I just have to hear the word “mead” and I’m on my way to Britain in the Middle Ages, transported by my imagination — lacking Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine.
I arrive in a great hall of stone floors and walls, a couple of which are enormous, and roaring fireplaces. Harp, lute and flute music float throughout this great room while men and women are dancing, laughing — and drinking mead, of course!
Now I have tippled and enjoyed different meads sold at local markets, but I had never been to a meadery, or a winery for that matter. You can imagine my delight and surprise when I discovered a meadery listed as a participant in the Sept. 19 Maine Open Winery Day in Newcastle.
How, I thought, could I not have known it was there? How could my friend Brenda not have known?
I called her immediately and said: “Thou and thee must go to the meadery!”
And we did.
Sean Bailey, The Fat Friar (or not so fat friar) himself, and his wife, Dorothe, were unveiling the meadery’s new tasting room during the event. Although the room lacked the roaring fireplaces of my imaginings, the faux stone finished walls and stone floor, the wooden casks and wine cases, candles, and stand out red and yellow harlequin stained glass window served to create a wonderfully medieval atmosphere.
Bailey, a former corrections officer turned house painter and mead-maker, greeted the many men and women (and one exceptionally well-behaved white pit bull terrier) who attended the event, all while dressed in full friar’s attire and bearing a decanter of mead.
Everyone sampling each of the meadery’s offerings tasted them in a very particular sequence.
Bailey started us off with his first mead of honey and water, known as The Fat Friar’s Mead, a light bodied vintage with a very dry, sharp finish.
The next three meads served in the order described were named for people the Baileys know.
Next up was The Minstrel Richard, a dark cherry mead, named for the cellist who helped Bailey finish the basement, and assisted with the construction of the tasting room. This yummy little vintage had body thanks to those plump cherries.
The Maid Maya is a delicious concoction named for the Bailey’s daughter, Maya. Each year on Christmas Eve the Baileys hold an open house and pot luck for family and friends. A few years back, right around late September, Maya told her father that their open house deserved to have its own special mead. Maya said it should be sweet like the holidays, with Christmas spices like cinnamon, cloves and orange.
Bailey hotfooted it right on down to the basement and put it together. Maid Maya was done fermenting by late October, then bottled for aging to be served that very Christmas Eve.
“I figured, let’s try it out at the open house. Who’s going to be more honest with you than your family,” said Bailey, wryly. “It was very well received.”
And it’s still being well received. Once it was tasted at the Sept. 19 event, people just couldn’t stop talking about it. It’s reminiscent of a mulled wine; in fact, Bailey said it’s quite good warmed up and served with a cinnamon stick and orange slices.
The final offering at the event was the Fat Friar’s Capsumel, a honey and chili pepper mead that finishes with a gentle, yet definitive chili kick! Sipping on this vintage prompted a craving for fish tacos. Friar Sean served it with bits of dark chocolate, to cleanse the palate, he said, but it would also make sweet and spicy end to a fine meal.
Mead number six, The Confessional, is coming soon. This is an apple juice-honey mead with lots of extra honey. Bailey will use somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 pounds of the bee product to produce 22 gallons. The Baileys aren’t beekeepers, but they do buy honey from local Maine beekeepers in Richmond and Sidney, as well as a New Hampshire honey consolidator.
The Confessional will also carry the highest alcohol content of The Fat Friar meads, a whopping 17 percent, thanks to a new yeast Bailey is using in it. Could be something to keep in mind if you have a tendency to say, or confess, too much when overindulging. And that’s just one of the plays on the name of this vintage.
Added Bailey, “Well, what happens when you overindulge ... maybe you do something you need to confess.”
With number six under his Friar’s rope belt, last week Bailey bought all of the sweet woodruff still available at area greenhouses for vintage number seven, which will be reminiscent of German May wines. The woodruff is now planted around the property, ready for winter germination.
Mead lovers will be entertained by the labels as much as the vintages themselves. The Baileys have had several artists design beginning with Lauren Delvecchio, a former colleague of Bailey’s at Two Bridges Regional Jail, who designed the initial label; Ted Closson of Round Pond, and Kate Bauman Mess, art teacher at Lincoln Academy.
For Sean Bailey mead making has been a satisfying endeavor.
“I like the uniqueness of it,” Bailey said. “There are a lot of wineries in Maine, but not many are doing mead. I like the fact that you can take a simple product like honey, and by adding other ingredients to it, create something different. Making mead allows you to use your imagination.”
The tasting shop at 39 Meadow Ridge Lane, is open Friday and Saturday from 2-5 p.m.
Other locations to pick up a bottle: Oak Street Provisions and the Southport General Store in Boothbay Harbor, Treats in Wiscasset; and in Damariscotta at the Yellowfront grocery, Rising Tide and the Weathervane.
For more information, visit www.thefatfriarsmeadery.com or call 207-563-5382.