Potential seen in locally made mead

The sweet stuff . . . Natalie and Cole Lions recently added a cafe to their meadmaking business at Mount Pisa, outside Cromwell. PHOTO: TRACIE BENNETT

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Cole and Natalie Lions only discovered mead on their honeymoon in Australia seven years ago, which Cole finds ironically funny, ‘‘because that’s where the term honeymoon comes from’’.

One theory for how the word came about was the European custom of giving a newlywed couple enough mead to last them a month.

Mr Lions said mead was the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage and the earliest records of the drink go back to China in 700BC.

He said the beverage had fallen out of favour and had become a ‘‘costume’’ beverage, most commonly only seen at medieval or renaissance fairs.

He has been a meadmaker for the past six or seven years — in 2019 he took his hobby commercial.

The following year, the couple opened a cafe, Broken Hive Mead, opposite the entrance to Pisa Moorings outside Cromwell.

Covid›19 intervened, so the cafe was finally opened only six weeks ago, selling coffees, Sanga pies, cookies and artisanal herbal teas which can be customised to taste.

It was a tough two years, he said.

They host Sunday markets at their site, where anyone is welcome and there are no stall fees.

The cafe has been popular with tradies and agricultural workers and the couple plan to add soups, chilis and chowders to their winter offerings.

It is mead that holds Mr Lions’ fascination and he envisions, with the right marketing, a niche product.

He currently makes only two varietals. Honey Rubble is made with a blend of certified organic honeys including wild thyme and clover from the Central Otago region. The second, Royal Ruin, blends honey from wild thyme, clover, kamahi and dandelion, again from Central Otago.

‘‘I would like to do a range of floral›specific meads,’’ he said. ‘‘Because we have the native flora, we could do a range of meads you couldn’t replicate anywhere else in the world.

‘‘From a sustainability standpoint, mead has a lot of advantages over wine.’’

Grapes were only available once a year, but honey never went off, he said.

His two mead varietals are 14% alcohol by volume, but the alcohol is not limited by yeast tolerance in the same way wine and beer are, where anything over 15% will kill the yeast.

‘‘It’s kind of like the wild, wild West of experimentation.’’