Brewing does not actually capture everything created at VincentsFermentery. Artisanal beverages is actually a much better description. Classifying beverages into something everyone understands is a bit more difficult. Mead, Cider, Beer and Ale are very old terms that have changed over time but do not necessarily reflect the history from which the terms came. I find that the older divisions fit better my style of creation, provide me enough flexibility, but also have some semblance of classification so that I am not just creating “drinks”. In fact, I think this classification system taken primarily from Lt. Colonel Robert Gayre’s research is better actually. The vast majority of classification in the amateur brewing world is around the tastes that derive from geography, yeast and hops for beer at least.
So how does VincentsFermentery break down beverages? I started from the ancient definitions based on what was in the wort (the sugar stuff that the yeast eats) and worked forward. Honey was most likely the first fermentable. And so it all starts with the bee.
Here’s how I categorize the brews and drinks I create. There will be some debate but for my purposes this classification system works for me.
This is the original sweet or dry all honey, powerful drink. It is a dry or sweet drink that I make from honey, yeast and water, and nothing else. It usually clocks in around 6 – 9% ABV.
In its old tradition this is just honey, hops, yeast and water. I may combine grain and honey sometimes though and leave out the hops. It will be greater than 5% ABV.
Is defined as a sweet drink and historically was usually lighter than a mead. It is not bitter. It is most likely that honey was slowly substituted by cheaper grains. Grains took over the sugars needed in the wort. It is a strong sweet drink that I make from grain, yeast and water, greater than 5% ABV. I add no botanicals and no hops.
Is defined as a strong bitter drink. It’s an ale with a bittering agent or botanical. As I said it balances toward the bitter versus the sweet. My beers are created from grain, perhaps some honey, a bittering agent, water and yeast. They clock in at greater than 5% ABV.
Technically the only difference between beer and gruit is hops vs other botanicals. If I say Gruit I mean no hops have touched the wort and it can balance sweeter or bitter depending on the gruit mixture I have added. The botanicals can sometimes be 1 botanical or 10 botanicals. Spices, herbs anything goes.
Small (Session) Ale, Beer, Gruit or Braggot
All the same above but the ABV is 5% or less.
This is a weak apple wine with the honey left out and just apples. I may add some botanicals. It usually clocks in around 5 – 7% ABV.
This is a strong apple wine, that is more liquor than the weak cider we mostly consume today. I make my cysers with apple juice, honey, yeast and water greater than 5% ABV. I may add some botanicals. It is a higher ABV above 7%.
This is a traditional mead with botanicals added.
Sack Mead or Metheligin
A sweeter strong mead that contains more honey losing the honey tones as the yeast eats up all the fermentable. It approaches 14% ABV or more and has no botanicals.
This is a mixture of honey and fruit juice for the fermentables.
This is a non-alcoholic beverage based in water and botanicals. You may just find this in some of my other drinks!
Some Odds’ and Ends’
Then there is this category. I use it to capture everything that the above does not. What might be in it? Well brewing with maple tree sap or some other water source might be a good example. Or mixing grain, honey and grapes together might be another. It really is a free category!