Good Buzz: Northern Michigan Mead Makers

Mead, the oldest adult beverage on Earth, is enjoying a renaissance of sorts in the Antrim County neck of the woods. A group of 12 like-minded mead-making men have started gathering regularly to brew the fermented honey drink. Beekeeper Nels Veliquette supplies the local star thistle honey, about 600 pounds per year for up to 12 batches at a time. They meet at a top-secret mead hall location in the Rapid City area to brew, bottle and show off their more delicious concoctions. “We have a very successful mead we call a kitchen sink batch, a pumpkin one, a chocolate coffee, and a roasted jalapeño mead. “When our friend was grilling the peppers we were laughing at the waste of good mead, now we’re all trying to break into his house.”

If you don’t know the secret knock to the mead hall, there’s still chance to taste. Longview Winery in Cedar made the first commercial mead in Leelanau wine country, a cherry mead people love on ice cream and for marinating pork tenderloin and ribs.

Shawn Walters at 45 North Winery west of Suttons Bay just released his delicate peach-apricot mead, after years of personal experimental mead projects. (Right now he has mead in his fridge made with grapefruit, lemon, lime, and Riesling grapes.)

“One of the reasons to use fruit in mead making is that there is no acid in honey, so it can be sweet and flabby. Fruit adds acid,” says Walters. “What I was going for was super clean, refined mead made like a fine wine would be made.” He uses Julius Kolarik’s honey from Northport and apricots and peaches from nearby farms, which he freezes like baseballs, then presses by cryogenic extraction (just like in the movies) to extract pure fruit flavor and acid.People who’ve stirred Kirk Jones’s Sleeping Bear Farms honey from Beulah into their tea will be glad to know he’s breaking ground this spring on a mead-making facility and will have Northern Michigan’s first mead tasting room, in Benzonia, for sampling his semidry raspberry, sweet raspberry, herb, grape and apple meads.

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