A Brewery in Brooklyn Adds a New Dimension to Mead, or Honey Wine
Mead, a medieval alcoholic beverage made of fermented honey, water, and yeast (and sometimes spices, herbs, fruit, or hops) has long gotten a bad rap for being stodgy, cloyingly sweet, and exceedingly boozy. But thanks to an uptick in micro-meaderies (and possibly, the drink’s consumption in Game of Thrones), the so-called “honey wine” is making a comeback. According to the American Mead Makers Association, the number of commercial meaderies in the United States has increased more than sevenfold since 2003, and some 200 meaderies are slated to open in the next two years.
Among the mead-makers shifting perspectives is Enlightenment Wines, an operation based in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn that produces meads that—unlike the commercial variety, which is typically filtered and supplemented with a number of fast-acting fermentation aids—are savory, bone-dry, and have an ABV that sits at around 12 percent. Many of its creations are on offer at Honey’s, a Brooklyn cocktail bar and restaurant owned and operated by the company. Founded in 2015 by Anthony Rock, Arley Marks, and Raphael Lyon, who serves as lead mazer (the person who makes mead), Enlightenment’s process is hyper-local and remarkably low-intervention. The company sources all of its ingredients from New York State: Zesty sumac, medicinal dandelions, and peppery juniper berries, for example, are foraged for in the Hudson Valley, while every drop of raw, unpasteurized honey is produced by a beekeeper who tends to hives in the Finger Lakes region.
Each concoction is made in small batches by combining honey, water, and seasonal botanicals, then fermenting the mixture in wood barrels with wild yeast for around a year, or until little to no sugars from the honey remain and have been converted into alcohol. (Sometimes the fermentation process begins in stainless-steel or glass vessels.) The result is a robust, high-quality mead that doesn’t require filtering, and allows the flavor of the herbs, fruits, and flowers used to make it shine through.
Selecting which palatable variety to sample is a less straightforward affair. On chilly nights, pour a glass of The Athanor, made with caramelized honey and aged for two years to produce rich notes of chocolate and vanilla bean. Or sip on Fey, a full-bodied, limited-edition mead derived from tart cider apples. For a funkier experience, pop open a bottle of Night Eyes, a bubbly iteration made with a base of honey, cherries, and apples that’s fermented then infused with tangy sumac and floral rose hips. Once bottled, it goes through a second fermentation that produces a vibrant effervescence. An added bonus: Night Eyes comes in a generous 750 ml vessel, making it a sharable holiday party libation.