Story by Catharine Lo
Photo by Mike Coots
In 1999, Stephanie Krieger was hiking in Koke‘e, walking under a canopy of tall, old ‘ohi‘a trees. She watched the bees flit from one lehua blossom to the next. Enchanted, she asked herself, “How do we give value to keeping them around?” A few weeks later the idea struck: “Let’s make honey wine!”
Making mead, however, wasn’t part of her syllabus at the University of Miami, where she’d studied marine biology. Nor had they taught it in her classes on tropical land use management at the University of Hawai‘i. So the industrious researcher taught herself. The process, in a nutshell: Fruit and honey and tea go in a tank. They ferment for three months, they’re filtered and the resultant elixir is mead. But of course it’s not quite that simple.
The flavors of certain fruits—liliko‘i and guava, say—naturally complement the mead. Others—mango, papaya and banana—do not. Ten years and more than a hundred experimental batches later, Nani Moon Mead launched with a collection of four vintages. The elegant Lihu‘e meadery, Hawai‘i’s sole meadery, now produces around eight hundred bottles a month.
Mention mead and—if people don’t think you’re referring to a spiral-bound notebook—it typically conjures up an image of Middle Age mirth: Helmet-clad warriors at long wooden tables, sloshing their drinks about as they hoist their chalices and toast victory. Krieger prefers a more romantic mead story: In medieval lore, mead was the matrimonial drink of choice, imbibed for a month following the wedding from full moon to full moon, in order to encourage fertility and prosperity. Hence the word “honeymoon.”
Perhaps the biggest misperception about mead is that it’s sweet; actually, it’s dry and crisp. Ginger Spice, Krieger’s most traditional mead, has a disarming kick from a potent spice medley; Winter Sun combines Kaua‘i wildflower honey with star fruit and liliko‘i. The meads are brewed with black tea, which “brings the flavor down to earth,” Krieger says. She has concocted a menu of mead cocktails as well. Her favorite? The Drunken Honeybear: One ounce of Barenjager honey liqueur mixed with two ounces of Ginger Spice mead, on the rocks, garnished with a cinnamon stick.