Judging Mead
By Dewy M. Caron, Ph.D
American Meadmaker, Vol 2, #2, Fall/Winter 1987
(reprinted with permission from the author)


Annually there are several shows that require the services of a trained mead judge in the Eastern United States. Unfortunately, the interest in mead has not led to expanding mead shows nor to greater numbers of exhibitors of mead. This situation is certainly regrettable because mead is a marvelous expression of its base ingredient, honey. It is a hobby of limitless proportions involving skill and patience with concomitant rewards.

In the U.S. rather than use the complex and time consuming judging systems used in Europe or England, we follow more practical guidelines. We employ descriptive scoring tests for the distinctive component parts of mead, assigning points to each category.

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 My interest in mead judging began while I was at the University of Maryland. Mead as a competitive category was started in Maryland honey shows in 1972. In 1973 the executive committee of the Maryland State Beekeepers Association established an enology committee that took on the task of developing recipes for competitive entries in the 1975 and 1976 mead shows. They also organized a series of workshops, which I taught, to train individuals as mead judges.

 In establishing mead judging standards, we developed a 20 point judging scale of 8 qualities.

  •  Appearance or clarity   2
  • Aroma and bouquet      5
  • Total acid                     2
  • Sugar                           1
  • Body                            2
  • Flavor and balance       4
  • Astringency (tannin)      1
  • General quality  3

 By way of comparison, the Eastern Apicultural Society judging standards are based on a 100 point scale.

  •  Clarity                          20
  • Color                           10
  • Taste                            20
  • Body                            10
  • Bouquet                       20
  • Bottles                          10
  • Bottle closure               10

Many meadmakers participated in the Maryland workshops. The various component characteristics were separated and discussed. In addition to training individuals to recognize the component parts, we counseled our trainees to employ uniform criteria.

Aroma – the smell of the ingredients, and bouquet—the result of the interplay of ingredients and aging, is important in a mead and thus commands ¼ of the total point count. In judging mead, you expect bouquet but new wines shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. With a 20 point scale, exceptional aged wines should be given 3-5 points and a new wine 2-3 points. Wines with high sulpher or imbalance of ingredient odors are rated 1 point and ‘off’ smell entries rank 0. Meads lacking in aroma or bouquet are difficult to judge, but an award of 3 points is recommended sine the judge has 1 or 2 additional points to award for improved entries.

Acid, sugar and body are components of the taste of a mead. (In the EAS judging, body and taste are separate categories.) In our workshops we produced acid solutions and worked on body in an attempt to obtain consistency in judging. Low acid wines are flate and may be bitter but sweetness may often cover an acid imbalance. Although honey is acidic, the acids are not the same as those in grape wines with citric or tartaric acid often reduced. A judge should look at the recipe to see if these acids (or acid blend) have been used. Basically, if acid or body are there, the wine should be awarded total points, whereas thin, weak tasting, flat wines should be given a 0.

With flavor and balance in our Maryland judging standard, we were attempting to provide standards for the honey wines that permitted the addition of other fruits or spices. This category was a blend of acid, sugar and other ingredients. If a wine was too sweet or bitter or if the product had too yeasty a taste, we could use this category to reflect the imbalance. Sometimes the sugars were carmelized and as this is an undesirable component, we would deduct points. If a fruit were used, you want to have some sense of it in the final product, so we could recognize or penalize this feature in our judging.

Finally, we used a general category to provide for personal reactions and technical features. (In the EAS shows, there are two technical categories of bottle and bottle closure used.) In the 20 point scale, overall presentation including bottle, bottle closure and recipe preparations were scored in this category. We gave full points for an acceptable entry, intermediate points for entries lacking in some quality and 0 points for an error or serious problem.

The mead judging workshops were a good learning experience for all involved. These workshops need to be conducted again as the ten year interval has been too long. Several individuals who participated have judged shows but the pool of trained judges is small. Perhaps a new series of workshops might spark a renewed interest in mead.

(If you would like a copy of the recipes developed by the Maryland committee send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Dr. Dewey M. Caron, Department of Entomology and Applied Ecology, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19717-1303)

Vicky Rowe
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