Liquid Lowdown: We Try World-Class Meadery Superstition Downtown's Heady Aged Stuff

A glass of barrel-aged melomel, meaning mead made with fruit, by Superstition Meadery.
A glass of barrel-aged melomel, meaning mead made with fruit, by Superstition Meadery. Chris Malloy
Welcome to Liquid Lowdown, a column exploring the strange, beautiful world of local drinks. Each entry will spotlight one craft liquid made right here in metro Phoenix (or just beyond). Lowdowns will feature mostly beer, but we’ll also take detours into other alcoholic beverages. Snap open a can or thrum the cork from a bottleneck. Cheers. Let's get weird.

Liquid: Barrel-aged melomel (mead made with fruit)
Name: Forbidden Fancy
ABV: 14 percent
Maker: Superstition Meadery
Lowdown: When browsing the Superstition Downtown tap list or bottle room, you face many forking paths. Deciding what to drink may take a while. You can go with a plain mead, one made by transforming honey’s fermentable sugars and, after that, not doing much else. But other paths lead to more imaginative places: spices, fruits, barrel-aging, series, vintage blends, or some combination of these methods. If you know this column, you know which path we took.

Forbidden Fancy is an apple-pomegranate mead made from Arizona wildflower honey and aged in rum barrels for eight months. It is a melomel, a mead made with fruit. A tall half-liter bottle costs $35. It pours copper and punches nice at 14 percent ABV.

click to enlarge Mead fermenting in onsite demijohns at Superstition Downtown. - CHRIS MALLOY
Mead fermenting in onsite demijohns at Superstition Downtown.
Chris Malloy
In the glass, plastic cup, old jam jar, or whatever vessel you use to sip the good stuff, Forbidden Fancy is far from the perfume bomb you might expect. Instead, it has a mellow floral scent, with complex, elusive notes of honey (surprise!) and some of the wild sticky aroma that creeps from the fermentation tanks at wineries.

Sip that coppery mead, bubbles winking on the brim.

If you’ve had any of Superstition’s dryer meads (dry meaning not sweet), the sugar that Forbidden Fancy packs might surprise you. It is sweet. It took me a few sips to get past the sweetness, to level with the reality that this mead could fill the role of a dessert wine. Then I started to deeply appreciate this mead. It is voluminous and many-noted yet simple, its pomegranate and apple merged into its current of honey.

Though nimble, though light, Forbidden Fancy has a slightly creamy slosh. It has body and heat, reflecting the 14 percent ABV.

This melomel is the 11th mead in Superstition’s 15-mead Contingency Series, which sees one release each month until March 2021.

For this series, co-founder Jeff Herbert delegates 100 percent of the mead’s brainstorming and execution to his team, reserving only the right to name the finished product.

Superstition has made more than 300 kinds of mead. Herbert is passing the reins on some, especially after his team asked. “Our mead makers came to me a year ago and said we’d really like to have complete freedom to do whatever we want,” he says.

click to enlarge Forbidden Fruit takes on a russet, coppery color in the sun. - CHRIS MALLOY
Forbidden Fruit takes on a russet, coppery color in the sun.
Chris Malloy
This melomel was born in a micro-batch. Superstition made enough to fill just one rum barrel. At the end of aging, once evaporation had stolen some volume through the cracks between barrel staves (part of the barrel-aging process), Forbidden Fancy came out to only about 45 gallons.

Superstition does giant batches. It also has fun with small batches. “While it’s important to have core products, we’re always releasing these single-barrel, double-barrel tiny batches,” Herbert says.

Forbidden Fancy also absorbs from its rum barrel. At the same time, barrels also absorb the flavor of mead. Once barrel aging is done, Hebert will trade barrels with a brewery, distillery, or winery, meaning a touch of Forbidden Fancy may one day infuse some future barrel-aged libation.

And if you drink that libation, you will be indulging in an echo of Forbidden Fancy, maybe even without knowing.
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy