I could definitely survive the Middle Ages. I know this because on Sunday at the Sarasota Medieval Fair I successfully guzzled not one, but two glasses of mead while chewing a big, fat turkey leg down to the bone. In addition, I managed to fire off a dozen arrows and hurl nearly as many axes all in the general direction of an oncoming enemy. In the process of displaying my medieval manliness to my amazing wife Kristin and all the other giggling passersby, I sustained no more than a minor flesh wound to my left hand. But more on that later.
We will start with the mead. I have been a professional drinker for more than a decade. I’ve consumed absinthe in New Orleans, moonshine in the Appalachians, fine wines in California and, I thought, drank every other beverage known to cause intoxication right here in Florida. But before Sunday, I had never tried mead. Probably because the last time I saw grown men and women dressed like they were auditioning for the latest “Robin Hood” remake I was about 8-years-old, attending the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, with my parents, who would not allow me to taken even a nip of beer – let alone mead, which is much stronger.
Mead, by the way, is basically fermented honey. It’s the ancestor of all fermented drinks. It’s something you drink if only there is no other fermented drink available. OK, it’s not that bad. Not really. But I would not recommend serving it at your next dinner party unless guests include Little John, Friar Tuck and the rest of the Merry Men.
At the Sarasota Medieval Fair, you can purchase a glass of mead at The Woodchuck Inn, which is located in the center of the grounds near the jousting arena. You really can’t miss The Woodchuck Inn because it’s a pretty big pavilion and the only vendor selling alcoholic beverages, which, get this, makes it mighty popular. I started with a glass of the Honeyrun Ragnar's Reserve Mead ($4) around noon on Sunday. The bottle reads 12 % ABV, which means the stuff is about as potent as wine. At least on paper. In reality, or the alternate reality of Medieval Fair, it has some kind of magical powers.
“It’s thick and kinda syrupy but not as sweet as I thought,” I said to Kristin. I then handed her my plastic cup and she took a tiny, little sip before declaring the beverage undrinkable. Kristin also declined to try my tasty turkey leg ($8). She did, however, enjoy ye olde Philly Steak with cheese ($8) that we split. Seriously, who knew you could get a killer cheesesteak sandwich at Medieval Fair?
My belly full of meats and my first glass of mead, I immediately returned to The Woodchuck Inn for more mead. Standing there in line, I watched a jovial knight in a whole lot of uncomfortable-looking armor have his chalice filled with not one but three glasses of HoneyRun Blackberry Mead. I decided this must be the right flavor and ordered myself a glass. It looked and tasted like, well, cough syrup. OK, maybe not that bad. Think Manischewitz Wine and you’re pretty much there.
I drank the second glass down with a quickness and, well, folks, it was still not much past noon and I started feeling a little loopy. Probably because of all the good old-fashioned American beer I drank the night before was still coursing through my body. Anyway, I felt great, all the costumes and the entire setting suddenly looked authentic enough to actually be used in the next “Robin Hood” remake and I was ready, much to my wife’s chagrin, to use a couple medieval weapons.
Really, though, my axe throwing completely improved after chucking the first one (or three) straight into the ground. By the end of spending a wad of singles, I could even throw the axe with one hand and hit my target, if said target was the side of a very large barn. As for my bow and arrow skills, if the bull’s eye at the archery range wasn’t the size of a 12th Century coin, I would have totally nailed it at least once. As far as the flesh wound, the one that’s now an ugly scab between my thumb and index finger, I blame a faulty fletching.
I was also prepared to do some jousting. Well, not really. But I was prepared to brave an unruly gaggle of 9-year-olds, take my turn riding a wood horse suspended by a cable and take down that plastic ring with my lance. Alas, Kristin intervened.
“Honey,” she said, sounding oh-so-sweet, “it will really be embarrassing if you get up there and that cable snaps.”
Maybe this weekend I will give it a try before I start drinking the mead, which oddly enough, I’m already craving. We would also like to return to the Sarasota Medieval Fair for some more of the glorious food, all of which I’m sure pairs excellently with the mead. By the way, if you’re not feeling the whole fermented honey thing, The Woodchuck Inn also serves ye olde Budweiser.
The Woodchuck Inn at Sarasota Medieval Fair
10 a.m.-6 p.m. November 16-17, 23-24; Ringling Woods behind the Sarasota Fairgrounds, 3000 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota; $16.95; $8.95 for children ages 5-12); sarasotamedievalfair.com.