India's first meadery has been set up near Pune: Here's a primer on the ancient beverage, mead

Craft beers and the Game of Thrones unarguably have been responsible for the resurgence of mead — the ancient honey-based fermented drink, which was long forgotten. Mead, or honey wine, is making a comeback among tipples, albeit in myriad avatars.

Yet, even with all the brouhaha, odds are you haven’t yet encountered mead in your local liquor store or bar in India. It is people like Rohan Rehani and his partner Nitin, of India’s first meadery — Moonshine Meadery, located between Pune and Lavasa — who are making a conscious effort to popularise it here.

Rohan Rehani acknowledges that craft beers have fuelled an interest in meads. “While the history of craft beers and meads are quite intertwined, interest in any craft beverage in India benefits all the makers of meads and craft beers.”

Endowed with the complexity of a good wine and the creativity and flavour-diversity of a great beer, mead is a hugely versatile and popular drink.

 Indias first meadery has been set up near Pune: Heres a primer on the ancient beverage, mead

Mead is also commonly known as 'honey wine'. Image for representation only, courtesy sxc.hu

Rohan Rehani reminisces, “We first came across meads on a trip to the US and were very impressed with the diversity of the drink and just how delicious it can be. This interest was further whetted on learning how ancient this beverage is — even predating agriculture. Some friends in the US are home mead makers and while we were there, we made a few small batches with them and realised that while craft beers are fun, meads allow for a much more versatile canvas.”

This elixir is one of the earliest fermented drinks humans consumed. It finds a mention in China as early as 7,000 BC as well as in the Bible, Beowulf and even in the Harry Potter books. Called the nectar of the gods, mead was popular with the Greeks and Romans, the Vikings, Mayans and ancient Egyptians.

Made from water, honey and yeast, often with fruits and spices, the fermentation process results in this light, honey-based tipple with a long floral after taste. All meads are not cloyingly sweet. It can be produced in many styles; still, sparkling, dry and semi-sweet too.

Sack meads are the sweeter ones aged for long periods, while, Metheglins are meads with herbs and spices and Melomels are meads with fruits. Mead can also be brewed with grains to create a braggot (a beer-like drink), a cyser (made with apple juice), or a pyment (made with grape juice). A versatile drink, mead can be paired with anything from poultry and fish to chocolate.

Rohan reiterates, “The versatility of nature is reflected in the versatility of meads. Meads can be made using almost all fruits and spices. Further, being a slightly sweeter drink, it pairs perfectly with the spicy Indian cuisine.”

Meaderies dilute honey with water to create a more yeast-friendly environment. For meads with fruit or spices in them, these ingredients are added after diluting the honey, before the fermentation process starts. Meadmakers know which yeasts to select and how to treat them, in order to get the requisite flavours, alcohol levels and residual sweetness.

Explains Rohan of Moonshine Meadery, “Our key to making great meads is using only the finest, top quality ingredients. Most of the fruits are being locally sourced from Maharashtra. We are also in talks with local beekeepers for honey. By using local produce and local honey, we aim to make a product that people can connect with while giving back to the land and fostering local growth. Every few months, we will be launching a premium limited batch using varietal honey, typically aged for a minimum six months.”

Mead usually ages for at least a few months and sometimes several years in order to allow the flavours within to unify, mellow, or mature before the meads are packaged. The best mead is aged as it certainly improves with time.

Technology and modern equipment is contributing towards the refined quality of meads today. Rohan agrees, “Mead making has been around for thousands of years. Technology has helped modernize the process to ensure consistency, quality and truly producing what a mead maker wants. For example, traditionally, meads would take a long time to make and age but thanks to precise temperature controls, the maturation process is far more streamlined.”

He further adds, “While the broad process remains similar to winemaking, we’re using the latest fermentation techniques to have world-class meads ready in a much shorter time. Also, all our equipment is made in Maharashtra with design inputs from the brew masters of craft breweries in Pune. For some special processes, we have also designed and manufactured equipment that was not easily available.”

It is the love for craft beverages that has caught the fancy of the urban youth across India. Small wonder than that mead is experiencing a renaissance. Rohan Rehani and Nitin of Moonshine Meadery, are doing their bit by holding tasting sessions and pop-ups at restaurants, to introduce people to this ancient beverage — and by pricing it affordably, are making it accessible to the Indian consumer.

Mini Ribeiro is a food writer and critic. Follow her blog here.

Updated Date: Sep 30, 2017 10:49:37 IST