Mead is an ancient beverage made with honey and water in its simplest form. In ancient cultures, honey was mixed with water and left to ferment with wild yeasts. The natural pollens in the honey supplied the nutrients required by the yeast to multiply and convert the sugars into alcohol. The resulting meads were most likely drunk while still in the fermentation stage and were slightly bubbly.
It predates written history and was the beverage of royalty.
Mead can be expressed as dry, semi, or sweet. Some of our meads are fermented with honey combined with fruits, herbs, and/or spices. Every honey has different floral and spice notes as every wine grape has different characteristics, which expresses itself in the final product.
We have our own press to squeeze fresh juice from local grapes, pears, and cherries for our honey and fruit meads, which are called Melomels. We just simply call them “Mels”.
Michigan now produces some very excellent wine grapes which we use in combination with different varieties of honey made from our bees.Honey and wine grape combination meads are called Pyments.
One good blend is our “Dancing Bare” mead /pyment, fermented with excellent Riesling grapes and Star Thistle honey. We won an award at the Mazer Cup international mead competition in Boulder, Colorado with our 2010 vintage.
Meads made with herbs are called Metheglins. We are currently fermenting an Elderflower mead that compliments the floral notes of our Star Thistle honey.
Our story, philosophy and approach to Mead making
We started keeping bees almost 32 years ago and quickly became full time beekeepers in the early 1980’s. We named our company Sleeping Bear Farms, inspired by the awesome Sleeping Bear Dunes, which is now a national park.
As beekeepers having access to an almost unlimited supply of honey, making mead was a natural course to follow. Some were good and that was enough to pursue a life long quest to make great mead. Over the years, with the help of local winemakers in our region, a knowledge of good wine-making technique was acquired and applied to mead making.
It wasn’t long before we were making 100-200 cases a year for our beekeeping staff and friends and supplying mead for our music festival friends. The idea of starting a commercial winery was entertained and we obtained the paperwork to obtain our license. Ironically, it sat buried in a pile for 10 years before we filed the paperwork and started purchasing larger stainless fermenting vessels, pumps, chilling equipment, and filters. The vision was being realized.
And about the philosophy that helped us? When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
A good example is the first great mead we made: One of our staff was making our raspberry honey crème while we were absent, in Florida doing our winter bee work. He accidently made the crème honey spread with a moisture level that was extremely high and we couldn’t eliminate the excess moisture so it would keep well. When I lamented that we would probably have to throw out 1000 lbs. of honey, Sharon suggested that I ferment it out to mead. Brilliant! We’re still drinking some of that mead.
As we continue to make our meads and wines, we attempt to bring a new world contemporary sensibility to an ancient beverage, with a focus on good balance on the palate. We press our own grapes and fruit, in addition to producing our own honeys in Michigan and Florida. Our two flagship honeys are Star Thistle produced in northern Michigan and Tupelo produced in the panhandle of Florida in the river basins.
We are excited by the almost endless possibilities of expression with different honeys, fruits, and herbs in our line of meads we are producing.