Meet the Maker - Wye Valley Meadery
Mead, but not as you know it...
In the words of Kate Humble, who sampled Wye Valley Mead on a recent visit to the Meadery for Channel 5’s ‘Escape to the Farm’, “That is delicious… very quaffable and easy drinking.” We couldn’t agree more. A new discovery for us and a drink which offers the perfect blend of sweetness and hops, creating a delicious and refreshing alternative to beer or cider.
We recently caught up with Matt & Kit, founders of Wye Valley Meadery to learn how they have turned their passion into a career and how they have rediscovered one of the world's oldest alcoholic drinks and given it a new lease of life.
We want to know…how did it all begin?
I suppose it had been coming for a long time. I have been looking after bees since I was 13 and have always had a strong interest in brewing. As a Geologist working in goldmines I lived and worked overseas and kept bees as a hobby. Fed up with tasteless, gassy larger, I brewed the type of beer and mead I enjoyed and I always have, whether at Uni or travelling. The only time I couldn’t look after bees over the years was the time I cycled from Alaska to Argentina with my then girlfriend, now wife and even then we managed to pick up bee related projects enroute through the Americas.
We understand that mead is probably one of the World’s oldest alcoholic drinks, but we don’t see wide-spread production in the UK. Why is that?
That’s right – mead has a long and interesting history. Why is it not more widely made in the UK? Well, it is expensive to make relative to other drinks. Predominantly because of tax – its taxed as a wine – and of course honey is not cheap either. Certainly, more costly than grapes, malted barley and apples. But the honey does make it special and unique, and a true taste of the landscape.
What is your proudest moment since starting WVM?
Starting Wye Valley Meadery has not been without its challenges. However, we love the process and, of course, the end result makes everything worthwhile.
Kit and I have met so many interesting people along the way and have introduced people into a deeper understanding of honey and the possibilities of brewing with it. Proudest moments include winning Prince’s Trust Enterprise Award for Wales, and a Great Taste Award in 2019. The awards and recognition are incredible but some of the most special moments are the time spent with the bees, looking after them and providing an environment for them to prosper. It`s humbling as the bees are our livelihood and the cornerstone of everything we do.
A statement you often use is “mead made new”, what do you mean by this?
We make our mead differently. Rather than following a traditional process, we make Wye Valley Mead in the same way you would brew beer, with a quick fermentation and a long slow maturation. The end result is a mead that is light, refreshing and rich in flavour. And with a typical ABV of 4% it can be enjoyed more socially than traditional meads. We think we’re probably the only Meadery in The UK doing it like this from our own honey. We respect mead’s traditions, it’s been around for 8000 years, but we’re giving it a modern twist and it's going down well with our customers who inspire us to be ever more adventurous and creative.
What are the key characteristics that make your mead distinctive?
The honey makes it! We get a slightly fruity flavour which varies depending which one you go for. The Ginger & Honey is made with root stem ginger – its fiery and delicious. We caramelise the rhubarb for a smoother flavour in our Rhubarb & Honey. And Hops – the cold infusion of hops gives our drinks a fresh floral flavour, without the bitterness and mustiness associated with using hops in beer.
At Barbury Hill we love to think about food and drink pairing and combos. What do you like to eat with your mead?
Oh, good question, probably a soft white cheese with our mead, and actually a sharpish cheddar is ideal with the ginger. A curry is good with the Elderflower, which really goes well with a sprig of mint.
How do Barbury Hill followers learn more about what you do?
Try it for yourself! And if you learn best by getting hands-on…our bee keeping courses and mead making courses are very popular and they’ll continue in 2021 too. We like to keep numbers small, which is ideal for social distancing and a better learning experience. We look forward to seeing you on one soon.
To see Matt and Kit in action, check out Kate Humble’s visit to their Meadery broadcast on Channel 5. Catch it now on My5 – Escape to the Farm, S1 E2. Learn about their bee keeping skills at 3m:46 and how the mead is made at 19m:35.
by Dan Smith, Barbury Hill Founder
Dan founded Barbury Hill and he is the man behind our mission to shine a light on the best of British food and drink. He loves wine, cider and small batch cheese. And every producer on Barbury Hill.