Made Mead in London
If you haven’t already succumbed to the buzz of this ancient drink, then surely now the time is right to get into mead! Known as nectar or ambrosia to the ancient Greeks, who believed it to be the drink of the gods and possessed of magical powers, it is the world’s oldest recorded alcoholic beverage.
Mead was probably discovered in Africa by accident many thousands of years BCE. Rainwater in beehives produced an attractive (and intoxicating!) sweet−tasting drink for unsuspecting hunter−gatherers. Several millennia later, it gave rise to the word ‘honeymoon’. This references the ancient Norse custom of giving newlyweds enough mead to last a month − their first moon of marriage. Eventually after Louis Pasteur’s discovery, cultured yeasts would be used instead of spontaneous fermentation. Now, buoyed by the success of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter plus the craft beer movement, mead is being given a truly modern lease of life by a new generation of craft brewers.
Gosnells modern approach
Gosnells of London, the capital’s only meadery, is one of the most innovative of these contemporary breweries. Their sights are firmly set on spreading the love of the bee, bringing a hip US vibe to south London. The company was founded in Peckham in 2014 by Tom Gosnell after a tour of America. He had become fascinated by the way that mead was being reinterpreted as a high value, highly crafted beverage with none of its historic, semi-monastic trappings.
Sub-styles of mead
- Braggot: malt and honey fermented together.
- Melomel: mead made with fruit, often berries.
- Cyser: apple juice and honey fermented together.
- Pyment: mead with grapes or grape juice.
- Metheglin: mead made with herbs or spices.
Their core product, London Mead, uses Spanish orange blossom honey to create a light style of sparkling mead. At only 5.5% ABV, it’s clean, fresh and thirst-quenching. In contrast, their Vintage Mead 2018 is made from 100% London honey sourced from hives in east London. This has 12% ABV, is sweeter, richer and more complex. They also make other limited edition styles such as dry-hopped, barrel-aged and various seasonal meads.
The Coal Rooms
“Craft beer is super-sexy andgets loads of attention, butbut there’s so much you cando with mead and the differentflavours you can get out of it!”,says Tom Gosnell.
Their latest project is a honey-focused bar, Gosnells Upstairs at Coal Rooms. The venue is located at the former Peckham Rye train station ticket office. Launched 8th March 2019, the new bar focuses on Gosnells’ meads, including a changing list of experimental brews. These range from pink hibiscus, salted, hopped, barrel-aged and gooseberry to non-alcoholic options. Honey-based cocktails, including frozen mead ‘Slushies’ add to the modern buzz and delicious food is available from the restaurant downstairs.
Mead of the Month
For their Mead of the Month, they work with different beekeepers to showcase one specific type of single-origin honey. Tom Gosnell explains further: “Depending on what the bees have been eating, you get many different flavours. Currently, we are working with a beekeeper in Biggin Hill and our current Mead of the Month shows distinct biscuity, malty and cereal notes. We make it at 8% ABV and bone dry, giving it a complex and savoury feel.“
Events and innovations
The new space will also be used for a variety of honey and bee-based activities. These include mead masterclasses, food-pairing suppers, cocktail evenings and bee celebrations with apiarists. Tours of the Gosnells Meadery will continue every Saturday at 1pm, leaving from the Coal Rooms which is 5 minutes’ walk away. Additionally, their new ‘Hive Subscription Service’ will provide happy recipients with a different bottle of mead each month over a 10-month period. Costing £200, buzzing fans will also get little pots of honey from which the mead was made.
Mead’s contemporary relevance
“This is an exciting moment for us“, says Tom, “and we have the chance to demonstrate our meads in the heart of Peckham alongside great British dishes. Why have a glass of 12-15% wine when you can gain even greater elegance and just as much flavour from our 5.5% Original Mead? It is great paired with vegetarian foods, fish, pork or lamb and it goes really with spicy food too. We are putting mead on the map nationally. We want to show the amazing range of flavours, textures and alcoholic strengths made possible by beautiful and ecologically significant bees. Our presence at the Coal Rooms allows us a more sophisticated way of showcasing all the meads we make and the really exciting differences you can get out of different types of honey.“
Opening Hours for Upstairs at Coal Rooms are 5pm-10pm Wednesdays and Thursdays; 4pm-10pm Fridays; 12pm-10pm Saturdays.
Author – Robin Goldsmith