Drink of the gods
An interview about the art of making modern mead with Ethereal Meads
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
Mead is the oldest fermented beverage in the world, made of honey, water, and yeast. Archeological evidence of mead has been found across Europe and Asia, going back as far as 10,000 years. Mead is found in Norse mythology too, associated with poetic inspiration and scholarly wisdom.
Mead’s popularity has been steadily increasing in recent years. I read that the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” which first aired in 2011, might have had an influence on its modern revival.
I was delighted to talk with Gary and Shirley Gross, the owners of Ethereal Meads in Battle Ground, Wash. They craft several delicious varieties of mead that showcase the flavor profiles of their local honeys and fruits, with a nod to their Norwegian roots.
We had planned to meet in person in April at Skål Beer Hall in Seattle for a tasting event, which was canceled due to the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in response to COVID-19. We spoke by phone instead, and I was lucky to sample their latest offering, Viking Reserve.
Christy Olsen Field: How did you get interested in mead?
Gary Gross: Our son is actually responsible for it. He is a history enthusiast and a Viking reenactor. In 2004, he and his wife had a medieval wedding in upstate New York, and all the guests wore medieval garb. His father-in-law is a home brewer, and he made mead for the celebration. I decided to get into making it myself.
I’m a chemical engineer by training. But after making mead for a few years, my hobby became a true passion that I wanted to share with others. We created our company Ethereal Meads, and our first meads were available to the public in 2015, with a few years of preparation leading up to that.
COF: How is mead made, and can you tell me about your different meads?
GG: It’s a fermented beverage like beer and wine but made differently. Mead can be made from straight honey, but you can also combine it with different fruits and spices. To be classified as mead, at least 50% of the fermentable sugar needs to come from honey. Most of our meads are about 70% honey.
Viking Reserve is our latest release. It has a 15% alcohol by volume (ABV), and it features intense cherry notes from dark sweet and red sour cherries with luscious honey from white clover and meadowfoam blossoms, aged in light French oak.
Mist is a delightful golden cyser-style mead that combines two of nature’s autumn gifts: blackberry flower honey and the juice of Washington apples, together with select spices. Honey, apples and spices balance beautifully for a luscious semisweet mead with 11% ABV.
Ruby Sunset is a combination of blackberry flower honey, strawberries, and cranberries. It’s 13% ABV. The first time I made it in 2013, I sent it to the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition, and I was thrilled that it won a gold medal!
In 2015, I started selling mead and I approached a local pub in our area. The owner was very supportive about putting mead on tap. After about five months, he came to me and said, “People are loving the mead, but they are loving it a little too much. Is there anything that you can get me that is a lower alcohol content?” So we started a new product line of draft meads with an alcohol content of 6.5% ABV, similar to beer.
We also offer several more varieties in bottles and cans that you can read about (and order) on our website: etherealmeads.com.
Mead is also quite versatile in mixed drinks and paired with food! We offer some recipes and pairings on our website as well.
COF: Where do you source your ingredients?
GG: We focus on local ingredients, because we have such great fruit and honey in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the honey comes from the Willamette Valley, which extends from Portland to Eugene, Ore. We also source fruit from the Columbia Valley in central Washington, and we are excited about elderberries we are sourcing from the Methow Valley in northern Washington. Fruit and honey pair really well together.
COF: Where can people purchase your meads?
GG: Our bottled and canned meads are sold through numerous retailers throughout Washington state and Oregon, and they are on tap at a few select pubs and taprooms. We can ship to 38 states via orders placed on our website: etherealmeads.com. Please check our website for retailer locations, pub locations, and specifics on purchase for shipment. When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are over, we can guarantee that our meadery nisse is friendly. Our son made an iron troll cross to keep away mischief, so come visit us!
COF: What’s your connection to Norway?
GG: Both of us are Norwegian-American in heritage. Shirley’s family comes from Røros, and my family comes from Krødsherad and Hjartdal, as well as Fredrikstad.
After graduating from high school, I lived in Skoger, about 6 miles south of Drammen and attended Drammen Gymnas as an exchange student. I was stubborn enough to give up English after a few weeks so I could really learn Norwegian. I graduated (and celebrated Russ) in May 1975. I’ve been back several times since then. My parents hosted a Norwegian exchange student, and then her family hosted our daughter as an exchange student. We keep in close touch with a WhatsApp family message group.
COF: What do you want our readers to know about Ethereal Meads?
GG: We are sharing a passion that we have, and it’s rooted in our identity as Norwegian Americans. Mead has a long tradition in Scandinavia, and each of our meads feature local ingredients.
Ethereal Meads is truly a “mor and far” business, and our family is involved in our branding, artwork, and bottling. Most people don’t know what mead is, and we encourage people to try it. We can usually convert them.
Tusen hjertlig takk to Gary and Shirley Gross for talking with me! I raise my glass in a skål to your great work!
To learn more about Ethereal Meads and to try their delicious varieties, visit them at their website or on social media:
You can also call them at (360) 903-4591.
This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.