Excellence and Quality Assurance in Mead Making – Overview Discussion Thursday, Jun 1, 2023, “What is Excellence?”
This post is written by Frank Golbeck, one audience member. It is neither comprehensive nor perfect, it is an effort to share his perspective on what was said for the benefit of Mead Institute Members.
As the Mead Industry expands, producers who desire to grow and succeed in the alcohol market need to understand what excellence in mead is, so that we can meet and exceed the expectations of consumers, earning their repeat business.
Since mead is a relatively young industry in the United States, there is an open discussion regarding excellence in mead making. What makes excellent mead excellent? What makes mediocre mead mediocre? The Mead Institute worked with the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center to produce a course over the first weekend of June, 2023 at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science that was focused on helping attendees define and achieve excellence in mead production. We opened the program Thursday, June 1st with a discussion focused on the question, “What is excellence in Food and Beverage?”
To say the least, It was an interesting evening. Two hours of discussion between five experts who collectively have around 200+ years of experience in exceptional food and beverage yielded some outstanding insights.
Ken Schramm was our host and charged with the challenge of guiding a discussion towards salient points that might enlighten the audience of professional and aspiring professional mead makers. The panel comprised of Ray Daniels, author of Designing Great Beers and creator of the Cicerone Program, Darrel Corti, Owner and Operator of Corti Brothers Grocer, the famous specialty grocer in Sacramento, Dr. Andy Waterhouse former Chair of Viticulture and Oenology at UC Davis, and Thalia Hohenthal, with 40 years of experience across operations and production at industry leading Guittard Chocolate.
The Most Salient Points to me were:
Ray Daniels – “Excellence is what happens when Subjective Experience is significantly greater than expectations.” Also, “There is the subjective experience of “Wow, that is good!” which we strive for, but that shouldn’t be confused with “Whoa, that is… interesting.” Also, people have routines and they have novelty, everyone has a different balance between those two poles. It’s important to know when you’re trying to help someone satisfy a dependable routine vs. when you’re trying to help them experience something novel.
Darrel Corti – “This doesn’t make the MBAs who interview me happy, but every sale is different. You have to help the customer achieve their goals with your products. When you do, they come back and tell you. When you don’t they generally avoid talking with you.”
“Price doesn’t always equal quality.” “It needs to look good, smell good, taste good, and be within expected price range.”
“Sometimes the experience doesn’t live up to the expectation.”
Andy Waterhouse – “When I was a young Chemist, I thought we could identify the compounds that were present in good wine and absent in bad wine and have the definition and experience of excellence cracked. I found out it was much more nuanced and complex than that.”
And, “There is quality in the bottle, but there is also presentation and story, and place and impact – all of these things contribute to a sense of excellence.”
Thalia Hohenthal – “We learn from those who are more experienced than us. Their mastery becomes our starting point. We can build on prior generations and generational knowledge and ability does increase.”
“I want to see chocolate that hits the notes of the chocolate that makes us and our customers comfortable, and then evolves into something unique and novel.”
“There is aesthetic, the way something looks and feels and smells and tastes, this is an aesthetic business. All of the parts need to look and feel and taste good together, and deliver to the customer an experience that meets what they’re looking for and exceeds it.”
After witnessing these experts from various fields related to food and beverage who focus on quality discuss the complexity and nuance involved in pinning the concept of excellence in mead down, this is my Conclusion:
“Excellence in food and beverage is the result of excellent ingredients, excellent processes, exceeding expectations performance wise, excellent storytelling and excellent presentation. Price is what you need to charge to keep doing it excellently.”
I hope this guiding philosophy will help members of the mead industry navigate the beautiful complexity of our industry, from sourcing their honeys and other ingredients, to crafting their meads and marketing and selling them.