When you hear the word “mead,” it may conjure up images of knights sitting in a dimly lit tavern guzzling beverages in animal skin pouches. Or maybe you haven’t even heard of mead. Well, today is your lucky day.
Mead is taking off in the United States and is surpassing the growth of craft breweries in some areas, with over 300 meaderies and counting now across the country. For comparison, there were only 50 of them 10 years ago.
I recently took a tour of a small-production meadery called Honeygirl Meadery in Durham, North Carolina. I wanted to check it out because I heard mead was making a comeback, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Was it really gaining popularity? Does it even taste good?
My question of its comeback was answered promptly when I met two couples who were doing a distillery tour of North Carolina. Honeygirl Meadery was one of their first stops. I asked why they included a meadery on a distillery tour, and they replied, “Have you tried mead? How could we not?” Fair enough.
My second question was answered just as quickly when I sampled some of the mead. It was unlike any liquor or wine I’d had before. Mead may not be something you carry in your liquor cabinet yet, but you will very soon.
Diane Currier, owner of Honeygirl Meadery, originally started out brewing her own beer as a way to make new friends in Durham after leaving her public relations job in the hustle and bustle of New York City. Home brewing was quickly pushed out of her mind, though, when she had her first experience with mead while visiting her sister in Homer, Alaska.
“I remember hiking through a field of fireweed, under this blue sky with all these beautiful, bright pink flowers, called fireweed, that were as tall as me,” Currier said. “Later that afternoon, my sister takes me to a meadery, and the first thing they said was, ‘Would you like to try our fireweed mead?’ That blew me away because I was just in that field. It was a beautiful connection, and that’s why I make mead now. I want to bring that nature experience into the bottle.”
That connection was strong enough that she immediately began researching and learning everything she could about mead. She even went back to school and took courses in oenology (the study of wines) and chemistry, which Currier says was “fantastic … fantastically hard.”
Honeygirl Meadery has now been open for three years and carries a consistent eight meads in the tasting room. My personal favorite was the Wildwood oak-aged mead. It tasted, and smelled, like scotch. Currier explained that she ages it in oak barrels for 22 months to get that bold taste with its dark molasses notes.
“The cool thing is there are no rules to where mead needs to be. That’s up to me where I want to take it,” Currier said.
Currier tries to introduce one new mead a year and would make more; however, all her recipes must be approved by the government first. “It’s a big queue,” Currier said. “They regulate quite a bit, and it adds a lot of time to starting a new flavor.”
Despite having to be patient with her new meads, it is truly impressive what Currier has built in only three years. She now ships her meads to 35 states and counting, utilizing every inch of her small 1,500-square-foot meadery.
“This is human-scale,” Currier said. “I’m the human making the mead. We’re not automated in any way. We’re using all fresh fruit, and then we process it by hand.”
For example, if she needs 400 pounds of blueberries for a batch of mead, she buys them 100 pounds at a time, puts them in the fridge and the freezer, and then processes them over a few days. She needs two pounds of fruit per gallon, which means the 400 pounds of blueberries will only make a 200-gallon batch. Additionally, that batch also needs 400–600 pounds of honey.
This may all sound like an exuberant amount of work, but it’s apparent from talking with Currier that she loves every second of owning her meadery and especially loves experimenting with new flavors. Her excitement is infectious and almost made me want to drop this whole writing thing and start my own meadery. But I left that to Currier, as she hustled back to work checking on her almost finished, and insanely delicious, lavender mead.
For more info on the growth of mead, visit the American Mead Makers Association at mead-makers.org, and visit honeygirlmeadery.com to read more about each of Currier’s meads and to order a few, or eight.
105 Hood St. No. 6
Durham, North Carolina 27701
Mead Crash Course
- Mead is just honey, water, and yeast that is fermented in tanks for about 30 days. After 30 days, mead can be infused with various flavors, such as berries, syrups, herbs, or spices.
- Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage, dating back to 7000 B.C. There were pots found in northern China that contained chemical signatures of honey along with the organic compounds of fermentation. The Greeks and the Norse also apparently drank mead. There’s your science and history lesson for today.
- Not all mead is sweet. Just like with wine and the types of grapes used, mead can vary in flavor and aroma simply by using different varieties of honey.
- Mead urban legend! The term “honeymoon” comes from the ancient tradition of giving bridal couples a moon’s worth of honey-wine, aka mead. This was to ensure a fruitful union.