Published Editorial By Vidar Halvorsen
As we look back through history, women have been the driving force behind the brewing industry. In fact, the very term ‘Brewster’ was used to denote a female brewer. In the annals of old, we frequently find references to brewing ale (and assumedly then, Mead) and it was very much considered a woman’s job. (Let’s face it, we men would just end up drinking the must before it ever got a chance to ferment)
This was the common standard up till monks started brewing as a source of income, and where the church held power, men soon ended up taking over what was previously a woman’s domain. For centuries, where Christianity ruled, the number of women has at large been left out of this wondrous craft, with only a few women crafting in secrecy.
📷But this story is focused on mead, and as mead is on the rise yet again, we are thrilled to see that women are easily regaining positions as crafters, artisans, and experts.
Today I am fortunate enough to talk with Alison Heath of Apothecary Mead, a brand new meadery located in scenic Nottinghamshire. Set in the heart of the ancient Sherwood forest, a stone’s throw from the Major Oak and Viking meeting ground, Thynghowe. The meadery is nestled in the fabled Greenwood among the stories of Robin Hood, The Knights of the old, and the very center of English legends. Hear ye, hear ye – Apothecary is poised to make their name … legendary.
Mead to make Robin Hoods merry men even merrier
With mead as an artisan drink on the rise, it has never been more important for meaderies to be unique in their own way. In this, it is natural to ask what makes Apothecary mead so special.
–We really want to take advantage of the fantastic resources we have just outside the door. Sherwood offers so much in terms of experiences, in terms of resources, and of course – in terms of history. Mead is mentioned in many historical literary texts ranging from the ancient works of Plato, Virgil, and the welsh Rig-Veda. It is mentioned in old welsh poems dating back to 550ce, called “Kanu y med” or ‘Song of Mead’. Also; we find it countless times throughout the ages with mentions in works by Chaucer, Shakespeare. In many Norse and Greek Legends, it is very much a drink of magic and atmosphere. Steeped in folklore and mystery mead is a natural choice to turn to when trying to breathe new life into traditions of old. So where better to do that than within Robin Hood’s own Sherwood?
📷Apothecary Mead has their Meadery on the Historic Welbeck Estate. The estate itself is even mentioned in the Domesday book from 1140a.d, and was founded as a monastery in 1153. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the Cavendish family bought the estate and it has been a family seat ever since. The commercial side of the estate has been active over the last decade, described by locals as a ‘foodie hub’. Among these, we find Welbeck Abbey craft beer, Ottar chocolatier, raw milk dairy, Stichelton creamery, Saffron spices, Karkli snacks, and a school for artisan food. With such a collection of great foodies, the Meadery is surely a great fit.
– Between myself and my partner, we have a passion for locally sourced produce. There is an ethos of environmentally focused practice being the core of everything we do. As trained beekeepers it is important to us to support British Beekeepers and bee farms; we raise awareness of issues affecting Bee colonies. We support bees by growing our own herbs and making conscious commercial choices, and by supporting local artists and businesses in setting up our company. It gives us immense satisfaction to know that what we do, our passion, is done in a locally supportive way, and with sustainable development in mind.
The Apothecary shows the way
With that in mind we get into talking about the Apothecary Mead itself, and what makes it so unique :
– We have a very close relationship to nature; and our mead certainly reflects upon this. Our honey is sourced very locally. We primarily use honey from hives on site within Wellbeck. If this source runs out, we carefully select from other county and regional apiaries. I would go as far as to say the quality control is literally on our tongues. We taste all honey and analyze it with the finest tools we have – our senses. Color, scent, viscosity and of course – flavor. Many people do not realize that just as with the finest wines, Mead can also be typified by varietals of honey.
For example, forest honey which will feature pine or woody notes, field or blossom honey which is often lighter and floral based. Then we have fruit blossom honey, and single source honey, which is rarer. Among these, there are flavors such as lavender, eucalyptus, and orange blossom.
For the mead itself, there are Pyments, melomels, metheglyns, bochets, hydromels, and many more. Only the honey that passes our demands for perfection gets the honor of becoming mead. I believe we owe it to history, to our craft, and of course – our customers. As we produce small batches only, its extremely important that every batch has that uniqueness one expects from limited, exclusive production.
Into the heart of mead
📷Alison shows me the heart of the production – the fermentation room. Its filled with 5-litre demi-johns shelves – and shelves of them, reminiscent of a medieval laboratory or Apothecary room. – We have about 900 5-liter demijohns we use for our brews. I’m quite sure that to industry professionals it will seem totally insane to brew such small batches. However; it allows us detailed control of every single batch, ease of transfer of stock if I am working alone, and should something go awry then we only lose one demijohn of stock. Having this vast amount of Demijohns to brew micro batches also allow us to brew truly exclusive batches. Oh, and let’s not forget the sight and sound of the yeast as its doing its magic; is like nothing else I’ve encountered in any other brewery. We affectionately call it “bloopage“.
The newly started Meadery has already made headway on the social media scene. A healthy online presence is gathering a community of supporters, eagerly awaiting news of the release. At the time of launch, Apothecary will be offering 5 flavors, each with its own distinct character, and seasonal limited editions.
We asked Alison to give us an intro to the different flavors:
Apothecary’s basic Mead; a smooth and light Mead with a medium viscosity. This allows for a silky mouthfeel with no residue, yet with notes of light citrus and vanilla bean. The name Circe was chosen, as she -for the meadery- epitomises the Goddess of Mead. Greek mythology speaks of Circe’s knowledge of hidden and sacred arts. Arts which allowed her to procure the finest honey, and create a magical blend which was presented to menfolk as a draught. This would render them ill fit to fight and transforming them into magical beasts. With such clear links to antiquity, it seems perfect to name Apothecary’s signature brew “Circe”, from which all others will come.
📷This mead is one to talk about. It is a definite nod to the love of folk horror and poetry. The label carries the logo Raven, hailing from the poem by Edgar Allen Poe: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”
Nevermore is a spiced Metheglyn Mead made with Black Tea, Chai spices, and Maple Syrup. Aged in Bourbon Oak. It is dark, luxurious, and perfect for sampling around a fire. Do NOT miss out on this for your next camping, where horror stories are to be told around the bonfire during those dark midnight hours.
This is Alison’s personal favorite and currently kicking up a storm amongst Apothecary ‘s mead-tasting panel. Black Phillip is quite simply “delicious”. From the action of uncapping the bottle, you are presented with a deeply burnt oak-colored liquid. As you take your first whiff, you get the scent of cloves. The aromas of caramelized toffee and cinnamon reach the nose as you sip. The flavor is best described as “Bonfire Toffee in a glass”. Apothecary uses the finest Adriatic figs, and grade A bourbon vanilla bean in their primary. This gives a viscous yet creamy base to the burnt honey. Again, the brew finds it’s namesake in a favorite folk horror film; This is Apothecary ‘s respectful nod to a cult classic.
📷The Morrigan is a sorceress, a queen, a goddess, and a witch associated with war and battle. The Raven is an integral imagery or symbolism Apothecary use within their brand.
– It was important, Alison explains, to have a mead dedicated to The Morrigan. Mythology tells of The Morrigan being a tragic figure possessed of the ability to turn herself into a flight of Ravens/Crows. Gifted with precognition she sees the fate of her true love and tries to save him. Yet – unable to she is cursed to forever roam the earth in the guise of the raven, appearing as a portent of doom, on the eve of war. The Morrigan blend is created as a blood red fruit-based mead, spiced with star anise. The feedback from tasters and customer alike is that it is reminiscent of Cherry Ouzo. Tart red cherries, vanilla for balance and star anise to lift.
Finally, Apothecary Mead’s lightest blend; a Lemon, Bay, and Cardamom Mead. Tasting more buttery lemon curd than tart sour limoncello, Summerisle is an easy drinking, crisp and satisfying mead, which speaks of summer meadows, citrus blossom, and warm breezes. Honey is definitely the key flavor here with the lemon adding a lovely undertone. Bay provides a subtle cinnamon background and cardamom punches through with a deliciously floral bouquet. Summerisle again is drawn from the love of cult horror.
It is easy to see Apothecary Mead’s overall image being distinctly placed within the folk/cult genre, with references to astrology, alchemy, and mythology. Where mead is concerned, the Norse angle is most definitely covered, with some excellent representation hailing from these very shores. Alison explains she wanted something of herself in this brand:
“I love history, the hidden, the forbidden and the dark. I wanted Apothecary to be borne of this love of literature and fantasy, in a respectful way. Themed brands can all too often fall into parody or caricature, I wanted it more as a nod for those in the know.”
Scrying into the future
With that said, we go back to Alison’s background and interest in mead.
I’m passionate about this beverage, informing the public and raising the profile of this once forgotten tradition. I founded a Facebook community called Mead Maidens which celebrates women within the industry and we have some prominent and incredibly knowledgeable ladies acting as our admins. Together with two other Meaderies within the UK, it is our aim to follow in the footsteps of our European and American counterparts in being at the forefront of this revival and bringing to the public a knowledge about the traditions of the craft and definitions regarding its production.
We think Apothecary has a great future ahead of itself. With this much knowledge, enthusiasm and … 900 demijohns – we expect great things to come.