Manhattan’s first mead, perhaps not surprisingly, doesn’t cash in on the ancient, honey-based and high-alcohol brew’s pagan roots.
Nathaniel Martin, 30, who along with his brother, Thatcher, 27, runs the two-year-old company Manhattan Meadery, says most meads have this “Viking niche carved out,” presenting themselves as the thick, sweet, high-octane drinks that fueled the Norse explorers and their seafaring carnage.
The brothers’ first bottling—which hit local shops like Astor Place Wines & Spirits ($12.99) last fall—has a more advanced state of tippling in mind. “This is more like a white wine you’d drink with pasta or chicken,” says Nathaniel, who has held tastings at places like Astor. “It has a unique flavor, body and complexity. Most people,” he adds, “probably wouldn’t guess it was honey.”
That’s because the brothers, who grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, took a decidedly un-Viking-like approach to its creation. Nathaniel—an environmental lawyer when not making mead—is an avid home-brewer of beer and wines, making use of his Upper East Side patio to produce 15-gallon tubs of beer and wine bottles that fill his apartment. He’s long been experimenting with beers made with maple syrup and honey, and decided to try honey wine. He spoke with beekeepers at the Greenmarkets about which honeys might work best in a wine, settling on Finger Lakes honey from Tremblay Apiaries. “Weather and season affect the honey so much,” he says. “Every batch has its own personality.”
The brothers—who were roommates until December, when Thatcher got engaged—sampled all the honey wines out there and tinkered with their recipe, hoping to produce something more drinkable, more elegant.
Because getting the licensing to produce alcohol is difficult and time-consuming, the brothers arranged for Prospero Winery in Westchester to brew and bottle 200 cases of their first release. They hope to produce different vintages, as well as honey-based beverages like “cyser,” a mix of hard cider and honey, and “pyment,” made with grapes and honey.
Nearly six months after the first batch, Nathaniel is still surprised at his success: “I couldn’t believe I’d come up with something that tasted so good,” he says. “Everyone just wishes for that a-ha moment, and this was mine.”
As for any Manhattan-based Vikings, meanwhile, they’ll just have to develop a taste for something a little more refined.
Photo credit: Alice Proujansky.