Daniel Davies knows the cost of good honey, and the value of cooking with spice. The Michigan native recalls his family always having warm, spiced mulled wine on hand around the holidays, and for several years, he made fermented honey wine at B. Nektar Meadery in Ferndale, Michigan.
As bartender at First Draft Book Bar at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix, Davies indulges his enthusiasm for – and offers an education in – both mead and mulled wine. Guests can get flights of Arizona-made mead ($10 for four sample pours), and try Davies’ own mulled wine. Davies began serving mead flights this past summer, and says the flights have been popular.
“People are always curious what it is, because they don’t encounter it all the time,” he says. “Part of the mead flights is customer education, as well.”
Mead, a fermented honey drink believed to have originated as early as 6500 BCE, is mentioned in the oldest surviving poem written in the Old English language (Beowulf), and can also be seen sloshing from goblets in Game of Thrones. When Superstition Meadery started fermenting honey in Prescott in 2012, mead’s presence in Arizona was pretty much limited to the Arizona Renaissance Festival. Now, Superstition Meadery’s hard ciders and meads (they’ve made more than 90 since their inception) have won awards all over the world.
First Draft serves only Superstition Meadery meads, with five varieties plus a limited edition always on the menu. Flavors can range from vanilla-oak-cinnamon (the Tahitian Honeymoon mead) to the super-juicy raspberry-blackberry palate of the Marion Mead. “At its base, it’s a honey wine. Then it gets super-complex, because you can use all types of honey,” Davies says. “An Arizona wildflower honey is not going to taste the same as Michigan wildflower honey.”
In addition to being fermented with different things (grapes versus honey), Davies says there are two more big differences between wine and mead: alcohol content and shelf life. Mead is 14 percent ABV (as opposed to red wine’s average 11.5 percent ABV), and has a shelf life of eight to 10 weeks after it’s opened (in or out of the fridge), as opposed to an opened bottle of wine, which goes bad after a few days.
But Davies says, “If you’ve opened a bottle of wine at home and you haven’t finished it, breathe new life into it and mull it.”
Mulled wine is especially popular during the winter months, and Davies will be pouring his hot and spicy version at First Draft through February.
“There’s a reason to serve it,” he says. “It’s chillier; people naturally gravitate toward the warm stuff.”
Davies goes for a blackberry-clove-orange zest trinity in his mulled wine, which he cooks about 30 minutes in a crock pot and serves at 155-165 degrees Fahrenheit. “You have to let the fruit and spices actually cook into the wine,” he says. “But part of it is, you want to catch a buzz. So you don’t want to boil the alcohol out. You want to slow-cook it.”
In the spirit of giving (and making good use of that open bottle of wine), Davies shared his mulled wine recipe with us.
- 1 bottle of red wine. Grenache is best because it can hold up to the heat while complementing the flavors of mulling spice.
- 7 large blackberries
- 5 whole cloves
- 4 star anise pods
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 orange
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
(The cloves, star anise, and cinnamon can be bought together labeled as mulling spice. If this is the route you take, be sure to have cheesecloth on hand. Wrap and tie spices in the cheesecloth and use like a tea bag. This method also makes it a bit easier when serving.)
Add wine, blackberries, and spices in a pot or slow cooker and heat. Low and slow is the best approach.
Once you've reached 155 degrees F, the temp of a good cup of coffee, add sugar and orange slices. At this point, taste-test the wine and pull the spices if you'd like or let them steep longer for a bolder flavor.
Serve in a ceramic or glass mug and garnish with an orange slice. A splash of brandy is optional.