Story and Photos By Jordan Harris
Two meaderies from different countries had never collaborated on a project, much less reciprocated the guest and host relationship until recently. In November of 2014 Tom Newman, founder and head brewer for the Celt Experience brewery in Caerphilly, Wales travelled to Prescott, Arizona to make a mead with Superstition Meadery. In addition to creating a leading brewery in the United Kingdom, and a distillery making the brand Eccentric Gin, Tom was planning to open a meadery. Superstition was one of several stops for Tom, and Gavin Davidson, Celt’s CFO, which also included the first mead making course at UC Davis on their trip researching mead in America.
Before making the trip a recipe was worked up via email that would represent both Arizona and Wales. Jeff Herbert, owner of Superstition, suggested a cyser using organic Arizona apple cider & Arizona honey. Tom suggested Welsh mugwort and a UK ale yeast may complement the cyser and be indicative of a classic Celtic ingredient that has been used to flavor beverages and for medicine, for eons. The Welsh word “Meddyglyn” is the source for the herb or spiced mead term we all know today as “Metheglin.” (In written Welsh, consecutive d’s are pronounced like “Th” in English)
The mugwort cyser was made as a small 15 gallon test batch due to mugwort containing thujone, the legendary psychoactive property of absinthe. In the United States any Artemisia species used in alcoholic beverages must be “Thujone Free.” Until 2007 this was interpreted by the TTB to mean zero detectable thujone. After a legal challenge the threshold of tolerance was increased from zero to 10ppm. The collaboration mead therefore had to be tested by the TTB, before a production batch could have a label submitted for approval. This mead is named Amnesia, and the first commercial batch will be released to the public in the fall of 2015 at Superstition Meadery.
After experiencing the mead scene in the US, Tom returned to Wales and founded Mabinogion Mead. The deep rooted theme of mead throughout Welsh history, is also prevalent within the bindings of The Mabinogion; Britain’s earliest prose literature. Compiled in the 12th Century by medieval Welsh poets and authors, The Mabinogion’s stories reflect an oral history far older than this period. In addition to tales of King Arthur and other myths and legends, the book bears references to mead and honey time and time again, and thus has a huge significance to Mabinogion as a meadery, hence why we chose it as our name. Our meads are influenced by the stories within The Mabinogion, including our collaboration with Superstition.
While assembling all of the licensing, equipment and staff required to begin making mead in the newly constructed space which is connected to the Celt Experience brewery, Tom invited Superstition’s Jeff and Jen Herbert to visit Wales and to have their visit coincide with the production of Mabinogion’s first mead. The ideas started flowing back and forth across the Atlantic until a recipe was determined. Taking inspiration from Superstition’s style and the season in Wales a mead made with Welsh honey and fresh Welsh Strawberries, aged with Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans was created. The Arizona contribution was a ceremonial 6 pound jar of local Prescott wildflower honey and one of Superstition’s house yeasts. Entitled ‘Hounds of Annwn’, the strawberry vanilla mead is named after the hounds of the Welsh ‘otherworld’ whose growling predicted death to all those who heard it. The mead is still aging and tasting fantastic. The label has just been created and we plan to release the mead in the fall of 2015.
It was great to have an American Meadery visit us here in Wales. The pages of Welsh history are riddled with mead and it’s not only the nectar of the gods, it’s the drink of our ancestry and our forefathers. Long before ale was brewed, the Welsh enjoyed mead and Braggot and we are hoping to resurrect and revitalize the beverage. Such a process is already in full swing across the pond, and to get input from one of best was hugely beneficial to us and our mission to replicate this resurgent craft beverage on our shores.
When two businesses come together to make one product, something truly unique is crafted. It opens up a mead makers’, or a brewers’, process to additional input which can have amazingly creative benefits. Ideas can be bounced around and boundaries can be crossed when it comes to innovating a new product. Mead, like many alcoholic drinks, is an incredibly social thing. Everyone gathers round, pops open a bottle and shoots the breeze whilst enjoying a glass. Making mead is exactly the same and it shows real unity amongst meaderies. We are all working towards the same goal of taking mead to the next level, and collaboration is a great way to do just that.
Mabinogion will be creating two styles of mead. Firstly we will have our bee wines, which are similar to many existing UK meads as they contain a higher ABV, similar to wines, but we will also be crafting a range of bee brews, which are similar in ABV to beer and will be more of a session mead.
For our brands the process of and the ingredients in mead, beer and gin are all different, but the same amount of passion is injected into each. The love of the craft is what pairs them. No matter the end product, or the way in which it is created, we love crafting each batch of mead, each cask of beer and each bottle of gin.
Jordan Harris lives in Cardiff, Wales and is the Marketing Manager for Mabinogion Mead.