Many home meadmakers enter their meads into competition around the world, and when the judges look their brew over, they are often given a sheet detailing the comments on their entry. These comments can include descriptors that seem weird or strange to those not familiar with them.

To that end, I’m going to attempt to list some of the most common descriptors and their definition. You can also use these to help analyze your meads, even if you’re not going to enter them!

  • Alcoholic – the general effect of ethanol and higher alcohols. Tastes warming and tends to burn somewhat upon swallowing.
  • Astringent – drying, puckering sensation, like chewing on a grape skin. Tannin, usually from fruit skins or seeds.
  • Chlorophenolic – caused by chemical combination of chlorine and organics. Detectable in parts per billion. Aroma is unique but similar to plastic-like phenolic. Avoid using chlorinated water.
  • Clean – lacking off flavors.
  • Floral – the aroma of flower blossoms.
  • Fruity/Estery – similar to banana, raspberry, pear, apple or strawberry flavor, may include other fruity/estery flavors. Often accentuated with higher temperature fermentations and certain yeast strains.
  • Light Struck – having the characteristic smell of a skunk (skunky), caused by exposure to light…(and subsequent reaction with hops or other ingredients).
  • Metallic – caused by exposure to metal. Also described as tinny, coins, bloodlike. Check your brewpot and caps. (Honey is acidic, therefore don’t store it in metal cans, and don’t expose it to metals except stainless steel. Bottle caps have an inner barrier, but can sometimes rust.
  • Oxidized/Stale – develops in the presence of oxygen as mead ages or is exposed to high temperature; winy, wet cardboard, papery, rotten vegetable, pineapple, sherry, b aby diapers (too much yeast nutrient may also give this aroma/taste). Often coupled with an increase in sourness and harshness. The more aeration in bottling/siphoning or air in headspace, the more quickly the mead will oxidize. Warm temperatures dramatically accelerate oxidation.
  • Phenolic – can be any one or combination of medicinal, plastic, electrical fire, Listerine-like, bandaid-like, smoky, clove-like aroma or flavor. Most often caused by wild strains of yeast or bacteria. Sanitizing residues left on equipment can contribute.
  • Salty – flavor associated with table salt. Sensation experienced on sides of tongue. Can be caused from presence of too much sodium chloride, calcium chloride or magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt); brewing salts.
  • Solvent-like – Flavor and aroma character of certain alcohols, often due to high fermentation temperatures. Like acetone, lacquer thinner.
  • Sour/Acidic – Pungent aroma, sharpness of taste. Basic taste like vinegar or lemon; tart. Typically associated with lactic or acetic acid. Can be the result of bacterial infection through contamination or the overuse of citric, malic or tartaric acids. Sensation experienced on the sides of tongue.
  • Sparkling – having carbonation.
  • Still – lacking carbonation.
  • Sweet – basic taste associated with sugar (and honey). Sensation experienced on tip of tongue.
  • Sulfer-like – (H2S – hydrogen sulfide) – rotten eggs, burning matches. Is a by-product with certain strains of yeasts. Fermentation temperature can be a factor of intensity. Diminishes with age. Most evident with bottle-conditioned meads.
  • Yeasty – Yeast-like flavor. Often due to strains of yeast in suspension or mead sitting on sediment too long.
Vicky Rowe
Follow me