Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Kate and Denis have shown in six years that they've got what it takes to lead the revival of Mead in Ireland. An impressive palette of flavours from Kinsale.

Kate and Denis have shown in six years that they've got what it takes to lead the revival of Mead in Ireland. 

Already, an impressive palette of flavours from Kinsale.

Cleanliness. Temperature Control. Good Ingredients. These are vital if you are in the mead business (or in any any food or beverage business). Add in infinite patience and enthusiasm, the appropriate skills and hard work.

See the Wild Geese on this marvellous Barrel Aged mead

And these qualities were evident in abundance during our recent visit to the Kinsale Mead Company, officially opened on Friday the 13th October 2017 (following a period of unofficial trial and error).

Kate and Denis Dempsey are the couple behind the venture and, in 2016, they went to work to rediscover the ancient art of mead making and to create a world-class range of light and refreshing drinks. Much has been achieved since then. They have certainly opened many eyes (palates?), both here and abroad, to the flavours and possibilities of the ancient drink.

St Bridget

But they are not sitting back these days, far from it. If you have the good fortune to have had a tour  here, you’ll know of their enthusiasm. And you’ll also have heard of the history of the drink and the bees, the bees because honey is the main ingredient in mead.

Two of the bees from Gobnait's sculpture in Ballyvourney

They have some marvellous illustrated info-posters by local artist Fiona Boniwell on the walls of the reception and one in particular deals with the Bechbretha, the Brehon Bee Judgements. The Brehon system was quite revolutionary for the early medieval age and dealt with all kinds of situations involving those between humans but also including animals.

There was a full set of laws and judgements relating to cattle for instance and, yes, also for bees. A compensation was laid out for an injury (even as simple as a sting). There was a procedure in place to deal with swarms, even if a neighbour’s bees “invaded’ a person’s land to gather nectar. Not surprisingly, honey also featured as a compensation.

Denis. Waiting by the barrels!

Very very detailed stuff indeed - just Google it and see for yourself. Edited by Thomas Charles-Edwards, Bechbretha is available in Cork City Library.

Saint Gobnait features in the posters - many of you will have seen the rather large bees that sculptor Seamus Murphy included in his statue of her in Ballyvourney. In the meadery itself, there are a couple of murals and here a golden-haired St Bridget is seen urging a bunch of bees to go forth in search of the precious nectar so they can make more honey.

St Bridget is also regarded as the patron saint of brewers and,  just a few days back, I enjoyed a beer, a Honey Hefeweizen from Wicklow Wolf, that used honey from the locality and supplied to the brewery by @openhivehoney.

You can have all the stories and saints you want but your product still needs to have substance and Kate and Denis are strong on all counts. The meads are superb and vary a lot so there is something there for every taste as we found out in our tasting.

Kinsale Wild Red Mead (12% ABV) is a gorgeous melomel mead fermented off-dry with Irish blackcurrants, dark cherries and pure honey. Melomel mead has fruit as an ingredient and here it comes through here beautifully.

Kinsale Atlantic Dry Mead (12% ABV) is a delicious, off-dry traditional style mead (no fruit), beautifully crisp with a lovely citrus honey flavour

The third in their Signature series is Kinsale Hazy Summer Mead (11% ABV) a fabulous, fruity, off-dry berry mead with generous strawberry and raspberry aromas, a lovely burst of summer berries and a smooth, subtle honey finish. 

They also do a series of barrel aged meads. The Wild Red Mead – Merlot Barrel Aged (12% ABV) is a gorgeous 3 year-old berry mead fermented off dry and silky smooth and matured for the last 12 months in French Merlot wine barrels to add intriguing structure and depth. An exceptional, unique mead, a lively, attractive drink with a decadent richness. The beautiful label was inspired by the story of the “Wild Geese”.

Another is the Atlantic Dry Mead – Sauternes Barrel Aged (12% ABV) , a gorgeous 3-year-old traditional mead fermented from orange blossom honey, matured for the last 12 months in a French oak wine barrel to add intriguing structure and depth. The third is the same Atlantic Dry Mead – this time aged in White Port Barrel (12% ABV),  matured for the last 12 months in an oak port barrel to add spicy oak depth.

We were also privileged to taste the Kinsale Irish Wildflower Mead. This is a very special, limited edition mead made from 100% Irish summer wildflower honey from the  Chanting Bee Apiary. This honey is a lovely expression of the aromas and flavours of West Cork. Quite a few of the meads were seen on celebrity chef, John Torode’s Ireland on the Food Network.

John Torode wasn't the only TV chef to visit Kinsale Mead. Neven came too!

It may be the only Irish honey based mead that they produce - all their other honey comes from Spain as Irish honey is just not available in any quantity - but the Dempseys do use Irish as much as possible.

Their blackcurrants (from day 1) are supplied by Des Jeffares (Wexford), wild berries from John Howard of Rathcormac (John is also into wildflower seeds) and that Irish honey is by West Cork’s Paul Kelly (of Kelly Family fame). Local artists are supported like Fiona Boniwell who, in addition to the Bechbretha poster, also has done a splendid Mead Map of Ireland for them while the eye-catching counter was crafted in Carrignavar from timber between two and three hundred years old..

I mentioned patience at the start. Honey mead is slow to finish (though the fruit version is faster). You are talking about 6 to 18 months to mature and then another 12 are added with the barrel-aged trio.

A honey tasting.

They have some excellent technology on their side such as a US made Ozone-ator, their German tanks are very well made (no crevices inside where the nasties might hide) and they have a Ferrari bottle washer! Also a bit of luck in that Kinsale’s hard water is ideal for Mead.

They do all this themselves, on the road promoting far and wide, in the meadery when required, with the help of a small staff including daughter Grace who just loves the festivals and tastings.

We mentioned melomel mead (those with fruit) earlier. There are quite a few other types. How do serve them? Can you use them in cocktails. Besides, you’ll probably have quite a few questions on mead in general. And here too Kinsale Mead can help you. They have a long list of FAQ and much more info (including on those tours) on their excellent website here .

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