Beer Run: Starrlight Meadery

Aristotle discussed it and Danish warriors in “Beowulf” quaffed it, but is mead beer or wine? At Starrlight Meadery in Pittsboro, N.C., it’s considered wine, although during the thousands of years that mead has been produced the definition has gone both ways.

The Hub and I learned in our tour of Starrlight that mead is made from honey, water and yeast (in this case, a winemakers’ yeast). All the honey comes from North Carolina sources, and the meadery needs a lot of it: It takes 60 pounds of honey to produce one 265-gallon tank of mead. The mixture ferments for two to four months, depending on the sweetness desired in the final product. The resulting mead has similar alcohol content to wine, 12 to 13 percent, and should be handled and stored like wine.

The honey used gives distinctive qualities to the mead produced because the flavor of honey varies depending on what flowers the bees visit and the time of year. Blending the honeys is an art. Starrlight’s flavored meads use concentrates ordered commercially.

We were not sure we’d like any of the seven meads Starrlight makes. Mead is made from honey, after all, and we are not fans of sweet wine. We were surprised. They are not syrupy sweet. Now, if your favorite wine is a big dry Cab, don’t bother. But if you’re open to softer wines, mead offers something different. We tasted (for $5 and you get to keep the glass) Traditional Mead – Off Dry, Off-Dry Blackberry Mead, Traditional Mead – Semi-sweet, Semi-sweet Blackberry Mead, Spiced Apple Mead and Meadjitos, a semi-sweet mead flavored with mint and lime. The traditional meads were our least favorites. Although they had wonderful aromas, like a field of flowers, the bitter edge that honey has came through, to me. The Off-Dry Blackberry is designed to resemble a red wine and smelled like a sherry. The Semi-sweet Blackberry was thicker, like a port, and it could be served in similar situations. Two of our favorites were the apple and Meadjitos. The apple would be great warmed as a mulled wine or combined with hot cider, or cooked into a sauce. I could see the Meadjitos, created to taste like mojitos, over ice on a hot day or mixed with cold seltzer. The meadery was out of the Sweet Peach when we visited; we were told it has been a favorite.

More about the meadery is here. Tours and tastings are offered each weekend, and the shop has medieval-style tankards for quaffing at home, if you are low on dragon-decorated chalices.