by Malia Paasch
Makana Meadery in South Africa was founded in 2000 to revive an ancient mead that dates back before the wooly mammoth went extinct. The meadery is now producing some truly incredible elixirs.
Mead is created by mixing honey, water, and yeast and letting it ferment, but don’t let the simple recipe fool you. The drink’s flavor comes from the type of honey used.
Location of hives is crucial. Bees are efficient insects and collect nectar from flowers closest to their hives and with the most nectar. Imagine all of the variables. What flowers are in bloom? Which are most abundant? This dependence on nature makes it nearly impossible to replicate the exact same mead every time.
Makana embraces this idea. Its location in the African savanna sets the stage for meads that produce terroir-based flavors unique to the land. The savanna naturally offers honey bees a diverse collection of flowering plants, most of which are considered wild vegetation. Each mead shipped to the United States is aged in South African wine barrels, which offer even more exposure to the local microflora.
The meadery was originally a research project with Rhodes University tasked with creating a new fermentation system to produce iQhilika (ee-qeh-lee-ka), a mead originally produced by the Xhosa people of South Africa and estimated to be 20,000 years old.
This research project turned in to a full-scale operation. All of Makana’s honey is produced by its beekeeping program and patented fermentation technology.
A few of its selections:
Herbal Blossom Mead: a semi-sweet mead made with hibiscus, rosehip, licorice, cinnamon and dried apples. This mead is aromatic when swirled in the glass and smells like a combination of all the spices in the cabinet. The true honey flavor comes out in the flavor, and the spices fade into the background.
African Bird’s Eye Chili Mead: Created by aging the mead over the indigenous African Bird’s Eye chili, this mead is sweet at first and the heat builds slowly. The bottle states it perfectly, “an exotic drink for those daring moments.”
Cape Fig Leaf Mead: This one is a metheglin (that’s the fancy term for spiced mead). Makana found that fig-tree leaves had more flavor to offer than the actual fruit and started using the leaves to produce this wonderfully earthy mead. The flavors in this mead always remind me of the smells produced after a summer rain storm.
Makana’s Garth Cambray suggests chilling mead before consuming to let the sentiment settle. He also recommends a red-wine glass as the ideal mead vessel. The open mouth allows the bouquet to open up. The variety of flavors that Makana Meadery offers makes this a versatile beverage. Mead can be enjoyed on its own, as an aperitif, paired with dinner or for dessert.