What is Mead?
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.
The Mead Renaissance
Over the last couple of decades the United States has witnessed a huge movement in the craft beer world and more recently the rising star of draft cider. People are interested in exploring craft beverages created by skilled artisans around the world and this coincides with the “foodie” movement in general.
After decades of a boring downward trend in food and beverage quality in the hands of mass production manufacturers, people have rediscovered what good food and drink can and should be made in the hands of smaller, quality focused companies.
Michigan is a very progressive state in regards to craft beer, cider and now mead. Michiganders enjoy exploring the world of food and drink and sharing their experiences directly with friends, family and social media.
We believe the renaissance of mead is partially due to the rising technical expertise of winemaking that meadmakers are now employing in crafting this delicious beverage. At St. Ambrose we also produce oak barrel fermented and aged meads using cooperage ranging from American oak to French oak.
We believe mead (honey based wine) is the next trending beverage. Honey is a quality, value added ingredient that can be fermented into a tasty beverage, ranging from dry to sweet, still to carbonated, and low ABV to standard wine strength and beyond. Our 6.5 % carbonated mead is very popular in our tap room in Beulah, Michigan. We have an opportunity to get immediate feedback from visitors at our tasting room and our customers influence our direction.
Mead at St. Ambrose
At present we are producing a full line of still meads ABV 12%, including Pyments (honey & grapes) and Melomels (honey & fruit). Our Dancing Bare is comprised of Michigan white grapes and honey and our Rose Ambrosia is made with Michigan red grapes and honey with a nice balance of grape acidity and a touch of honey on the nose and palate.
In the traditional mead realm (just fermented honey and water) , we have varietals including local Star Thistle honey and Tupelo honey, a rare treasure from the river bottoms of the Florida panhandle that we produce. Our higher end meads are barrel aged up to 18 months in oak charred bourbon barrels (Royal Reserve ABV 17%) and medium plus toasted American oak barrel fermented (Oak Barrel Mead 12 ABV 12%).
We have 12 draft meads on tap at our tasting room and we are bottling our most popular ones in 500 ml(16.9 fl oz) beer bottles and will be releasing them soon. At present we are selling our drafts in kegs only or in growlers in our tasting room. They are extremely popular.
Cyser is a cider that has honey added. Our XR Cyser includes some maple syrup and cinnamon. St. Ambrose also makes a dry Granny Smith cider and a cider conditioned with French oak.
In the future we plan to introduce a honey and malt beverage called Braggot that is actually an old world beverage. We have purchased a small brewery system to begin that journey.
We also buy grapes from quality Michigan growers from different parts of the state and make award winning red and white wines.
Sleeping Bear Farms is a sister business of ours that has been producing honey for over 35 years and distributes nationwide. Mead making was a natural progression from the world of honey for us and an entry point for grape wine and cider production.
Presently we are fermenting in tanks ranging from 50 gallons to 2200 gallons at our brand new facility in Beulah , Michigan. The tasting room has 12 taps for our draft meads and is popular with our locals. Our rural location is very scenic and features an 1800’s post and beam barn for events. The tasting room is very hospitable and features 12 foot tall church windows from the Traverse City Playhouse that was a church at one time and plays well with our St. Ambrose theme. Local craftsman built a 17 foot long cypress plank table created from a single tree hundreds of years old that seats 18 people. The fermention area is viewable through vintage windows behind the bar.
Sleeping Bear Farms beekeepers produce honey from Michigan and our Florida farm and maintain well over 6000 hives for pollination and honey. Every honey is unique and reflects the terroir of the region just as grapes express themselves in wine.
We presently have over 30 employees on staff in our sister operations.
Our Mission & Philosophy
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.
Our purpose is to make the best quality craft beverages possible without consideration for costs.
We think people will recognize a well crafted beverage and will be willing to pay for the value added ingredients.
Our passion and desire to ferment craft beverages is palpable and drives our creative spirit.