Dating back some 9,000 years, mead was an ever-present staple of ancient societies until the Middle Ages, when hop- and barley-based beers overtook it as the go-to drink for the peasant and mercantile classes. As trade and technique advanced, accessible domestic and foreign alcohol overshadowed locally-made mead and it nearly disappeared entirely. But a collection of Atlantic Canadian meaderies are bringing it back to the foreground.
“[It is] true terroir” said Charles Lipnicki, who runs Prince Edward Island’s first meadery (Island Honey Wine in Wheatley River) with his wife Laura. “If you want to taste a specific region then you will not find a truer barometer of time and place than honey. The honey used in mead shares the subtle nuances of not only a crop, but the riverbanks and meadows and hedgerows of the area.”
For Jen Holthom, who owns and Midgard Meadery, in Scotch Lake, N.S., just south of scenic Bras d’Or in Cape Breton, mead was a natural extension of her bee business.
“It’s very complicated, bee keeping,” says Holthom. “It’s very interesting, and food culture hasn’t really caught up to it,” despite it once being practically a dietary staple.
Not long after she began bee keeping at Scotch Lake Farms in the early 2000s, Holthom expanded into mead production, hoping to stake a claim in the region’s small mead market.
In 2012, she changed the business name to Migard Meadery, referencing the Norse word for Earth. Norse culture and mythology were closely tied to the sweet drink, such as the legendary Mead of Poetry, from which all arts were thought to have been inspired.
Due to the high cost of honey and and naturally low-output from honey-wine, it takes about seven kilograms of honey to produce about 19 litres of of mead, you won’t find Midgard in provincial liquor stores. This restrains the company’s growth, but batches always sell out far ahead of time, thanks to local and online orders. “It’s a small mom and pop operation,” says Holthom.
“I come across people who are way more interested by my product than I am,” jokes Nathanial Jarvis, who co-owns Ursan Meadery with his brother Jack in New Ross, N.S.
While those unfamiliar with mead may be hesitant at first, Ursan’s offerings are so popular at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market that the meadery often sells out. The company is currently expanding the meadery so it can produce more with each batch. “It’s a really fun industry to be a part of.”
So now that you’ve been stung by the honey-mead bee, what will you drink it with? The answer depends on the season
A summer mead is lighter in flavour and colour, often with a more floral bouquet and hints of regional berries. These make excellent and refreshing choices for desserts.
Try Ursan’s Blueberry Mead with a light summer cake or sweet crepes, Midgard’s apple-scented Yggdrasil with a classic homemade apple pie and vanilla ice cream, or Island Honey Wine’s award winning Wildflower Mead with a selection of local fruits glazed in a light syrup.
For the headier and heavier days of fall and winter, try classic pairings like Midgard’s black currant-based Niflhiem with slow roasted lamb or goat, just like the Norse thunder god Thor himself is storied to favour, or Ursan’s Sweat Mead with a honeyed-ham or glazed chicken, or Island Honey Wine’s fall specialty, Apple Cider Mead, with an earthy autumn stew and and thick-crusted, whole grain bread for sopping.
WHERE TO FIND MEAD
The mead trend is a slow grower, so you won’t find it at most provincial liquor stores. Try the meaderies mentioned above, and these spots:
New Scotland Brewing
91 Alderney Dr., Dartmouth, N.S.
This brewery produces almost as much mead as beer. Watch for original flavour combinations like Highland Stinger, which features strawberries and peppercorns.
Island Honey Wine Co.
820 Millboro Rd., Wheatley River, P.E.I.
This sweet treat you will find at the provincial store. Call the meadery for seasonal hours. A visit to the farm is worth the drive.
Pollen Angels by Sunset Meadery
McLeod Hill, N.B.
You will find these sparkling meads, alongside a few others, at
30 ANBL locations across the province.