Land’s End to John O’Groats is not only a famous journey but it is also now the name of a cocktail, celebrating the world’s oldest alcoholic drink.
Along with A Mead A Day, the Penzance-based Cornish Mead Co offers ideas for mead-based recipes.
Premiumization is on-trend. Everyone is premiumizing. Even the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage has been premiumized. A bottle of Black Grouse can cost over £25 and some Midas mead nearly £100.
Mead has gone gourmet. Pagan has turned mainstream. Mead has become respectable and desirable among a new generation of epicurean connoisseurs. Mead makers have even begun to talk the “terroir” talk.
Tom Gosnell who has just released his canned wildflower mead, says:
“Once mead was only seen in English Heritage or musty gifte shoppes. It was dark and unctuous and hippy-ish, never seen in restaurants or supermarkets or in cans.”
His Peckham’s Mead Bar and garden has been pulling in metro-meadsters keen to neck the house pink hibiscus, sample the fruit sour on tap and added:
“We’ll be soon offering frozen cocktails like Meadacoladas and Meaderitas. Our meads love wrapping their arms around all kinds of spirits.
“Our house white is a Chardonnay-style mead, using Chardonnay years, barrel-fermented in an ex-white Burgundy barrel. The red is a Pinot Noir-style mead, aged with dried blue raisins, blackberry, white sultanas, finished in barrels with run staves. The Saison Mead uses elderflower, lemon balm and hops.”
Also available at London’s Mead Garden are single origin, mono-floral meads like Gosnell’s Eucalyptus, Borage, Classic and a 12% barrel-aged, caramelized honey Bochet, served by the glass. Gosnell’s offers fourteen different meads on draught, bottles and in cans. They also have a low-alcohol 0.5% mead.
These are heady times for British mead. The Lancashire Mead Company lifted the inaugural “Mead Madness Cup” when his “Baldur Mead” won the dry section at the second Mead Makers Conference held in Poland.
The Bolton-based Lancashire Mead Company also offers “Aegir’s” (“Odin’s”, “Thor’s, “Freya” (Norse for lady and goddess of love and beauty) and “Sleipnir”, named after Odin’s eight-legged horse and containing treacle. Mead has long been considered the nectar of the gods. Baldur was the second son of Odin and Frigg,
The acclaimed meadery is run by ex-truck driver Gordon Baron and Ann Farrell. Says Ann, a former teacher:
“What started as something friends didn’t think was safe to drink is now in Michelin restaurants! Mead’s a bit like whisky. Everyone has their own way of enjoying it!”
Mead was probably being made in China in 7000 BC. King Arthur counted it amongst his favourite tipples. Chaucer mentions “braggot”, a form of mead made with honey and barley malt. The Ancient Hindus got high on “soma.” The ancient Greeks drank “hydromel” (watered down honey). The Roman had “hypocras” (cinnamon wine) and “mulsum” (wine sweetened with honey).
There are various meads – “melheglin” (spiced), “pyment” (grape wine which the Romans called mulsum), “cyser” (apple-based), “melomel” (fruit mainly raspberry) and “sack” (sometimes called bracket ale).
Thanks to “The Game of Thrones” and “Vikings”, honey wine is making a comeback.
There are now several British mead makers including the Cooper family’s “Avon Mel” in New Quay Farm, Llandysul, west Wales which makes “Grimfrost Lingonberry”.
Mead was reputed to have medicinal powers. Caudle was a punch made from honey, ale and ground oatmeal. King Howel the Great laid down rules for making spiced mead in the tenth century. From the early 16th century when the Tudors introduced elements of Welsh culture into England, mead became more popular. A medieval Welsh poem mentions “mead, gold and sweet, ensnaring.”
Tree surgeon Jacob Milner and electrician, Mike Cooke run “Mountain Mead” in north Wales. Their meads are named after birds of the RSPB endangered list: Telor Y Coed (wood warbler), Gylfiner (curlew) and Melyn Yr Eithin (yellowhammer). Grugiar Ddu (black grouse) spiced mead uses Spanish orange blossom honey.
With brother Kit, Matt Newell launched Wye Valley Meadery after gaining mentoring and advice from the Prince’s Trust Cymru, which supports young people in business. They make a honey and rhubarb mead.
A modern mead crawl around the UK would have to include Nidhoggar in York, Wheatley’s of Yorkshire in Hull, Danny Bacon and Emily Lambert’s Loxwood in Sussex and Devon’s Sparrowhawk and Lindisfarne.
The Northumberland Honey Co produces the UK’s first methode traditionelle sparkling mead as well as an upmarket rose mead.
One of the UK’s first modern commercial meadery was probably Manchester’s “Zygmurgorium”, named after the science of brewing and emporium. Says founder Aaron Drake:
“My craft mead started at Uni when I had a friend who couldn’t drink cider because he was pectin intolerant. So I thought I’d make something to quench his thirst!”
The most luxurious and exclusive mead comes from Wales. “While we are the most exclusive mead in the world, running batch sizes of only fifty hand produced bottles, we are only sometimes the most expensive in the world!”
Hamish Murray runs the first and so far, only luxury meadery and bespoke honey wine business in the UK. At £99 a bottle, his “Midas Mead” certainly offers one of the world’s most expensive uses for filtered and unfiltered Welsh raw honey. But he has overheads. And not just the bees. Part of his workforce are two Shetland ponies.
“Our bespoke service has previously included decorative 24k gold, commissioned art works on bottles and even entire custom batches flavoured to suit the client’s taste and forever kept for only that client. We have done a red mead as well as a purple one. We also received an order for a bottle in a graduation gown.
“Having gone through several iterations of outfits that frustratingly did not quite work, the final product looked immaculate and was shipped to the customer. A matter of weeks later and as a graduation gift my colleagues gifted me a graduation present, only to find out the bottle I had been making was ordered by them for me!”
Based in Penrhiwllan near Llandysul, Ceredigion in west Wales, the 24-year-old Swindon-born son of a window blind maker offers high quality 8% ABV meads with edible gold flakes and shimmer. Only fifty are made in each batch. They come in hand-blown bottles designed in Herefordshire. Midas Mead is five times filtrated. All the meads are carbon negative.
“My father introduced me to archery at an age when young boys are interested in knights and Robin Hood.”
Adds Murray who is also a 3rd Dan in Tae Kwon-Doh and kickboxing as well as a solar protection technology consultant.
“I ended setting two world archery records. For the most arrows shot simultaneously (12) and fastest time to shoot 10 arrows: I minute 0.5 seconds. Through archery I joined a re-enactment group and had my first taste of mead.
“I was gifted a recipe written by Plum, my grandmother’s great, great aunt, a herbalist. I set up the company while I was at the University of Bath studying physics.
“I generally recommend drinking my meads on their own. They have a refined quality that I think lends itself to being sipped. Otherwise, it’s easiest to think of it like a tawny port, pair it with cheeses, chicken pâté, tarts, crème brûlée and lighter desserts. Our meads go very well with Spanish cuisine.”
If you would like to nix yourself A Land’s End to John O’Groats, you will need some Strawberry Mead, 30ml Scottish Whiskey, 10ml Sugar Syrup, 10ml fresh lemon juice, 2 strawberries, 4 basil leaves and some ground black pepper.
Muddle the 2 strawberries with basil, lemon juice, sugar syrup and black pepper at the bottom of a shaker. Then add the rest of the ingredients and shake with ice. Strain over some fresh ice and garnish with a basil leaf and strawberry.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy of Gosnells of London and Lindisfarne