You might have noticed it in shops or even coming soon to our local breweries (Wicked Barley and Engine 15), the trend in craft brewing is moving to Ciders and Meads. The craft beer industry is resurrecting an old style and injecting it with new ideas. I'm always amazed at the creativity in the industry.

This past week I attended an introduction to Mead held at Total Wine. I've just recently discovered the events and classes there and this was my first event. I'd suggest checking them out. They have classes and events for nearly every kind of alcohol available in the store. Costs are minimal, I paid $5 for the Mead class.

The stars of this class are the brewers/owners of B. Nektar Meadery, Brad and Kerri Dahlhofer and Paul Zimmerman and Florida sales rep Mark Houdeshell. This Mead specific brewery is based in Ferndale Michigan and is the largest Meadery in the country. Brad Dahlhofer said that the output of the Meadery is probably smaller than Cigar City or Funky Buddha, but as far as Meaderies go, they are the largest. They also occupy a spot on the Worldwide Top 100 Breweries list put out by

Mead can be very complex, whether Herb and Spice influenced or fruit.  PHOTO:  Stephanie Danley

As an introduction, Brad explained that Mead is simply honey, water and yeast. Where beer gets its fermentable sugar from grains and wine from grapes, Mead uses honey. Brewing Mead can take as short as a couple of months (for low alcohol yields) or over a year for higher ABV content.

Brad is VP of the American Mead Maker Association. He said there are very strong restrictions regarding Mead. Currently there is a bill in Congress called The Mead Act, that would do a multitude of things including changing the definition of what makes a Mead and making it easier for Mead to be produced.

Mead is possibly the oldest alcohol in existence. It is thought that ancient man transported honey home and in whatever container it was carried, water leaked in, wild yeast from the air took over and Mead was created. Archeologists have found traces of honey in ancient alcohol, lending some credibility to this.

Meads can be still or sparkling, which would make you think of them more as wines. But today's brewers are far more adventurous and the fit is better with craft beer. After having sampled five of B. Nektar's products I have to agree, it was very easy to think of Meads as craft beer.

Zombie Killer's unusual name comes directly from The Walking Dead. One employee was reading the graphic novels (pre TV) and named it GRrrHaarrh Urrgh, the sound a zombie makes.  This led to Zombie Killer, Cherry/Honey Cider.  PHOTO:  Stephanie Danley

Our first sample of the evening was Zombie Killer, technically not a mead, but a cider with honey and cherry juice. Kerri, Brad's wife, is a graphic designer and explained how this first flagship brew created their entire brand. They are very pop culture based, Zombie Killer came from one of the employees, who was into a little graphic novel called The Walking Dead. Kerri designed the zombie (apple) being killed by the cherry. Each label is a work of art and I'd encourage you to read the descriptions.

I enjoyed the tart apple notes of Zombie Killer, the cherry added tartness, but the honey was very present. It is a smooth sweet drink, slightly pink and would be perfect to toast the return of a certain show.

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell both come from the area around B. Nektar, this homage to the Evil Dead series is a mead with Mango and Black Pepper, complete with the book face on the label.  PHOTO:  Stephanie Danley

Keeping in the pop culture, NecroMangocon is a tribute to Michigan natives Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, and their Evil Dead franchise. Both are native to the area around B. Nektar. This is a true mead, with Mango Juice and Black Pepper added. Interestingly Saison yeast was added to this mead. If you like that funky flavor from good Farmhouse style ales, you'll like this too.

Grinding all the peppercorns needed for Necromangocon, turned into a problem for them. They were destroying spice grinders and food processors. Eventually they found a commercial coffee grinder (like the ones you see in grocery stores) to grind the pepper.

I personally loved this Mead. The Mango flavor was present, but that kick of black pepper tempered the sweetness. I found myself sipping it over and over again, actually swirling it like it was wine. I will definitely be keeping this around!

Next we moved on to Vampires and Black Fang. Kerri is very fond of Vampire lore, this is a favorite of hers. Originally she wanted to call it Fang Bangers, after the humans who love vampires from True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse novels. HBO has that copy written, so Black Fang comes from the color of this mead. It contains Blackberry, clove, orange zest and the honey is wildflower.

Cloves are very forward in this dark red brew. If you like mulled wine or other warm winter concoctions, you will love Black Fang. And make sure you check out Kerri on the label, she merged a Nosferatu with a photo of herself to create this label.

Black Fang, blackberry/clove and orange peel Mead is vampire inspired by its dark red color.  Dwarf Invasion, is a cherry Mead, inspired by a Michigan folk tale (and a band song).  PHOTO:  Stephanie Danley

Dwarf Invasion, is partially inspired by a Michigan folk tale of Nain Rouge, a red dwarf of mischief. There is also a metal song, Dwarf Invasion, YouTube it if you like. Such a great evening, with entertaining people.

Dwarf Invasion outside of the Nain Rouge and metal music, is a wildflower honey, Balaton cherry and Styrian Golding hops brew. They were influenced by Belgian beer for this mead. The hops are perfect in here and truly gives the essence of Belgium. I could drink a lot of this.

We finished with a Special Release Mead called Devil's Juice. This is a powerful drink, both in ABV (15.5%) and flavor. They smoked pineapple (originally 665 pounds, but the crew made it 666 in honor of the name) and added Serrano, jalapeno and ghost peppers to the mix.

I'd suggest only trying this is you love spicy food. A lot. I could taste the pineapple and some smoky notes, but the pepper is in your face. Brad said they also have a very limited run of basically Devil's Juice brewed with Carolina Reaper peppers, which are the hottest pepper.

They have fun with their brews and sometimes happy accidents happen. They took Zombie Killer and aged it in Rye barrels, calling it Zombie takes Manhattan. They had a funky batch of Killer Zombie that they intended to mix otherwise and it ended up being mixed with the instead of tossing it, they tasted it and it was good, creating the Mutant Killer Zombie Manhattan Project Thingy. In an ode to South Park they have Zombie Killer mixed with spices and they call it Oh My God They Killed Zombie!

Total Wine has a display of B. Nektar's meads available and Beer :30 Riverside and Kickbacks did have some on tap as well. Until our locals get mead out, I'd encourage you to try B. Nektar. At least read the labels.


SCHEDULING CHANGE: Hurricane Matthew caused some havoc with Brew at the Zoo. It has been moved to Friday November 11. If you are a ticket holder to this sold out event and are unable to go, contact the Zoo, or go to the Brew at the Zoo Facebook page, there are many people looking for tickets.

Saturday October 22 is busy! European Street Riverside is holding Oktoberfest starting at 11 am. Bold City Brewing is celebrating their 8th Anniversary beginning at 1 pm. The Riverside Trolley will be running between the two venues if you want to check out both! Intuition is releasing Backyard Brawl at 11 am, this is a Florida/Georgia collaboration between Swamp Head and Terrapin Breweries. Backyard Brawl is a Berliner Weiss style beer. And last but not least, Wicked Barley starts their Beer Release party at 11 am. We are finally going to get their brews outside of festivals and events!

If you haven't been lately, the Black Sheep kitchens have opened at Intuition Ale Works. Food choices are perfect for beer, I'd recommend the Beef Brisket sandwich made with Collard Green Kim Chi. Ed hates Collard Greens, but thought this was a great sandwich. There are fun snacks like Fried Cheese Curds, Pork Rind Nachos and a shareable bowl of Macaroni and Cheese. Even on a crowded Sunday the food came out fast!

Wednesday October 26 Veterans United is hosting a Beer and Dog Treat dinner. Bring your four legged friends and you get food from Tapa That and they get dog treats. I asked and made sure the dog treats go to the Dogs only! The menu and ticket information is here.

On the same night, Wednesday October 26 Seven Bridges Restaurant and Brewery are hosting an Oktoberfest Brewer's Dinner. The menu is German fare like Bratwurst Dippers and Brie and Cheddar Apple Beer soup. Full details and tickets can be found here.

Thursday October 27 Veterans is also hosting something for your creative side, Halloween Beer Mug painting! Your ticket includes a beer! If you'd like to find out more, check it out here.

Also Thursday October 27 It's Pumpkinpalooza at Engine 15! Pumpmaster 2016, E15's pumpkin beer is released and it is a tap takeover of all brews pumpkin! This is at the Jacksonville Beach location starting at 5pm. Even the food will be pumpkin based and usually the pumpkin beer includes some rarely found brews.

If you haven't heard, the Engine 15 Biergarden on Myrtle Street is officially open for the season. Check out the Bocce Ball, horse shoes and other games, feast on food truck fare and enjoy the lovely outdoors Fridays from 4 pm-8:30 pm and Saturdays from 1 pm - 8:30 pm.

If you have something you'd like to share email me and follow the #FirstCoastBrews on Twitter and Facebook for events and tastings.

BREAKING NEWS: First Coast Brews now has a Facebook page! You can interact with each other and get local beer news and tasting notes. Check us out here!