Honey wine a hit in the Hunter Valley
The world’s oldest fermented drink is now being brewed in NSW’s Hunter Valley. Honey Wines Australia is currently the only operating meadery in the Hunter, and the business is known across the region for its high-quality mead. What makes Honey Wines Australia stand out is the vast majority of honey used is produced from their own hives, which are scattered throughout the Hunter, from Toronto to Pokolbin.
The people behind Honey Wines Australia are passionate beekeepers, and beekeeper and mead maker Martin Jackson also teaches hands-on beginner beekeeping workshops many Saturdays of the year in Toronto, Lake Macquarie.
Is mead more like beer or wine?
So what is mead, anyway? Mead, also commonly known as “honey wine”, is believed to be the oldest fermented drink in the world, traditionally made from honey. Just like beer, mead is often flavoured with spices, fruits, hops or grains. Mead is generally higher in alcohol than beer and more in line with grape wine – typically anywhere from 8 to 20 percent alcohol by volume. It’s more commonly still but can be carbonated.
Most people’s knowledge of mead (outside of Europe at least) is limited to the video game Skyrim or the legendary Game of Thrones, but this unique drink is now gaining popularity around the world once again. Today, Poland is the largest mead producer, but the US is racing to take the crown, with a new meadery opening every three days.
Historically, mead has been popular among ancient Greek and African cultures from as far back as 3000BC – the Greeks even believed that mead was the drink of the gods. There is some evidence to suggest that mead was around even earlier – some ancient Indian texts that date back to 4000BC make mention of the drink, while Chinese pottery fragments that date back to 7000BC have been found to contain traces of what may be mead.
In the Middle Ages, the Vikings were known to drink mead for special occasions – they believed that mead was created when two warring gods decided to make a peace treaty, and spit into a bowl to seal the deal. Ew. From this bowl of godly gob was born a being known as Kvasir – the wisest man in the world. But he can’t have been too smart, as he was later killed by some murderous dwarves, who mixed Kvasir’s blood with honey to make a drink that could turn you into a genius poet. Or maybe it just made you so drunk that you thought you were a genius poet. Either way, poor Kvasir, right?
Currently, you won’t find many meaderies in Australia, and there are even fewer who can claim they produce all their own honey themselves. The fact that Honey Wines Australia has recently purchased another 50 hives to increase honey production makes them one of the busiest and fastest growing mead breweries in Australia. The honey used in their mead has been filtered but otherwise untouched, with no artificial additives (or Norse god spit).
“Our bees have flown an estimated 44,000km and visited at least one million flowers to produce each 750ml bottle,” Jackson says. Busy bees, indeed.
For those unfamiliar with mead, Jackson is confident that new palates will soon be converted: “Honey wine is a very unique drink,” he says. “Unlike grape wine, which is limited to a few grape varieties, mead can have almost unlimited flavours. This makes it exciting for us to create new flavours, as it’s only limited by our imagination.”
Plans are currently underway to open a Honey Wines Australia cellar door on the Pokolbin Hunter Valley wine trail in 2021. The company’s current mead line-up includes:
• Hunter Valley traditional plain mead
• Turkish Delight
• Orange and Pink Grapefruit
• Lemon & Ginger
• Peach & Passionfruit
Customers can buy Honey Wines Australia online from honeywinesaustralia.com.au (they deliver nationwide). It’s also available from Dan Murphy’s as well as at various farmers’ markets. Check out Honey Wines Australia’s Facebook page to find a market.