, usually national in nature and squaring off with just a handful of what Schlueter said are about 170 meaderies around the U.S., but earlier this year, the meadery decided to test its product on the world’s stage.

Schlueter sent three bottles of what he considered his best meads to Argentina for the annual VINUS competition. In addition to the Capsumel’s triumph, the other two also returned with medals: the Blackberry Melomel took a silver and the Strawberry Melomel a gold.

The Capsumel, an artful combination of mead’s usual honey undertone with savory, slippery notes of Anaheim, jalapeno and serrano peppers opened up a new dance floor for the judges’ palates he said.

“It was a whole new exposure for them, a whole new nose, a whole new aroma, a whole new taste,” Schlueter said.

“Balance that peppery flavor with the sweetness and it’s just not what you think it’s going to be.”

American meadmakers are starting to gain more international prominence and exposure as the roughly 8,000-year-old craft of creating mead is coming to newer and broader light in the nation.

Schlueter’s operation in Bellevue is expanding and he’s also getting his product into more stores and outlets. He has a stated goal of being in every bar and pub in the metro area and is working hard toward that objective, including continuing to experiment with different flavors and also introducing a carbonated version of the drink that can come out of a tap.

This latest recognition, he hopes, will go a long way toward making the goal a reality.

Couple that with a recent Time magazine article that featured mead and meadmakers from around the nation and it appears plenty of drinkers are getting sweet on the honey drink. As vice president of the American Mead Makers Association, Schlueter is also doing his own legwork to lobby for his creation.

“More meaderies are opening all the time, more people are getting interested in what mead is,” he said.

“We’re getting the word out there, letting people know what mead is and why they should drink it and we’re making a nice little niche for ourselves.”

As niche markets go, this one has a history and that’s what Schlueter said he and his fellow meadmakers are hoping to capitalize on.

“I had no idea it would turn into this when I started two years ago,” he said. “All I knew is that I wanted a bottle with a label on the shelf, carrying on a long tradition and keeping mead growing.

“I’m very happy with the result.”

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