It’s Mead Time is an up close and personal look at mead, an adult beverage fermented with honey and water that dates back centuries, and its continuing rise in popularity throughout craft libations circles. Each month, together with Scott Neeley, Founder and mead maker at KingView Mead, we look to deliver news, information, and commentary about ‘The Hero’s Drink’ and bring you plenty of reasons why mead should be added to your consumption list.
Getting Familiar with Mead Laws & Regulations
Each month, It’s Mead Time zeroes in on what’s happening inside the glass with mead and Scott Neeley at KingView Mead. Last month, we celebrated the many awards Scott brought home in recent competitions in mead, wine, and cider categories. I finally had an opportunity to try the PA Premium Late Harvest Cider last week and it’s easy to tell how this offering captured medals at two separate events.
Today, we take a closer look at some of the changes that have allowed mead to increase its presence in the adult beverage market throughout Pennsylvania. This information comes to us courtesy of Scott Neeley at KingView, one of many mead producers in our Commonwealth that are making tremendous strides in the expansion of mead:
On January 17th, 2017 things changed in the state of Pennsylvania. That change was the allowance of “Mead” by PA standards to be sold in Beer Distributors. This legislation opened the doors for PA limited wineries (and other out-of-state mead producers) to enter the beer distributor market with both cider and “mead.”
Here’s how PA defines Mead: Act 166 defines “mead” as an alcoholic beverage produced by fermenting a solution of at least 51% honey, water, and other agricultural products, containing no more than 8.5% alcohol by volume and marketed as malt or brewed beverages rather than wine. It can be sold in bottles, cases, kegs, cans, or other suitable containers, and it is considered to be a malt or brewed beverage. Mead may be produced by breweries or limited wineries. [47 P.S. §§ 1-102, 5- 505.2(a)].
What’s important is that 51% of the fermenting solution should contain honey. In other words, the majority of the alcohol derived should come from the sugar content of honey to be considered mead. That part is consistent with federal laws.
What’s interesting is that this act allows PA breweries to make “mead.” It’s interesting in the fact that it conflicts with the federal laws for breweries in terms of what is used and regulated for fermentable sugars to be classified as a brewery. In essence, at a federal level, breweries still cannot make mead, yet for wineries they can still produce mead of any alcohol content.
This brings up another point of the 8.5% ABV cap for “mead” imposed by Act 166. This conflicts with the federal law in that honey wine & mead (which federally mean the same thing) can go above the 8.5% and still be federally labeled as mead. The key here is that labeling laws happen at the federal level through the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco and Trade Bureau). While states can adopt additional labeling requirements, “mead” labeling still follows federal jurisdiction.
To add to the chaos, there is a type of mead called a Braggot, which is a term that also creates some interesting dialogue. A Braggot is a form of mead made with both honey and barley malt. It typically uses 1/3 or more malt and may have as much as 50% malt. Here’s where things get fun: At a federal and state level, “mead” needs 51% honey, breweries need 51% malt. This definition of Braggot says as much as 50% malt. At the 50% level, no one can actually make it federally.
Additionally, limited wineries cannot utilize malt in any capacity and breweries must have 51% malt or more. On top of that, limited breweries cannot accept bulk wine (federal definition) and limited wineries cannot accept bulk beer for any purposes, which includes blending. Long story short, a true Braggot cannot truly be made legally. While this law opened doors, it also muddied some of the waters for PA limited brewers and limited wineries. In either case, the same remains: it’s not mead if it’s not 51% honey and right now that’s still in the PA Limited Winery’s hands.
You can still do fun things using honey on both ends of the spectrum. Just be on the lookout for “mead” that may actually not be mead.
Without question, some interesting things to consider as you explore the world of mead.
Stay tuned to the Breaking Brews Power Hour Podcast as I sit down with Scott Neeley in an upcoming episode to discuss these rules, regulations, and definitions in more detail.