Vince Obarski recalls first hearing about mead as a kid, referenced in fantasy games such as Dungeons & Dragons. He associated it with beer, and medieval times, but didn't grasp how far back it actually goes. Mead, aka honey wine, dates back 8,000 years, and is likely civilization's oldest fermented beverage. "I never knew what mead was," he says, adding with a laugh, "and back then we didn't have Google."
1042 La Mirada Court, Vista
Today, Google has had no problem pointing curious customers to Twisted Horn Mead & Cider, the Vista business Obarski soft-opened in December, along with his wife, Robin, and another couple who prefer to remain unnamed for the moment, in deference to their day jobs.
Obarski finally encountered mead when the Navy sent him to Norway, where it played a significant role in Viking mythology. Rarely able to find it in the US, he eventually turned to making it at home. However, when he and his partners decided to make a business out of it two years ago, becoming only the second meadery in a craft beer town seemed daunting. "Not a lot of people know what mead is," he recounts, "So we thought, let's do cider too!"
They make and serve both, in a tasting room decorated with Norwegian birch and framed to resemble a Viking feasting hall. A collection of drinking horns hang behind the bar, on hand for Twisted Horn's club subscribers, "Odin's Warriors."
Despite the playful backdrop, Obarski and co's mead isn't like the mjod he drank in Norway. "It's going to be very different than most meads out there," he explains, noting traditional meads measure 14-percent ABV and higher, with a viscous body, almost akin to a liqueur. "We're trying to appeal to more of a southern California palate, something lighter flavored and cleaner."
There are a couple dozen esoteric classifications for mead, often involving very specific distinctions like whether it's made with the addition of grapes (pyser), both grapes and spice (hippocras), or even rose petals (rhodomel). Twisted Horn focuses on what they like to call session meads (hydromels), usually in the 6 to 10 percent range. Most are sparkling, and dry to off-dry. Some are fermented with fruit (melomels), while others add fruit after fermentation.
Mead flavors range from ginger lime to elderflower lemon; ciders include tart cherry and sweet potato. However, the distinction between the meads have more to do with which combination of honey and yeast they use. Sourcing honey from local apiaries, the meads take on sort of a terroir, nuanced by the bees drawing nectar from different flowers — star thistle, for example, or desert sage. They also favor ale and wine yeasts to traditional mead yeasts, an approach taken by several of a sudden surge in San Diego meadmakers cropping up these days.
A longtime homebrewer, Obarski's brewing partner craft beer approach to the enterprise. In addition to exploring various mead styles, ciders, and cysers (a mix of the two), the pair plan to experiment with techniques like barrel aging and dry hopping.
Twisted Horn is currently open on weekends. A tasting room grand opening is slated for mid-February.