Turning honey into golden wine
Mead is one of the oldest forms of alcoholic beverage known to man. Archeologists have found chemical traces of honey mead dating back as far as 9,000 years ago. Mead is mentioned in recorded histories of European, Asian and African societies as far back as 6,000 years.
According to legend, a wayward traveler happened upon a beehive that had been exposed to the rain, causing the honey inside to ferment, creating the world’s first alcoholic beverage.
And mead was born. Nowadays it’s a little easier to find. In Dahlonega you just follow the ‘Honey Wine’ signs. They started popping up around town last year as Blair Housley’s way of introducing folks to Etowah Meadery.
“It’s hard for people to understand what a meadery is, so I’m going to advertise honey wine tastings and label myself as a winery on our sign,” he said. “Once I get people in here I can explain to them what type of wine it is.”
Housley, a native of Lumpkin County, got his start in beer and wine.
He eventually won several medals in some beer competitions, finally being judged impartially instead of by his friends. “My buddies always told me they loved my beer, but of course, that was probably because I was giving them free beer,” he said with a laugh.
“I thought I must be doing something right, but I also started to become bored with beer and was drawn back into making wine, and then mead.” And so Housley opted to go a sweeter route.
No one was talking about opening up a meadery back then so that’s why I decided I’d go down this path. It’s not only the oldest alcoholic beverage, but also the fastest growing alcoholic segment right now,” he said.
The bee business is also booming down the road in Canon, home of Blue Haven Bee Company.
Brianna Brown Kidd, marketing director for Blue Haven, said when the family decided to enter this business venture five years ago, one of their long term goals was to build a meadery and produce their own brand of mead.
First, Kidd says, they had to establish themselves as the best honey-makers in the market.
“A lot of people who are honey producers, don’t make mead. And a lot of people who make mead are not honey producers,” said Kidd. “So, we wanted to do both.”
The Brown family spent the first four years perfecting and promoting their honey products and decided the time was right to begin construction on the meadery.
Timing and circumstances led the Browns to Jabe Hilson, a vintner in Clayton.
Pleased with his wine-making abilities, the Blue Haven company decided to take different samples of their honey to Hilson so that he could make mead.
The collaboration led to the Blue Haven’s pyment – a mead that is mixed with grape wine.
Currently, Blue Haven boasts several different types of pyment, as well as traditional mead, which is still produced in Clayton.
State inspections, licensing and a myriad of regulations are involved before the Browns will be able to produce the mead in their own facilities.
However, creative director Karen Brown, says Blue Haven anticipates being able to open the doors on their meadery sometime this spring.
Kidd says Blue Haven mead has roughly the same alcohol content (12-13 percent) as traditional wine, but has a different flavor.
“It is a different taste,” Kidd says. “You can taste the floral notes and the honey in our mead. It’s really smooth, really delicious and semi-sweet. The good thing about mead is that it pairs with just about anything you like to eat.”
The taste of mead, like wine, varies from year to year and region to region.
Bees can remain in the same location, but conditions such as rainfall, weather patterns and soil conditions will create different flavors each production cycle.
“Mead is a true agricultural product,” says Kidd.
Blue Haven Bee Company hosts several wine and mead tasting events throughout the week, including special events such as “Yappy Hour,” where proceeds are donated to the local animal shelter.
Blue Haven Bee Company is comprised of the Brown family: husband and wife Monroe and Karen, along with their two children Brianna and Andrew.
Brianna’s husband, Caleb, manages the apiary.
Kidd says their long term goal is to build and sustain a successful business that can be handed down to future generations.
From Canon to Dahlonega, it’s clear that mead-making is a buzzy business that’s here to stay.
After all, 9,000 years worth of satisfied customers can’t be wrong.
Blue Haven Bee Company is located at 2069 Bond Avenue in Canon.
Retail and tasting room hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The family owned and operated company’s products can be found online at Amazon.com, as well as the company webpage bluehavenbee.com.
You can find Etowah Meadery at 3003 Morrison Moore Parkway, Dahlonega. Visit their Facebook page or call 864-6323 for hours.