Words by Kaspar Chambers
The word ‘mead’ harks back to ancient times, conjuring images of vikings and fairytale adventures. But the world’s oldest alcoholic drink has undergone a modern day resurgence, exploding in popularity, especially in the American market where the number of mead makers has increased tenfold in the past decade. Despite this, still, few people I ask know what the drink really is…
Mead, in its purest form, is simply honey and water, carefully fermented using yeast and then aged to allow the flavours to blend and mature. The secret lies in making the perfect choice of honey and the intricate science of the brewing method. Master these elements and you’ve created a very special drink: The floral essence of spring blossoms captured in a bottle alongside delicate honey flavours, it’s been described as akin to drinking rays of sunshine. I’ve been captivated by mead since it crossed my path on my US travels and in my quest to find the finest producers this side of the pond, I’ve stopped at Kinsale Mead Co.
Kinsale Mead Co. was founded in 2017 by Kate and Denis Dempsey in the charming seaside town of the same name in Southwest Ireland. They’ve quickly received international acclaim for the quality of their meads, even winning gold in the Mazer Cup (the world cup of mead). Their flagship offering, Atlantic Dry Mead, embodies the modern, refined style of mead making. Unlike many traditional style meads which can leave a cloying feeling of honey syrup on the palate, the Atlantic Dry is smooth with a hint of residual sugar from the honey; more comparable to aromatic white wines such as Riesling or dry Muscat Blanc. You’re hit by lovely floral aromas of citrus blossoms and a subtle but sustained note of honey, it’s hard not to finish the entire bottle once uncorked!
Mead is also versatile and can serve as a perfect base for rich, fruity flavour combinations. Kinsale demonstrate this with their Wild Red Mead, which has been fermented with whole blackcurrants and cherries. An intriguing alternative to full-bodied red wines, delivering on fruitiness without the sometimes overpowering tannins that characterise merlot or cabernet sauvignon. Perfect for the colder months and an ideal Christmas present for foodies to indulge in alongside dark chocolate or cheese boards.
The meadery also produces limited runs of special editions such as their Hazy Summer Mead (also a gold medal winner). As the name suggests, this slightly lighter and refreshing option encapsulates the summer season and is described as a kind of “Irish Pimm’s” by Kinsale. On a related note, all of Kinsale’s meads work fantastically in cocktails, one of my particular favourites being the “Bees Knees”: 2 measures of the Atlantic Dry with a measure of gin and halves of honey syrup and lemon juice, delicious! A Wild Red Mead sangria or a Mead Manhattan are also delightful twists on old classics.
The sustained interest in craft brewing and distilling has opened up a world of new alcoholic possibilities to drinkers and mead is a special gem that is still waiting to be fully discovered. As the industry grows, it will also have a positive impact on supporting honeybees, our all too important pollinating friends. Make sure you’re ahead of the curve on this trend, and with Kinsale Mead Co. now listing on Amazon, it couldn’t be easier to get your hands on a bottle.