I know it’s perhaps a little Un-Orthodox of me to be reviewing a mead here on The Arizona Wine Monk Blog, but since I revealed on Facebook yesterday that I would be reviewing Arizona-made brandies when they are released in the future, it makes perfect sense for me to be reviewing mead as well. And the fact of the matter is that Superstition Meadery, located in the historic Courthouse district of Prescott, makes some really good ones, along with Ciders and Pyments. They’ve won a whole slew of awards in national and international competitions for their creations, including taking home a bunch of medals at the Mazer Cup, which is the biggest worldwide mead competition.
Their tasting room is right off of Courthouse Square in Downtown Prescott, off of Gurley Street. It is located in a subterranean cellar tasting room which has a lovely contemporary industrial feel; a delightful counterpoint to the ancient history of mead which goes back as far–if not farther, than wine itself. They constantly change their menu of meads, and they also serve up a nice selection of Arizona wines also, such as the Painted Lady Gewurztraminer (previously reviewed here: http://azwinemonk.com/2014/10/14/2012-gewurtztraminer-painted-lady-vineyards-skull-valley/)
I’m reviewing a new batch of an old favorite of mine from them, the Honey Highway, which is their Prickly Pear mead, which was released in their tasting room on March 31st, 2015. To me, Prickly Pear is one of those Arizona specialties that I craved often when I was living in exile in Boston.
Honey Highway Prickly Pear Mead, Superstition Meadery
The Mead: For those who don’t know what mead is, it is (according to Wikipedia’s definition, anyway): “an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, and in other forms with various fruits, spices, grains or hops… The alcoholic content of mead may range from about 8% ABV to more than 20%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage’s fermentable sugar is derived from honey. It may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling; and it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.” There’s a lot of government hoopla about what constitutes a honey wine versus a mead, which seems to change monthly, but essentially they are the same thing. The Honey Highway is made from Arizona Wildflower Honey coming from various parts of Arizona (mostly the southern reaches, from the Crockett Honey Company), along with Prickly Pear juice sourced from the Southwestern United States, which was made in Washington state. It was aged in a new American oak barrel for six months. The winemaker for this mead, like all of the meads at Superstition meadery, was Jeff Herbert. Highway 69 on the label is the major highway that links Prescott to I-17, though historically it linked Prescott to Phoenix directly.
The Nose: The nose is pretty complex. There is a great deal of mesquite and floral characteristics: peony, geraniums, lily, iris, and vanilla, intermingled with sage. The American oak barrel this mead was aged in has imbued the nose of the Honey Highway with subtle hints of bourbon, molasses, and cedar. The tart fruity notes of prickly pear are, of course, also present.
The Palate: The palate of this mead is well-rounded, with a sharp cedar edge which underlies the smooth honey and prickly pear and vanilla notes. There are some notes of sage, smoke, and mesquite. The honey notes are reminiscent of the various local desert wildflower honey I’ve encountered and mixed in with my breakfast tea in the mornings. The Honey Highway has a rich, velvety mouthfeel that almost sticks to your tongue, with a slight creamy caramelized sugar note on the finish. I’d say that there is a pretty low amount of residual sugar here, and the mead does seem to get a little sweeter as you sip. The finish is long, lasting for about 16 seconds.
Pairing: My first instinct is to pair this with some vanilla ice cream for dessert, but while there is some residual sugar here, I think that this is far more versatile than that. I feel like this could go well with Chicken kebabs, cooked on the grill, that use slices of prickly pear pads, onion, and green peppers, and possibly also with some green chilies. The Honey Highway would also be a pretty good pairing for a summer picnic with some simple sandwiches.
Impressions: This mead is a little bit like your last kiss with your highschool girlfriend at the last storm of the summer monsoon before she goes off to college. You look back upon that memory and smile, though the two of you broke up a long time ago. You still keep tabs with her on Facebook on occasion; she’s now a science teacher in the Pacific Northwest, married, with kids.
In short, the Honey Highway is an instant classic, and well worth making the journey to their tasting room in Historic Downtown Prescott. Their other meads on tap, or in the bottle, are all pretty fantastic. Only 280 Bottles of the Honey Highway were created.