When I was first invited to a mead tasting, I expected foaming tankards of ale with Hagar the Horrible chugging in the corner, but boy was I wrong. I discovered that in South Africa we have a wide range of local meads that have brewed with a typical South African flavour, from a traditional malt and mead blend to others blended with fruit or wine. But what is mead I hear you ask…
Mead predates the usual products of sophisticated fermentation like wine and spirits and is known as a truly ancient beverage. You’ll find that every country around the world has it’s own version of how mead is made, usually by using wild honey and grains grown around the village together with fresh stream water. Mead imploys the standard method used for making beer, sugar or in this case honey, yeast and water or some kind of liquid, which when combined makes alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Mead is a fermented beverage made primarily from honey.The American Mead Association
In South Africa, Dr Ernst Thompson, founder of the brand new South African Mead Association, works with Matthew Krone of Krone MCC, a nominee in the Young Winemaker of The Year Awards 2020. They have been working together blending wine & mead to create another form of mead, called pyment.
One of the mead makers that we met at the tasting I attended included Dr. Ernst, who served everyone Africa’s first and only Méthode Traditionnelle, a champagne style mead called Melaurea. He then went on to tell us about the inherent challenges of working with a stable ingredient like honey, every chemical reaction requires an unstable ingredient to start the process and honey is the furthest thing from unstable.
He mentioned that even adding yeast to the honey and water mixture, fermentation just wouldn’t start. Another challenge is getting the yeast to move through the columns of a still during distillation. To keep the resulting mead produced consistent, Dr. Ernst sources all of his honey from Zambia, as it provides a steady flow of good quality honey throughout the year.
The People I Met
Brendon Cloete, from Cloete Mead House, a self proclaimed amateur who makes a wooded, aged Cederberg Orange Blossom which is a traditional dry mead and a Berry Melomel. There were a number of sommeliers in attendance who, through their excitement of sampling the various meads, couldn’t help but offer food pairing ideas for each one tasted.
Nokukhanya Mncwabe, co-founder and CEO of Matawi wants to produce a modern saleable product made from traditional methods & recipes that have been kept and used by grandmothers all around the African continent. She showcased a berry and hibiscus mixer, a lightly carbonated lower alcohol mead that can be enjoyed on its own or as a complement to Matawi’s distilled mead gin. Her berry mixer is made from local Cape Fynbos honey, which I think was a truly special experience.
There are so many average gins on the market at the moment that have been produced as a result of the “gin revolution” that swept through Cape Town, however Matawi’s vamped up version blows them all out the water for her shear inventiveness with both flavour and tradition. Bravo Nokukhanya, I am now a convert.
Alistair Keay, another mead producer who couldn’t join the tasting, wanted us to discover one of his products regardless. The Cape Mead founder, let us sample a cyzer, an apple juice and mead blend that was surprisingly sweet, tart and crisp. Another wonderful discovery that we were all happy to be a part of.
All in all the tasting was an absolute journey of discovery, I never realized there was such a thing called mead, or that there was a growing market for it, now I’m wondering why it took me so long to discover it!
All the products mentioned above are available through the online shops of each producer, or at stockists listed on their websites –