By Jordan Liebman
I'm fortunate enough to work for a company that imports beverages from Europe. Specifically Poland. The reason I am writing this is because recently we acquired and began importing some of the best mead I have ever tasted. The mead I'm referring to had been designated contraband by FDA and BATF just a short time ago and unavailable in the US.
I know what you're thinking. My experience has been, when I tell small batch mead makers and other enthusiasts that these meads are made commercially, their reaction usually includes gagging, eye rolling, and other antics. Generally leading up to negative descriptors based upon a bad experience with previous commercial meads they've tried. I understand their reaction, and truthfully, while many of the meads we carry are exceptional, some of the past meads my company has carried were not so good. Fortunately, the responsibility to change that has fallen to me. It is my job, and my pleasure.
Finally, after years of waiting and generally being a 'nag', I was able to convince the right people to allow us to import the best and rarest meads Poland has to offer. The consensus was that the American market wasn't ready for such products. They are pricey, exotic and very rare. My boss thought it was too much of a risk to bring them to the States but I finally convinced him to take the chance. The meads are 'Jadwiga' and 'Kurpiowski'.
Poland's mead making is documented to the 12th century, and for over 1000 years before that, the Slavs made mead there.
Jadwiga: This is the world's queen of mead; historically, literally and figuratively. Jadwiga was the queen of Poland who ruled in the 14th century. She married Jagiello, the King of Lithuania, and thus, planted the seed for Poland's Golden Age. Jadwiga ruled from Krakow and resided in the castle Wawel. At that time, Krakow was the capital of Poland. The story goes that this recipe was created to celebrate Jadwiga and Jagiello's wedding. That was about 635 years ago. Therefore, this is possibly the world's longest continuously prepared commercial mead recipe. Jadwiga is a poltorak mead (pow-TOO-rhak), meaning it is three parts honey to one part water. That is some RICH mead. Jadwiga comes in a wicker-wrapped bottle with wax seal, ribbon, rope and metallic medallion inlay. The color is deep amber in the glass with excellent clarity. It is extremely sweet. Ultra sweet. As sweet or sweeter than maple syrup, and at least as viscous. It has huge "legs" in the glass. The bouquet is instantly floral, with honeyed-scents of lavender and lilac. The flavor is powerful with impressive weight, yet restrained. Truly a religious experience. Jadwiga takes over your whole mouth and grabs you by the tonsils. It is essential and corporeal. It is heavy yet balanced. Despite its sweetness it is never cloying. In the finish, you are left with an enigma, which begs a "next" glass and then a "next" and a "next".
Kurpiowski: It is a Dwojniak Mead, made of primarily acacia honey (proportion of one part honey to one part water), with black currant aromatics. The bottle mentions that there are spices added. I don't detect any in the flavor, so it must be quite minimal. This mead is pronounced (ker-PEE-ahv-SKEE). It comes in a 750-ml. bottle. It is made at APIS (an acronym for agricultural something something beekeepers), in Lublin, Poland, which is in the Central Eastern Poland, closer to Russia. Kurpiowski is aged a minimum of 5 years, up to 2 years in large oaken barrels. Kurpiowski is very thick and sweet. Kurpiowski is full bodied, with a good viscosity. The color is pale to straw, with good clarity. It is very well balanced and quite sweet. It shows much of the perfumed, floral qualities in its aroma as well as the honeyed aromas one would expect. There is also a black currant aroma, but almost no currant flavor. Black currants are added early in the process and while the currant aroma stays, the flavor dissipates. On the palate it is soft, and lively while the flavors unfold. The middle is quite sweet, fading to somewhat of a drier finish with a slight pepperiness.
I hope you have an opportunity to try these wonderful examples of historic old world mead. They are brought into the US in limited quantities by Stawski Distributing of Chicago.