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Book Review

Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker :
Home Production of Honey Wine from Your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations

"...by far the best meadmaking book to date!"

Ken Schramm. The Compleat Meadmaker : Home Production of Honey Wine from Your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations. Brewers Publications, Boulder, CO, 2003.

(Reviewed for Amazon.com by Jack Keller, The Winemaking Home Page)

When I saw the title, my first thought was, "he spelled 'complete' wrong." Then I thought about it. Mead is an ancient brew - arguably the first fermented beverage - so why not use an ancient spelling of the word? It fits.

Ken Schramm has done for meadmaking what Jon Iverson, Terry Garey and Daniel Pambianchi have done for winemaking - written a book that will serve the home craft with authority for years to come. Indeed, it was a joy to read. From the historical asides to the award-winning recipes, this book was meant to educate and use. The hardest part was resisting the temptation to put it down and run out to buy some honey.

"Mead, once considered far superior to both wine and beer, fell into obscurity as honey became scarce and expensive, and was never reclaimed from the nobility's vault in which it was laid. Through the work of many people and by virtue of the quality of the beverage itself, mead is making a comeback. This book endeavors to push that comeback along." Thus, quite succinctly, Ken Schramm lays out the gauntlet he chose to run. In my judgement, he succeeded admirably.

The book is divided into four parts. These are Background, Process, Ingredients, and Recipes, followed by appendices, glossary, bibliography, and a very useful index.

Background: I am an historian by education. As such, I am drawn to historical accounts that support my hobbies. So it was with great delight that I read in the opening chapter a fairly good argument for mead claiming the title of oldest fermentable beverage. Indeed, the whole first chapter is about the history of mead, from accidental discovery by paleolithic or neolithic man to the great mead traditions of ancient Egypt, Europe, and wherever sailors sailed. While some would choose to skip this discussion, I hope the number would not be too large. There is serious food for thought here. A very short second chapter defines the styles of mead. I found this chapter to be too short, but I am a fan of nomenclature.

Process: Four chapters compose this portion. "Changing Honey into Wine" goes beyond tradition, of which mead is literally soaked, to bring the craft into the scientific era and improve it generally. The author uses a medium-sweet, orange-blossom mead recipe to walk the reader through the equipment, additives and processes of making mead generally. "Beyond the Basics" looks at the heat and non-heat methods of integrating honey, but also looks at sparkling mead, more equipment, and more additives. "Yeast and Fermentation" covers many subjects -- from yeast choices to residual sugar -- and is, in my opinion, the heart and soul of the meadmaking process. "Conditioning, Aging, and Using Oak" covers these subjects sufficiently for the beginner. While I desired more, I am perhaps atypical.

Ingredients: "All About Honey" is perhaps the author's finest chapter. As a bee-keeper, he is here in his own element and it seeps through loud and clear. I think he restrained himself by only discussing 21 types of honey, but I could be guessing. "Fruit and Melomel" is another meat and potatoes chapter, delving far beyond the superficial to discuss the subject adequately. "Grapes and Pyment" is less meaty but still adequate, confined to the more commonly available Vitis vinifera wine grape varieties. My disappointment at seeing no discussion of North American native grapes may not be widespread, but leaves room for a second edition expansion. "Spices and Metheglin" opens a door wide enough for an 18-wheeler, and he shows tremendous restraint by only discussing 51 suitable spices (of which 15 are chile pepper varieties). "Grains and Braggot" concentrates exclusively on braggots -- malted barley meads -- with only passing mention that there are other grains available. But one can forgive him for this. He does, after all, cover the malts adequately enough to open another huge realm of possible variation.

Recipes: "Putting the Process and Ingredients Together" is a collection of only 11 recipes (12 counting the orange-blossom mead mentioned earlier), but they are carefully chosen to reveal an almost endless number of possibilities across several styles. I doubt anyone will be disappointed, for Ken Schramm's purpose here is to offer the models for countless variations. "Appreciating Your Mead" is a short, seemingly unnecessary chapter - until you read it. Skip it at your own peril.

Indeed, if you are going to make mead at all, skip this book at your own peril. My copy is well-tabbed, and I'm not a beginner....

Order Ken Schramm's The Compleat Meadmaker from AMAZON.COM now!

Last update was August 6th, 2003.

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