Humans have been getting buzzed for a long time, so it seems appropriate that the world’s longest buzz has been produced by bees. You can have your beer, wine, whiskey, or hard cider, but if you want a truly historic adult beverage, consider mead.
Mead is a honey-based potable — it is sometimes known as honey wine. The first known evidence of alcoholic beverages was found in China, where pottery shards from about 7,000 BC contained remnants of a fermented brew of rice, fruit, and honey. But honey wine goes back much further. Some say its origins can be traced back 20,000-40,000 years, to the African bush.
Mead was popular for centuries, a favorite drink among the Anglo-Saxons; the warriors in Beowulf gathered in Mead Hall to self-lubricate before battle. But, as Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, the years passed like swift draughts of sweet mead; beer and wine gradually won the day, and mead mostly disappeared. Recently, though, craft brewers have been bringing it back.
One of those is Eric DeRise, who along with his business partner, Kenneth Calabrese, own Salt Point Meadery in Pleasant Valley. DeRise had no idea what mead was when a friend introduced him to it in 2005. “I was a history major, and that’s how it resonated. I thought of Vikings in medieval times,” he says. “I knew that honey was involved, but that’s it.”
Over the years, DeRise, who works in IT at the Culinary Institute of America, experimented with making it for fun. Things got more serious around 2011, when he and Calabrese got the notion to turn it into a business. “There are tons of craft breweries, so there’s no reason to add to that mix from a business perspective. Mead made sense as a unique option,” DeRise says. “We could see it was some sort of hole in the market.”
A gaping hole, in fact. He says that there were only about 30 meaderies in the country a decade ago; now there are more than 500. Salt Point launched in October 2017. They rent a small space to make their mead with honey sourced from the Finger Lakes, producing about 80 gallons a month, which they bottle, can, and keg. They plan to move to a bigger facility and cultivate their own honey as early as 2019.
Traditional mead is heavy and sweet, with high alcohol content. Modern mead, like that produced by Salt Point, is lighter and easier to drink, and includes wider varieties of flavors from infusions of fruit, herbs, and spices. “Dry mead can come across like a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc,” DeRise says. “Sweet mead can be completely different. Some of the flavors you get from different ingredients is not comparable to anything else.” His Queen’s Crown mead uses caramelized honey and dark maple syrup to create “crazy flavors in [the] mouth,” he says. “It tastes like crème brulée.”
For adult beverage buffs who want something different, “Mead is the new hard cider,” DeRise says. “At events, people who taste it are blown away. They see it as a whole other category they can enjoy.”