16 Jul 2008

BP (Before Pivo)

Before they started brewing some of the finest beers in the world Czechs mostly drank "medovina", which literally means honey wine, but in English is better known as mead.

It's one of the oldest known alcoholic beverages and has a more than dignified history, at least from the mythical point of view. It's believed that it was the Nectar drank by the Olympic gods or the soma, the sacred drink of the Persians. It was also the favourite swill of the Nordic gods. It appears in the legends of Beowulf (at least in the film version:) and in some old Czech legends such as Bivoj and the Boar.

It has since lost its place of honour to beer and wine. However, it has never disappeared, it has always been there, specially at Christmas, when it is very popular to drink it warm.

Despite its Czech name, it's not a wine. It is made in a way similar to beer, though, instead of fermenting an infusion of cereals, an infusion of honey is fermented. At some time in the process different flavouring or colouring ingredients are added, such as fruit, berries, nuts, herbs, spices, caramel, etc. It can be either sweet or bitter. Basically, there is something for all tastes.
I've wanted to write an entry about medovina for quite some time. I like it a lot. We always have some at home. We usually drink it after dinner or in the afternoon with some coffee. But we always have only one bottle of any given kind that lasts quite long because we don't drink it in large quantities.

Fortune wanted us to attend a Celtic festival that took place the other day at a small town not far from where we live. It was in the gardens of the local castle, there was good music, nice food, not so good beer, very nice atmosphere and an incredibly massive choice of medovina. After having sampled several kinds we brought a few bottles home. The choice was as varied as I could think of and as much as we could carry with us to the car.
I had never done a parallel tasting of so many kinds of mead. I was really curious and started to open the bottles as soon as we got home.
The first one was Zlatá Medovina (18%ABV). This is a bottle we already had. It has a predominantly vanilla aroma, which also commands the taste. The finish is of roasted herbs and has a very silky body.

From the castle loot, I started with Eliška, it is a household name, and it's the one commonly served warm at Christmas markets. I brought Hořka (bitter) (12%ABV) with me. Its nose reminds me of some honey and mint candy I used to like a lot when I was a kid in Argentina. When drinking, the first thing that can be felt is ephemeral sweetness of honey, followed by a more intense bitterness with mint and licorice notes. A very fine drink.

I followed with the Elíxir Mladý (11%ABV), or elixir of youth. Its lighter colour tells us that caramel was not used, since such is the natural colour of mead after fermenting. It has a very mild nose, barely a hint of herbs. Its taste is also mild, velvety with subtle herbal notes.

Leaving the elixir behind, I went for Benatecká Bylinná (11%), herbal. And it has a strong herbal and spice nose. The flavour is medicine like, yet not unpleasant, which might make it a very nice digestif.

Kávový (coffee) (13%ABV) is a bit on the modern side. It is the darkest mead of all, with coffee dominating the nose. In the mouth, however, it is joined by honey and herbs in a very good balance.

I left the strangest of the lot to the end. Medovinový Likér (11%ABV), made with water, milk, honey, herbs and almonds. What an incredibly interesting drink this is. Very thick, almost like a pudding. It has a very complex nose where fruit, sour milk and honey are given equal space. It starts sour, almost agressive, but not quite so, when drinking it. Here the almonds can be felt, together with honey and herbs that close the drink joined by fermented milk. An ideal drink to pair with cakes and pastries.

Česká Medovina is a drink that unfortunately few foreigners seem to know. Partly because it's not that easy to find. The supermarket chains hardly ever carry it, and there aren't many restaurants that include it in their menu. But believe me, its subtle and silky characteristics make it a very good option to finish a meal, or as a night cap. Not to mention what a fine present a bottle can be.

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2 comments:

  1. Slightly diff. direction, but...What do you see as the impact on Bud USA's ongoing battle with Czech Bud, now that InBev has bought AHB?

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  2. Well, it's not only beer that I drink :)
    About the takeover. I don't think it's going to have any effect on Budvar for the moment. At least not until all the registered trademark cases that have been going around different European courts are solved one way or another. Not to mention that InBev will have a lot of chewing to do to swallow that big bite.

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