Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Honey I’m…. Drinking Mead?

With some regularity, my husband arrives home to find me enjoying a glass of wine.  Chalk it up to work stress if you like (some days I do), or it could just be because people everywhere have enjoyed fermented beverages for a long, long time – and I’m no exception.  While the atmosphere, decor, and dress may have changed over the centuries, people like to gather together and enjoy food, drink, and entertainment.  Today we indulge in a variety of settings – a casual beer with friends at the local watering hole, or a wine tasting party at someone’s home, or checking out the hot new martini bar (although in the interest of transparency, that won’t be me – not a martini gal, I’ve discovered).  I’d encourage you all to add a mead tasting to your list of must-try alcoholic experiences.

In fact, mead is considered the ancestor of all modern fermented drinks.  Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, to see the popularity of modern day mead growing, with meaderies following rapidly in the footsteps of wineries and breweries to take advantage of the rising interest in their product and the art and science behind it.

Last year, I wrote about Far Friar’s Meadery, located in Newcastle, Maine, and this year during my visit to Maine, I had the opportunity to visit Maine Mead Works for the first time.  Located on Washington Ave in Portland, it’s easily accessible for both tourists and locals.  Founded in 2007 by owners Ben Alexander and Carly Cope, Maine Mead Works uses Maine ingredients (as much as possible) and also leverages good ol’ Mainah wisdom – that handcrafted is better than mass-produced, and quality is better than quantity (hence their small batch approach).

Maine Mead Works

We had the opportunity to try a large number of traditional and flavored meads during our visit, as well as a few sparkling versions.  Maine Mead Works emphasizes crafting a modern mead that is dry, crisp, and has a balanced finish.  Like Fat Friar’s mead, the more traditional dry and semi-sweet meads carried strong honey notes on the nose.  As I’ve become more familiar with mead, I find I can also appreciate it more.  I enjoyed the dry mead, but I liked the flavored varieties best of all.  From my perspective, honey mead creates an ideal base from which to add flavors like lavender, strawberry, and cranberry, as Maine Mead does.  I could easily envision a summer afternoon on the deck, enjoying a chilled glass of the strawberry or lavender mead, while cranberry was clearly a holiday season indulgence.

In conclusion, a visit to Maine Mead Works is highly recommended.  While we weren’t able to stay for the facility tour, I’m sure that would be well-worth experiencing as well.  You can also check out their cocktail recipes page for fun ways to mix with mead.

Happy holidays, all!


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Drink Up! At Fat Friar’s Meadery

In follow up to my post on National Mead Day, I reached out to Sean Bailey, owner and mead maker at Fat Friar’s, to learn more about his business, mead making in general, and what makes Maine special to him and his family.

While I won’t get to try mead for the first time for about another week (product reviews will follow then!), I’m too enthusiastic about Sean’s business and this post to wait until then to share it.

A Maine native, Sean’s interest in creating alcoholic beverages has its roots in his time as a serviceman – first in the Air Force, and again later in the Army.  During those years, he was stationed in Germany and through his enjoyment of German beer, became interested in brewing it – he also met his wife, Dorothy, there, so you could say two loves were found overseas.

He tried a beer making kit of his father’s, but refers to the results as a “crime against beer,” so Sean shifted his focus to wine making, exploring various fruit wines including blackberry and dandelion.  These trials met with greater success, and when he first experienced honey wine, or honey schnapps (or mead), during a festival in Germany, his enthusiasm for mead making had him investing in a book, directions, and equipment.  With the investment of time and resources, Sean says he became much, much better at the art of making mead.

After leaving the military, Sean and Dorothy moved back to Newcastle, Maine. Sean began working in corrections, and following a particularly challenging work day, he popped open a bottle of his homemade mead and thought, “Gosh, I wish I could do this for a living.”  At this point in our conversation, Sean told me about the military motto that originated with the British Special Air Service – “Who Dares, Wins.”  He said this was the motto that sprang into his mind that evening – and so, he dared.

He began the laborious, time-consuming process of obtaining licenses and navigating red tape, and upon completion, made his first sale to the Country Store in Newcastle.  He says he was so excited, he left without receiving payment – and had to go back for it.

Officially in business for three years, Fat Friar’s began with production of their Classic mead, and have since added two more flavors.  Last fall, they added a fourth line with a holiday twist, which was Sean and Dorothy’s daughter’s idea.  Today, they work with Mariner Beverage as a distributor and Sean remains involved in local sales and distribution.  He is still a company of one (plus family members) – and he continues to maintain a full-time job in corrections.  Dreams and dares take time and hard work!

Perhaps my favorite part of the Fat Friar’s Meadery story is how they got their name.  Sean describes himself as something of a dork – and one with a passion for history.  One year for Halloween, he dressed up as Friar Tuck to take the kids trick-or-treating in town, and many of his friends jokingly called him the “Fat Friar.”  As he and Dorothy struggled through the license application, particularly the business name, she recalled the moment and suggested Fat Friar’s – it stuck.

Sean describes the sweetness of mead as similar to riesling, but it isn’t alike in acidity.  When you smell it, the scent is very much of honey, but the flavor is dry (he aims for a semi-dry mead). It won’t be like anything you’ve had before – so take several sips before making up your mind!

Please stop by Fat Friar’s some day soon and enjoy their new tasting area and outdoor space!

39 Meadow Ridge Lane

Newcastle, Maine 04553

207-563-5382


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Mead: Made in Maine

National Mead Day was celebrated over the past weekend on Saturday, August 3rd.  Unfortunately, I missed getting this post out on that day (due to furniture shopping… which was pretty fun!), but I would still like to capitalize on the opportunity this week to talk about mead and a couple of companies in Maine that are making it.

What is mead, and why would you want to enjoy a glass? Mead, also known as honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a solution of honey and water.  It is generally regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks (which is a good enough justification for me to try it!).

I have always had a passion for history; I suppose on some level, it goes hand-in-hand for any English major.  We do read an awful lot of classics.  As a result, researching this post was fascinating for me and I could go on about the history of mead at length.  Instead, I’ll provide the cliff notes version.

Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, but the earliest known archaeological evidence for the production of mead dates to around 7000 BC.  Pottery vessels containing a mixture of mead, rice, and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation were found in Northern China.  Much later, mead is referenced in the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, as being consumed by the Danish warriors.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Beowulf throughout the course of my education).

The alcohol content of mead can range quite widely, from 8% ABV to 18% (this stat courtesy of Fat Friar’s Meadery website).  In addition, it may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet, and may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling.  Flavors may change depending on local tradition or recipes, and it may be flavored with spices, fruit, or hops, which produces a more bitter, beer-like mead.  I had no idea mead could be so varied, although I suppose it shouldn’t come as a big surprise – it seems most fermented drinks have wide-ranging styles and flavors.  I hope to try a variety of styles of mead very soon.

I particularly enjoyed this infographic on the Maine Mead Works website, which takes you from bee to bottle – check it out!

As you likely know, the great state of Maine is home to a number of craft brewers and wineries (check out the Maine Wine Trail here).  It is also home to at least two makers of mead – Fat Friar’s Meadery and Maine Mead Works.  Today, my mission is to call both of them, learn about their businesses, what makes their mead unique, hopefully be able to procure some mead (depending on shipping permits and regulations to NC), and then, sometime over the next week or so, report back to you on my findings so that you might venture out to visit them!

Is there anything you’d like to know about mead that I should ask?  Questions for the businesses?


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Something Sweet: The Honey Exchange

At 494 Stevens Avenue in Portland, you will find a bright, inviting yellow house, now home to a business, that simply beckons you inside.  This bright, cheery store is The Honey Exchange, and it offers a wide range of products, including honey and honey bi-products as well as mead, wine, and all décor that is bee-related.  I was charmed the moment I walked through the entry and was welcomed by one of the owner / operators, Meghan Gaven.   She and her husband, Phil, are beekeepers who have turned this retail operation into a place where people of all ages can learn about honey, the bees that make it, watch these bees at work in their Observation Hive, and purchase honey and related goods.

The Honey Exchange

In addition to the storefront aspect of their work, Meghan and Phil, who recently received his Master Beekeeper Certificate, act as connectors and supporters of the local beekeeping community.  People who may not have the space to keep bees, but would like to have the opportunity, as well as those who perhaps have the space and even the hives, but not the desire or time to beekeep, both approach them and the Gavens work to connect these individuals.  They also provide a number of classes, taught in their back room, to educate new beekeepers and others about the care and significance of these special insects and the honey they create.

The Observation Hive!  It has a little outlet through the wall for the bees to venture into the great outdoors.

The Observation Hive! It has a little outlet through the wall for the bees to venture into the great outdoors.

Meghan was friendly, down-to-earth, and took the time to briefly chat with my mother, my sister, and me about their work in beekeeping, extracting honey, and assisting other beekeepers with the extraction process.  They named their establishment The Honey Exchange because it is, in a fundamental sense, an exchange.  They harvest their own honey as well as others, and in return, jar and market the honey, labeling each container with information about the origin of the honey and the bees that made it.  Meghan also spends part of her time educating children about bees and their work, and how critical they are to keeping our world blossoming (pun intended).

An assortment of honey to taste!  Check out all of the different colors - a result of the bees and what type of flower or plant they took nectar from!

An assortment of honey to taste! Check out all of the different colors – a result of the bees and what type of flower or plant they took nectar from!

Like most of you, I have appreciated honey for a long time – using it to sweeten coffee and tea, smearing it on toast with butter and cinnamon, and even mixing it with soy sauce to make a sweet sauce for beets.  In addition to being tasty and natural (a vast improvement over Splenda and other manmade sweeteners), one of the things I love about honey is its nutritional benefit; as a natural anti-inflammatory, honey is an excellent addition to the diet of a runner like me.  To learn more about honey and its nutritional benefits, check out this blog entry by Anne Pierce, a Master Nutritionist in Denver, CO.  Because this nutritional benefit is important to me, I feel compelled to share one of the more surprising things I learned from Meghan: she recommended that I look closely at the label when purchasing honey – because some products that are labeled “honey” may have very little honey – or absolutely no honey – in them at all!  Natural honey, particularly some types, tends to crystallize quickly – so some manufacturers use a very minimal amount of real honey in their “honey” products to prolong its syrupy texture and appearance.  My recommendation: buy your honey from a reputable, local source… like The Honey Exchange.

My first venture into The Honey Exchange took place during a Thanksgiving trip to Maine in 2011, shortly after they opened.  My mother has raved about it to me many times and she promised to take me in.  When I began this blog, I knew I wanted to feature The Honey Exchange (and places like it), so I returned during our Christmas trip to gain the additional information I needed.  The Honey Exchange is an excellent representation of a Maine entrepreneurial endeavor – its owners, Phil and Meghan Gaven, make their living as owners of this small business – a business that not only contributes to the economy, but also serves an important environmental need by promoting the beekeeping industry and educating people about bees, these unique insects that truly make our world go round.  A perfect example of the significance of bees in pollinating our world relates to the Maine blueberry industry – it takes 50,000 hives to pollinate Maine’s 60,000 plus acres of wild blueberries (because this number is so high, many hives actually have to be trucked in from out-of-state).  For more on the Maine blueberry, see my HoME Grown post here.

Assortment of wines and mead

Assortment of wines and mead

I highly recommend venturing in to see this wonderful store – you will have a chance to support the local economy and learn about the important role bees play in our day-to-day life.  It’s bigger than we realize, and we could all take a lesson from this approach to life – do something you are called to do, however simple or complex, work hard at it, and prosperity will follow.

Learn more about The Honey Exchange online at thehoneyexchange.com or reach them by phone at 207.773.9333.

A very cute bee!

A very cute bee!