Is honey wine, wine?
You may have heard some recent buzz about honey wine and wondered if it’s something new. This tasty drink actually goes way, way back. It’s what Ragnar and Lagertha are quaffing out of horns in “Vikings”. It’s Jon Snow’s beverage of choice in “Game of Thrones”. In fact, honey wine (aka mead) was probably the very first alcoholic beverage people ever made. And we’re still making it today.
So, what is mead?
Is it just something they used to drink in ye olde timey days to ward off evil spirits? Not at all! Today you can still find select mead (or honey wine) available in liquor stores. Made from fermenting honey, mead is a remarkably adaptable drink and easy to infuse with herbs and fruits, or experiment fermenting with different yeasts.
The versatility of mead means that it’s easy for brewers to create new and exciting combinations which vary greatly, from Chaucer’s historically authentic cordial-like recipe to Heidrun Meadery’s light, bubbly champagne mead. Mead can be sweet or dry, and all shades in between. There are enough varieties of mead to satisfy any palate. Winehaven Winery and Vineyard offers a crisp white wine-like mead right here in Minnesota.
To Kyle Peterson, one of the winemakers at Winehaven, mead is a family tradition. “My family and I have been raising honeybees in Minnesota for over 50 years,” Peterson said. “Throughout the 1970 and 80’s we managed over 2,000 beehives, making us one of the largest honey producers in Minnesota,” he noted.
If you have a vineyard and your own source of honey, it seems a natural leap to branch out into making mead. “Most of the honey for our Stinger Mead comes from the Saint Croix river valley,” says Peterson. “We use a special blend of honey from native clover, wildflowers and basswood trees. Our recipe evolved from decades of experimentation, using honey from special blends of Minnesota floral sources.”
What are the biggest challenges to making mead? The first is creating consistency.
Batches of honey can vary greatly from year to year, so it pays to have a reliable source of nectar.
The second challenge is time. Raw honey possesses trace amounts of pollen and proteins, enhance the flavor of the finished mead, but slow the fermentation of the yeast. Peterson adds, “Mead making can take a long time – well over a year. However, we feel the time investment to make good mead is very much worthwhile.”
Ever wonder where the term “honeymoon” came from?
It has nothing to do with long moonlit nights spent with your sweetie; in fact, the word came about in medieval days, when newly married couples were given enough mead to last them a full month. The hope was that the sweetness would increase their fertility and happiness, and grant the couple good luck. It might be worth looking into reintroducing this tradition!
So to answer the question, “is honey wine, wine?”
Well, no. Mead is a fermented beverage made with honey, and the granddaddy to all other alcoholic beverages, and there’s definitely something to be said for the wisdom of the ancients.
But don’t just take our word for it. Go see for yourself! Winehaven will be offering tours during their 18th Annual Raspberries and Wine Festival July 9th and 10th, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Visitors can see their operations firsthand, taste mead and other specialty wines, and enjoy food and live music at the vineyard. Sounds pretty sweet to us!
You can visit Winehaven just 45 minutes North of the Twin Cities in Chicago, Minnesota at 10020 Deer Garden Path, or online at www.winehaven.com
Editor’s Note: White Winter Winery (Iron River, WI) is a maker of mead as well – their “Mead Lover’s Guild” will even ship it to you! You can visit them just 1 hour east of Duluth off Hwy 2, or online at www. www.whitewinter.com.