Stuck on Honey
Mead expert Ken Schramm struts his stuff in Ferndale
Published: October 16, 2013
Schramm is especially alert to beekeepers who adhere to best practices. Some beekeepers may, for instance, be heavy-handed with the application of chemicals, or maximize profits by harvesting too much honey before winter and leaving the bees to rely on sugar throughout winter, stressing the colony. Like a fine butcher looking for perfectly marbled beef, Schramm has become a connoisseur of fine honey.
He explains: “One thing becomes evident: A clean hive will present a floral aroma from its nectar source really well. When beekeepers haven’t done clean-up really well, honey can smell stale. You’re looking for a clean and bright honey, and you can smell honeys side-by-side and tell which is floral. Those bees that are in clean environment, what they present to you is true to their source.”
Again, with more laughter, Schramm tells of how he filled his basement with a “library” of jars of honey specimens, until his wife finally got on him to clean it out. Clearly, Schramm’s monomania can get the better of him.
Now, at 54, Schramm is finally getting into the production game. With laughing candor, he says, “I’ve had the books out for 10 years, and now I’m finally getting into the business when other people have had a five-year head start — and I’ve told them all my tricks! What kind of a businessman goes out and teaches everybody everything they need to know to be more successful than you are? Apparently that’s me.”
But he doesn’t really see it as competition so much as a scene poised to hit critical mass.
“The more good mead that’s out there, the whole industry benefits. Besides, there’s still a lot of room in mead, a potential variety as great as that of wine.”
But Schramm also has an ace up his sleeve, something that’s “really in a different slot” — his treasured Heart of Darkness mead, which retails at $100 for a 375-milliliter bottle.
“It’s made with a Belgian variety of cherries called Schaarbeek, the Belgian cherry that was used in Lambics. When I started brewing back in the 1980s, I got really enamored of Belgian Lambic beers and set out to find that cherry.”
With these special cherries as its base, Schramm adds in red raspberries and black currants, crafting it deliberately to reach a level of complexity and enjoyability that he says rivals spectacular wines.
“I was trying to find something as beguiling as a first-growth Bordeaux and knew I was going to have to come up with something that’s got real depth of flavor, that makes you shift back. And Heart of Darkness creates what I call the ‘involuntary wow.’ I’ve heard two people tell me, ‘That’s the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.’ And that, to me, is the very best thing I can hear.”
But isn’t the literary reference a little bleak? A story about death? Schramm laughs again.
“Well,” he says, with a telltale snicker, “I do terminate bottles with extreme prejudice.”
Schramm’s Mead is at 327 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-439-5000; schrammsmead.com.
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