Bee Wine

The oldest alcohol beverage on the planet, it just takes honey, water and natural yeasts to start the fermentation process naturally.  It’s thought that people started deliberately making mead around 7000 BC, and the Rigveda, ancient Hindu scripture, contains its first written descriptions.  Enjoyed by vikings, preferred by Greeks in the Golden age, made all over the world in over 20 styles, mead has now come to Texas.

Several wineries across the state make mead alongside their grape and fruit wines, but only 4 are honey wine devoted meaderies:  Dancing Bee Winery in Rogers, Rohan Meadery in La Grange, Texas Mead Works in Seguin, and Enchanted Manor Winery.  I met with John Rohan of Rohan Meadery to learn about he and his wife Wendy’s operation.

Accustomed to inquiring about grape and fruit wine, I was unsure what questions to ask, so John led me through some of the similarities and differences.  Like grape and fruit wine, mead is made in stainless steel fermentation tanks and usually with commercial yeasts (not wild ones).  Different types of honey, like different varieties of grapes, change the nature and flavors of the wine; and since honey is so dense it has to be diluted with water or fruit juice to start the process of fermentation, also affecting the flavor.  It requires about 300 pounds of honey to make 100 gallons of mead and take between 8-12 months to finish a batch.

Because the nature of the honey has a serious impact on the quality of the mead, John and Wendy are very picky about the honey they use.  They will only purchase pesticide-free product made by bees that are not trucked around the country.  Many bee keepers make their money by driving their hives to different orchards to pollinate the trees.  It helps them control the nature of honey (for example, you can purchase “orange blossom” honey because the bees were released in a large orange orchard and only had access to that type of flower), but it is very stressful for the bee.  Hives that are trucked lose about 20% of their members due to the trauma of the move.  So John and Wendy avoid honey that comes from apiaries that practice such treatment.  At this moment, much of their product is sourced from “Bee Wilde” and the Reed Family in Montgomery, Texas and Dancing Bee Winery in Rogers.

The result is very nuanced meads with multiple layers of flavor.  They change their tasting list regularly, but when I was there, they offered fruit and herb meads, as well as the pure honey variety.  All had a nice balance of sweetness and complexity.  I most enjoyed the pure mead because the flavor was rich and intricate, showing something different with every sip.  Perhaps that is the power of good honey, from happy, healthy bees.  Perfect for a warm, Texas evening (or afternoon), try a chilled bottle, a little cheese and fruit, and enjoy!

Margaret Shugart