Beekeepers, vintners rediscover nectar of the gods
September 3, 2013
GROTON, Vt. — Once called the nectar of the gods, the oldest fermented beverage is seeing a renaissance.
Beekeepers and vintners are rediscovering mead, an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and water. These days, fruits, spices and even carbonation are being added for distinct flavors that aren't a far cry from the beverage favored by the Vikings and ancient Greeks and during the Middle Ages.
"People have been drinking fermented beverages for a couple thousand years so it's just an extension of that," said Mark Simakaski, who with his wife made his first batch while in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and launched a meadery called Artesano in Vermont in 2008.
Mead making has doubled in the last five years, said Chris Webber, president of the American Mead Makers Association, which estimates there are 200 to 250 mead makers in the U.S.
Some of the new mead makers are beekeepers looking to find other ways to sell their honey. Others are former craft beer brewers.
"It is of growing interest," said Tim Tucker, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation, which has about 1,300 members, many of whom make mead.
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There's even an international mead competition each year in Boulder, Colo.
David Myers, owner of Redstone Meadery in Boulder, attributes the growth in mead to more demand for craft beverages and locally made foods — from small batch craft beers to ciders and artisanal wines.
"I think there's a movement in the American drinking culture for smaller craft artisanal mentality," said Myers, whose business — one of the larger mead producers in the country — is approaching $1 million in sales.
Redstone Meadery, which includes traditional meads and carbonated nectars, is now sold in 32 states.
Demand for local food has been a bonus for Artesano, which sells its products in 85 stores and restaurants around the state and sells out of its 20,000 bottles every year.
"It would be easy just to expand and expand and expand because there's a demand for it, but I don't want to," Simakaski said.
In the back of a renovated old general store in Groton, Simakaski and his wife, Nichole Wolfgang, ferment honey and water in 250-gallon tanks. They may add fruit or spices or both, and then age it for at least a year. The latest offerings include a bourbon barrel aged, a blueberry and a chili cinnamon.
"The mead's amazing because it's not super sweet and being made of honey I would have thought it would be really sweet," said Stephanie Parent, 40, Lyndonville, Vt., who stopped in with a friend for a tasting and music.
Simakaski and Wolfgang used their own honey the first year but now buy from two Vermont beekeepers.
"This year, I'll ferment about 4 tons of honey, so it's a lot. That's like the job of two full beekeepers to make that much," he said.
Historically, the choice of mead as a beverage went by the wayside as grapes and grains became cheaper to produce. But now it's back, out of the Dark Ages.
"Good enough for Zeus, good enough for you" is one of the taglines at Redstone Meadery.