by Sanne Kure-Jensen
According to the American Mead Makers Association there were less than two dozen commercial meaderies in the United States 15 years ago. Today there are almost 250. In 2014 alone, 40 meaderies opened. Maine Mead Works is among the leading American meaderies. Their meads have received numerous awards. Owners, Ben Alexander, Carly Cope and Nick Higgins handcraft small batches of mead including Cyser and Chai, with a small team of loyal, talented employees.
Founded in 2007, Maine Mead Works seeks to reacquaint the world with the oldest fermented beverage, mead. Using honey, pure water and proprietary yeast strain, Mead Maker Nick Higgins blends ancient traditions with modern science to produce distinctive honey wines or meads.
Guidance from award-winning mead maker and founder of Makana Meadery in South Africa, Dr. Garth Cambray helped Alexander start his meadery in Portland, ME. The two meaderies have the only two state-of-the-art, continuous vertical mead fermentation systems in the world.
HoneyMaker Mead’s main ingredient is wildflower honey. About half a pound of honey goes into every bottle of mead. The company’s growing success means they use 240 pounds of honey per day.
HoneyMaker varietal meads are flavored by fruits and herbs as locally as possible. Each year the Meadery makes a special Reserve Mead aged for five months in barrels for a rich oaky flavor. The 2014 Reserve is a Blueberry Mead.
Higgins makes one 100-gallon batch of must daily using 240 pounds of honey and 80 gallons of water. Peristaltic pumps move the honey water blend or “must” through a pasteurizer and then into the vertical fermenters. The must will reach 10.5 percent alcohol before being pumped to a 300-gallon tank fermenter to rest for about two weeks.
After six to eight weeks at 70 degrees F, the mead is ready for bottling. When the alcohol has reached the right levels, the alcoholic liquid is pumped to chiller tanks and drops temperatures to 34 degrees F. This crashes the yeast, stops the fermenting process and the yeast solids drops out. Filters remove any remaining yeast residues producing a clear beverage.
The company enjoys a foodie following. The region, nation and world offer growing demand for local, artisanal foods and beverages. After a recent story on the Meadery in USA TODAY Travel’s Experience Food & Wine, customers from across America and Europe started emailing and calling in their orders.
A local graphic designer created the distinctive thin, vertical labels and diagonal labels for the Reserve Mead. While excellent at distinguishing the product in the market place, there is no machine available to affix the labels. Staff must painstakingly label each bottle, starting with the long banner label and then apply the hexagonal bee sticker. The labels must be aligned perfectly and each bottle dated by hand. Finally, the plastic cap is dropped on and sealed with a heat gun.
Higgins also brews Ram Island Chai Mead from Chai Tea. It tastes like sparkling Chai. Until late December 2014, Ram Island Chai Mead was only available on draught. Today, this delicious beverage is available in 500 ml. bottles exclusively in Maine.
To grow its customer base, Maine Mead Works offers tastings at its own Tasting Room, retail liquor stores as well as local and regional beverage and food events.
by Sanne Kure-Jensen