You may have heard the word melomel when people talk about mead and a question that we get asked a lot is
"What is a melomel?"
The answer, in its simplest form is:
"A melomel is a type of mead that is made with the addition of fruit"
But in mead making, the answers to such questions are never simple. To start with, if you add apple, although it is technically a melomel, it is more commonly referred to as a cyser. If you add grape, then it is called a pyment. If you add grape and then add spices, it is called a hippocras. A blackcurrant mead is sometimes called a black mead and i'm sure there are others that I can't presently recall.
Once you've established that there isn't another word for your fruit mead, then you have to think about how it is made. If the majority of the fermentable sugars don't come from honey, but instead come from the fruit...or sugar, then this would be a hedgerow wine.
For example, if you made a blackberry wine using blackberries, sugar, water, and then added some honey, then this probably wouldn't be a true melomel as honey would not form the majority of the fermentable sugars. You might call it a blackberry honey wine.
If there were some mead police to lock up anyone who makes such a drink and calls it mead then how would you prove what sugar content your blackberries contained? The sugar content of fruit varies each year depending on various factors such as the amount of rainfall, sunlight, heat, or disease. You could put the fruit through a juicer and then measure the brix or gravity of the liquid but you might want to ferment on the fruit for additional flavour or colour. If you strained the juice off, measured the sugar content and then recombined it with the pulp, you would inevitably be adding some additional sugar with the pulp.
It is very hard to prove that a drink adheres to the aforementioned requirements for a melomel and so it is very easy for an unscrupulous company to use cheap sugar to bulk up their product and still call it a mead. Do you know how the melomel you are drinking is made?
Another worrying factor that one must consider is where your honey comes from. Do you know that your honey is pure? If the bee keeper has been feeding their bees on sugar water during honey flow, then your honey may contain a lot of dehydrated sugar syrup. While the fructose/glucose/sucrose in its pure forms may be the same, honey produced from sugar syrup or fondant doesn't have the same organoleptic properties of honey made from nectar. Pure honey is also sometimes blended with other syrups such as corn or rice to bulk it up and make more profit. Tesco recently had to take its own brand honey off the shelves as it was found to contain sugar syrup. Would it be right to call a mead made from sugar syrup honey a mead?
Could you call a traditional mead that has been blended after it has finished fermenting with a fruit wine, a melomel? We think they should be simultaneously fermented in the same vessel but additional fruit juice or honey could be added after the fermentation is complete to adjust the flavour if necessary but not everyone will share that perspective.
These are all important considerations when defining your type of beverage. If there was a legal definition of what a melomel is, it would be very hard to test and enforce its use.
For ease of production, it is probably preferable to use fruit juice in place of some of the water & honey content of a traditional mead as the sugar content can be easily measured which helps to achieve consistent results. However, the pulp can offer a lot of flavour and colour to a melomel.
If you have read this far and are unsure whether your mead is a melomel, don't worry, many of these finer details are often overlooked and there is no law to define a melomel. If you want to be a purist and make sure your mead is definitely a melomel then you should use good quality honey that's come from nectar, not sugar water, and the majority of the fermented sugars should have come from honey, the remaining fermented sugars should come from fruit.