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Lighter, fizzier, mead in India

The oldest tipple in the world is the latest entrant into the low-alcohol beverages segment in India

The hopped mead from Moonshine Meadery 

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Mead is making a comeback. One of the oldest alcoholic beverages, by all accounts first made and consumed in the pre-Neolithic era, mead predates agriculture. There are references to it in several mythologies and early religious texts—from the somarasa of the Rig Veda to mentions in the Bible, to Norse and Greek myths. Modern-day mythologies like The Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) and the Harry Potter books also reference mead. And now mead is seeing a worldwide revival as a modern drink, flavoured with spices and herbs possibly unknown to the ancients but essentially the same drink—fermented honey.

In the US, home-brewed mead would sometimes be found at Renaissance fairs, and, unsurprisingly, at fantasy conventions, till modern meaderies started cropping up around the early 2000s. Their number has now grown to over 600.

In India, too, mead is seeing a revival. Pune, Maharashtra-based Moonshine Meadery was the first to set up a commercial meadery in India. Co-founded by Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas in 2017, it started selling small batches in 2018 and has grown to selling around 5,000 cases of the drink every month now.

It all started when Vishwas was travelling in Europe and read a story in an in-flight magazine about the UK’s first meadery in 500 years. “We had always read about mead in LOTR, and in Norse mythology, but didn’t know exactly what it was,” says Rehani. Intrigued, they started experimenting. Rehani applied for internships at US meaderies and snagged one, spending six months working with a leading US meadery.

They found that while mead was more wine-like (it is licensed as honey wine in the US, in fact) in the US and Europe, this wouldn’t work for the Indian palate, which needs a more flavourful, refreshing and slightly sweeter drink. They made their meads lighter and a bit fizzier, positioning it closer to beer than wine.

“We wanted to make a delicious drink because we had always wondered why beer is an ‘acquired taste’. In fact, our anthem is ‘make better, not bitter’,” says Rehani. They also started harvesting their own honey, which they sell under the brand name The Moonshine Honey Project. Besides their flagship meads—Apple Cyder Mead, Traditional Mead and Coffee Mead, which are available round the year—Moonshine also offers seasonal meads like Hopped Mead, Salted Kokum Mead, Grilled Pineapple Mead, Guava Chilli Mead, Chocolate Orange Mead, Mango Chilli and Bourbon Oaked Apple Mead.

Moonshine is not the only meadery in India today—there is a small but growing cottage industry of mead-making, it appears, especially in Maharashtra. There are meaderies like the Nashik-based Cerana, an all-woman team which makes meads with added fruits, like Jamun Melomel, Pomegranate Melomel and Chenin Blanc Pyment (a pyment is a mead with grape juice). In Pune, Portside makes “stronger” meads with 10% alcohol by volume (ABV) as opposed to the 5-7% in other Indian meads. Two companies launched this year: Karnataka-based Stump Meads, which makes Coffee Mead and Apple Mead, and Delhi-based Bored Beverages, which is bringing Original Mead to the market soon.

There is a lot of interest in low-alcohol beverages, and this is inspiring new mead-makers, says Rehani. “The world over, low-alcoholic beverages outsell spirits but in India it’s just the opposite. Maybe that’s changing now,” he says.

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