A Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Mead contains one or more spices, herbs, or vegetables (in this style definition, these are collectively known as “spices”). The culinary, not botanical, definition of spice, herb, or vegetable is used here. If you have to justify a spice, herb, or vegetable using the word “technically” as part of the description, then that’s not what we mean. The same definitions apply to this category as to the similarly- named beer category. In addition to the more obvious spices, herbs, and vegetables that fit into this subcategory, the following ingredients also are explicitly included: roses, rose hips, ginger, rhubarb, pumpkins, chile peppers, coffee, chocolate, nuts (including coconut), citrus peels/zest, and teas (except those strictly used for increasing tannin levels, not for adding flavor).
Overall Impression: In well-made examples of the style, the spices are both distinctive and well-incorporated into the honey- sweet-acid-tannin-alcohol balance of the mead. Different types of spices can result in widely different characteristics; allow for a variation in the final product.
Aroma: Depending on the sweetness and strength, a subtle to distinctly identifiable honey and spice character (dry and/or hydromel versions will tend to have lower aromatics than sweet and/or sack versions). The spice character should display distinctive aromatics associated with the particular spices; however, note that some spices (e.g., ginger, cinnamon) have stronger aromas and are more distinctive than others (e.g., chamomile, lavender) — allow for a range of spice character and intensity from subtle to aggressive. The spice character should be pleasant and supportive, not artificial and inappropriately overpowering (considering the character of the spice). In a blended spice mead, not all spices may be individually identifiable or of equal intensity. The honey aroma should be noticeable, and can have a light to significant sweetness that may express the aroma of flower nectar. If a variety of honey is declared, the aroma might have a subtle to very noticeable varietal character reflective of the honey (different varieties have different intensities and characters). The bouquet should show a pleasant fermentation character, with clean and fresh aromatics being preferred. Stronger and/or sweeter versions will have higher alcohol and sweetness in the nose. Some herbs and spices may produce spicy or peppery phenolics. Standard description applies for remainder of characteristics.
Appearance: Standard description applies, except perhaps to note that the color usually won’t be affected by spices and herbs (although flowers, petals and peppers may provide subtle colors; tea blends may provide significant colors).
Flavor: The spice flavor intensity may vary from subtle to high; the honey flavor intensity may vary from subtle to high; the residual sweetness may vary from none to high; and the finish may range from dry to sweet, depending on what sweetness level has been declared (dry to sweet) and strength level has been declared (hydromel to sack). The distinctive flavor character associated with the particular spices may range in intensity from subtle to aggressive (although some spices may not be individually recognizable, and can just serve to add a background complexity). Certain herbs and spices might add bitter, astringent, phenolic or spicy (hot) flavors; if present, these qualities should be related to the declared ingredients (otherwise, they are faults), and they should balance and blend with the honey, sweetness and alcohol. Meads containing more than one spice should have a good balance among the different spices, though some spices will tend to dominate the flavor profile. The mead may have a subtle to strong honey character, and may feature noticeable to prominent varietal character if a varietal honey is declared (different varieties have different intensities). Standard description applies for remainder of characteristics.
Mouthfeel: Standard description applies. Some herbs or spices may contain tannins that add a bit of body and some astringency, but this character should not be excessive. Warming spices and hot peppers/chiles might impart a warming or numbing impression, but this character should not be extreme or make the mead undrinkable.
Ingredients: Standard description applies. If spices are used in conjunction with other ingredients such as fruit, cider, or other fruit-based fermentables, then the mead should be entered as a Fruit and Spice Mead. If spices are used in combination with other ingredients, then the mead should be entered as an Experimental Mead.
Comments: Often, a blend of spices may give a character greater than the sum of its parts. The better examples of this style use spices subtly; when more than one spice are used, they are carefully selected so that they blend harmoniously. A mead containing only culinary spices or herbs is known as a metheglin.