Starrlight Mead Blog

Mead at a Wine Growers Meeting

[Editor's Note: Written by Jenn Hansen. This was Jenn's first trip to the Winegrower's meeting.]

The North Carolina Winegrowers Association annual meeting took place January 23-25 in Winston-Salem, NC. I was fortunate to be invited to participate in the conference classes and business meetings representing Starrlight Mead, along with Ben, Becky, and Sarah. The opportunity to network with others in the wine industry, those forerunners and those who were new to the industry, was informative, and the instruction and experience shared on the various curriculum tracks was incredibly valuable.

Starrlight Mead was one of two honey wineries represented, the other being Durham based Honeygirl Meadery. With honey being as important an agricultural commodity in this state as grapes, and with our production processes overlapping winemaking in many ways, I knew that I could learn a lot from the practices of other prominent wineries, and get a better feel for the pulse of the industry in North Carolina. I was surprised to see some familiar faces, folks I'd met while out doing mead tastings at local bottle shops. I had to opportunity to speak with them in depth about what they do, and how we are similar. I still feel that eighty percent of our job in the tasting room, and in wholesale with our retail partners is education. The mead speaks for itself once poured, but I'm always happy to take the time to explain what makes mead mead, our production process, and, fairly often, share some historical knowledge.

But, the conference wasn't all work and no play. Friday night, a few of the wineries paired up with chefs from restaurants all over Winston-Salem to deliver a truly delicious tast of NC. This was not only an opportunity to taste many local wines I had never gotten around to sampling, but also exposed me to what Winston-Salem has to offer its diners. I was not disappointed. Winston-Salem is a foodie destination in the Triad! On offer were two variations on cassoulet, a slow-braised brisket of beef over dreamy cheese grits (best bite of the night), wine (and mead) with chocolates, and much more. I returned to my room Friday night, head filled with fresh knowledge, belly warm with plenty of tasty food and wine.

Saturday night, we were given another opportunity to taste more wine before the grand banquet. I took my time to savor each sample, getting the nose, swirling and sipping, rolling the wine and a wealth of new terminology about the wine over my tongue. During the dinner that followed, we were addressed by Richard Childress of Childress Vineyards, and then by the state governor, Pat McCrory. The discussion was casual, like a conversation between old friends that we just happened to sit in on. And while there was a lot of talk about NASCAR, there was also some delicious food and enough mead on the table to keep us interested.

I left the NCWGA conference feeling full of new knowledge, not only of the work I've grown to love, but also about the wine industry North Carolina. As the year progresses, I know I will use what I learned either as reference or in practice at Starrlight Mead, as we grow and expand our business. I also have a list of wine to pick up and share with friends and family at our next gathering!

Starrlight Mead Holiday Gift List

Hunting for that last minute gift for someone special? We have some suggestions to make your shopping easier!

For the Wine Lover
Wine Glass or Wine Bottle Wooden Puzzle - $15-20
Wine Racks - $24-55
Wine Bottle Lamps and Tiki Torches - $13-33
Cork Cage - $27.50-32.00
Starrlight Mead Off-dry Traditional Mead - $17
Starrlight Mead Off-dry Pear Mead - $19
Pomegranate Pink Peppercorn Mead -$25

For the Mead Lover
Starrlight Meads - $17-35
Mead Bumper Stickers - $1.50-2
Got Mead? T-shirt - $21-25
Starrlight Mead T-shirt “A friend with Mead…” - $16-18
Mead Making books - $17-20

For the SCA or Renaissance Faire Lover
Drinking Horn – Small, Medium or Large - $35-55
Drinking Horn Stand - $25
Dragon or Knight Pen - $7
Blue Dragon Glass - $30
Runic “Got Mead?” T-shirt - $21-25

For the Dragon Lover
“Name Your Poison” Dragon Plaque - $25
Judging the Darkness Dragon Candle Holder – $30
Dragon Glasses and Goblets – $30-144
Dragon Castle Candle Holder - $60

For the Locavore
Starrlight Meads –local NC honey - $16-25
Bottle Tiki Torches by Casey Yunker - $20 each/$36 for 2
Bee Gifts by Carolina Bee Company - $3-17
Caramel Sauce by Redlight Chocolates - $10

Stocking Stuffers – $10 and under
Dragon or Knight Pen - $7
Wine Stopper s- $2-6.50
Bottle Tea Light Holder - $6.50
Bumper Stickers - $1.50-2
Honey Pot - $7
Corkscrews - $2-7
BeeSmooched Lip Balm - $3

And,just in case you can't decide, we also have Gift Cards available for $25 or $50! Treat them to a tasting or bottles of mead - their choice!

Holiday 2014 Hours

So that you can plan ahead on when to do your holiday shopping or bring the relatives out for a mead tasting, our holiday hours for this year:
(additional days in bold!)
Thursday, Dec 18 – noon to 6 pm
Friday, Dec 19 – noon to 6 pm
Saturday, Dec 20 – noon to 6 pm
Sunday, Dec 21 – 1 – 5 pm – Joyous Solstice!

Tuesday, Dec 23 - noon to 5 pm
Wednesday, Dec 24 – Christmas Eve, noon to 5 pm
Thursday, Dec 25 – Christmas Day – Closed – Merry Christmas!

Friday, Dec 26 - noon to 6 pm
Saturday, Dec 27 – noon to 6 pm
Sunday, Dec 28 – 1 – 5 pm
Monday, Dec 29 – noon to 6 pm
Tuesday, Dec 30 – noon to 6 pm
Wednesday, Dec 31 & Thursday, Jan 1 – Closed – Happy New Year!

Friday, Jan 2 – noon to 6 pm
Saturday, Jan 3 – noon to 6 pm
Sunday, Jan 4 – 1 – 5 pm

We look forward to seeing you over the holidays!

Tags: holiday, hours

Gobble! Gobble! Cheers!

Meads to Pair with Your Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays - it brings back warm memories of my family gathering at my grandparent's house with cousins I hadn't seen in ages. All of us kids playing together, while Grandma and the moms fixed the dinner. Then, later, sitting at the "kid's table" waiting for the goodies to be passed down our way.

These days, with most of our family living across the country, Thanksgiving is more about preparing and eating foods that we only get once or twice a year and being thankful for what we have and celebrating our accomplishments!
So here is our list for this year of how our great Starrlight Meads can pair with YOUR Thanksgiving feast!

Off-dry Traditional or Off-dry Pear Meads - these meads were designed to be “white wine like” to pair well with food. The fresh honey or pear flavors and the crisp finishes of these two meads will go well with the rich foods of the holidays!

Cranberry Orange Mead - one of our Fall Seasonals designed to go especially with holiday flavors! Crisp, tangy, and fruity and of course, the classic cranberry and orange combination.

Kickin' Cranberry Orange Mead - our other Fall Seasonal that was inspired by this recipe of Guy Fieri’s from the Food Network. Ben had made the Red Devil Cranberries with chipotle peppers the year before we decided to make Cranberry Orange Mead for the first time. During our test batches, he decided to throw some chipotle peppers in the mead to see if it would taste like the sauce. A classic was born! Pair this smoky, spicy delight with smoked or deep fried turkey, or ham. (Or shrimp and grits some other time!)

Spiced Apple Mead - from appetizers to pumpkin pie, this mead can do the entire dinner table! Spiced Apple is especially good this time of year because it has the flavors of fall - cinnamon, cloves and apples. Especially yummy if you do a fruited stuffing, like I do. I add cut up apples and dried cranberries to my regular stuffing recipe. (Last year, I also snuck in some Sage Herb Infused Mead in the stuffing too! Which, by the way, would also go great with your Thanksgiving Feast!)

Pomegranate Pink Peppercorn Mead - just in case you don’t do a traditional turkey dinner for your feast! This mead, with its tart fruit and peppercorn prickle on the tongue, goes amazingly well with roast beef or a pork roast for a different tradition.

Also remember that we are open this weekend, Nov 20-23, regular hours, and we'll be open on Wednesday, Nov 26, from 12-5 to pick up a special mead to go with your feast!
We’ll be closed on Thursday for the holiday.
Then open again Friday through Sunday regular hours during Thanksgiving Weekend, so that you can bring the family or visiting friends in for a tasting!

So, what are your plans for the Thanksgiving table? And which of our meads will go great with what you are cooking? (If you aren’t sure, leave us a comment and we’d be happy to make a suggestion!)

A Festive Season - 5 Festivals in 6 Weeks

This time of year is an exciting one in the wine industry, because it is the start of the festival season. Each year, there are many, many great festivals going on – pretty much every Saturday – that lure us out of our nice cool meadery and into the sunshine to pour for hundreds of fans. Each festival is SO different, that it’s kind of fun to look at the personalities of each and what type of mead drinker we find there! Starting off with…

The Festival of Legends (April 26 & 27) - This is a renaissance/fairy/fantasy festival that just celebrated its third year in Chapel Hill. It’s an amazing festival with so many great entertainers and vendors that it’s hard to narrow it down to a few to mention. Of course, our favorite was Cu Dubh, who did a concert here the night before the actual festival began. (See the pictures here.) But there were lots of other great things to see and do, including Samhain Faerie Creations, Fairy Hair Flare and Thunder and Spice, all of which will be joining us for Mead Day on Aug 2nd.

Because this festival doesn’t allow open bottles on site, we sell lots and lots of cups of mead – over 700 in 2 days! Favorite mead this year: Spiced Apple. Second runner up: Semi-sweet Traditional.

Sanford Arts and Vines (May 4 & 5) – An art festival with wine tent and great music. This was the second year we poured at this festival. So much amazing art on display! And at $10 for the wine/beer tent, it’s a great chance to sample some wines and meads before you buy. Favorite mead this year: our brand new Mead-a-rita. Second runner up: a tie between Spiced Apple and Meadjitos.

Pollinator Day (this Saturday, May 10, 9am-1pm, Chatham Mills lawn) - Sponsored by the Chatham County Beekeepers Association, NC Cooperative Extension and Starrlight Mead, the focus of this informative festival is on education for all ages about bees and pollinators. There are lots of educational programs, including Mead Making by that guy from Starrlight Mead or a beekeeping demo in the bee cage, and fun interactive displays and activities, where kids of all ages can let newly hatched bees walk on their hands. (Don’t worry, they can’t sting… yet!) There are kid’s crafts, raffles and you can get your picture taken in a beekeeping suit! We hand out samples at this festival and the beekeeper’s favorite mead, by far, is the Semi-sweet Traditional, because it tastes the most like honey!

Hops and Roots (May 24 & 25, Shikori Hills, Pittsboro) – A local food, music, beer and wine festival that supports the NC Blues in the Schools program to bring music to local schools. This festival is a 2 day music festival with amazing bands and great locally grown foods. And if you have too much fun, camping is free! Favorite mead for the last 2 years: Meadjitos, because it’s usually blazing hot outside!

Salute, NC Wine Celebration (May 31, downtown Winston-Salem) - This wine festival, in its 9th year, takes place on the streets of downtown Winston-Salem! Great music, food, and 30 wineries all are showing up to celebrate the NC wine scene. It’s a street festival with a winery twist! Our third appearance.

One of our biggest challenges with wine festivals is the “Do you make white or red wine?” question. As mead makers, we are a different breed that some traditional wine drinkers aren’t quite sure about. It’s hard to explain that we really aren’t either red or white, since there are no grapes. But, as we continue to show up, we meet more and more people who have heard of us and are excited to see us back again! Favorite mead by far: Spiced Apple, although the first year Meadjitos was a very close second.

Hmmm, I think I'm seeing a pattern here!

There are still several opportunities to taste Starrlight Mead in the next few weeks. Come on out into the sunshine, say "Hi!" and enjoy a glass of mead!

Mead in the Mountains

This last weekend, Ben and I spent four days in Boulder, Colorado with some of the best in our industry and lots of Mead! We attended the 2nd annual business meeting of the American Mead Maker’s Association and help judge the home competition of the Mazer Cup, the largest mead only competition in the world. It was an amazing experience to spend time talking with both commercial mead makers and enthusiastic home brewers – we learned many things!

The American Mead Maker’s Association (AMMA, www.meadmakers.org) is a relatively young organization and the very first professional association for commercial mead makers. Many of the people involved are fairly new in the industry, so it’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn from each other. (Surprisingly, at only 3.5 years in business, we are one of the more established meaderies – with the exception, of course, of long time meaderies like Rabbit’s Foot and Redstone.) The AMMA puts out a quarterly journal that can be seen here. And you can see some pictures from the business meeting.

The Mazer Cup International Competition (www.mazercup.com) is a huge competition with both commercial and home competitions. If you aren’t very familiar with the different types of meads, just reading through the ten different styles can make your head spin. And then when you consider that many of those have sub-categories for dry, semi-sweet and sweet, you can see how the number of entries can become overwhelming very quickly. We helped judge the Dry Traditional category that had 18 entries all by its self. It’s a lot of Mead!

Next year, the Mazer Cup will also hold a public tasting event in Boulder. Put it on your calendar now for March 20 & 21, 2015.

New Herbal Mead Available This Weekend

This month, last year, we launched 7 new Herb-Infused Meads to the world. Everyone seemed to enjoy them, with Chamomile, Ginger and Nordic Blend being the favorites by a landslide. Others, seemed better suited for specific seasons – Lemon Balm for Spring, Lavender for Summer, and Sage for Fall. And, poor sad Apple Mint, was not a favorite at all. Often, people ask how we came up with the initial flavors and are always interested in what herbs didn’t make the cut. So, I thought I’d tell you what when into the decision. And then… I’ll share what our newest flavor will be!

Part of what goes into choosing a new mead flavor is the question, “What goes well with honey?” Since I’d been taking Herbal Medicine classes last year, herbs and spices were on my mind, and I’d had fun starting batches of tinctures (herbs steeped in alcohol - usually vodka). And well, who doesn’t love a good cup of herb tea with honey? So those connections came pretty easy.

Jenn and I decided to test out 12 of our favorite herbs in small, one pint jars, to see what they would taste like. We chose to use the Off-dry Traditional as the base alcohol so we could sweeten each one to taste, if needed. We kept measurements of how much herb we were putting into the mead, so that it would be fairly easy to ramp up the recipes to a larger batch for production. The 12 herbs we tried? Cardamom pods, Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Lavender, Ginger, Aquavit Blend (Caraway, Fennel & Aniseseed), Coriander, Apple Mint, Lemon Thyme, Sage, and Tarragon. You can see from the list earlier, which ones didn’t make the cut.

What didn’t work well at all? Lemon Thyme, a favorite to cook with, tasted like sticks and bitter medicine with a nasty nose that we described as “barnyard.” (Ick!) Cardamom pods tasted like honey eucalyptus cough drops! (Perhaps less time in the mead would taste better.) My biggest disappointment: Rosemary. I love Rosemary and it’s one of my favorite herbs to cook with. But when you put it in alcohol for days, it comes across very sappy and woody, because of the high resin content. Too piney! (Not interested in drinking pine cleaner, right?)

So, what’s new for the Herb-Infused Meads, you ask?
Our newest flavor is Chai Tea Mead! It turned out to be a complex collection of flavors including Cardamom, Allspice, Black Peppercorn, Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, Nutmeg, and Black Tea leaves (which also adds some tannin and mouthfeel). The result is very exotic and yummy! We’ll be releasing this mead this weekend, March 15 & 16, in addition to bringing back the Lemon Balm. Come out to the meadery in the near future to try this new mead and let us know what you think!

What do you think should be the next herb flavor we try? Tell us in the comments!

Tags: flavors, herbs, mead
Comments: 1

Tasty Treats to Go With Your Herb-Infused Meads

When we decided to release the new Herb-Infused Meads in March, we planned a lovely release party. These tasty treats were such a hit, I was asked for the recipes several times! The Lemon-Chamomile Shortbread then made an encore appearance for our 3rd Birthday Party on Labor Day weekend and again, I was asked for the recipe. Sorry it took so long to post!! Happy Baking!!

Lemon-Chamomile Shortbread
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar (I increased this just a bit from the original recipe, because that's how we like them!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grated zest from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons loose chamomile tea (or dried chamomile flowers)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square cake pan.

In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar and salt. Beat until light and fluffy. Blend in the lemon zest, loose tea and flour until smooth. Press into pan.
Bake 30 minutes or just until the shortbread begins to turn golden. Cut into 9 squares, then cut each square into 2 triangles. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove cookies from pan. Yield: 18 cookies

I also made this recipe with Lemon Balm for the Herb-infused Mead Release Party! Adapted from: http://www.ezrapoundcake.com/archives/4242 She lists some amazing ideas for other flavors to try!

Lavender Scones
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup cream
1 egg
4 teaspoons lavender flowers (I grind the flowers in a spice grinder to make smaller pieces)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix well. Cut in butter and shortening. In a separate bowl, combine cream with beaten egg then add to dry ingredients. Stir in fruit. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Kneed and flatten dough out, divide in half to make two large rounds.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until brown. Cut into wedges.

I have also made these with 1/2 cup of dried cranberries, or raisins, and other herbs such as rosemary! Adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/scones-recipe/index.html

Tags: herbs, meads, recipes

12 Days of Starrlight Christmas

Our Christmas song for 2012, The Twelve Days of Starrlight Christmas!

"On the twelvfth day of Christmas, my mazer gave to me...
Twelve Mead Club Members,
Eleven Tasters Tasting,
Ten Brave Knights Fighting,
Nine Gorgeous Wenches,
Eight Meads a-Pouring,
Seven Red Light Chocolates,
Six Corks a-Poppin',
Five Gold-en Starrs!
Four Thrsty Hoards,
Three Bee Hives,
Two Drinking Horns,
And a Glass o-of Yummy Pear Mead!"

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good Mead!

Tags: Christmas

Starrlight Mead's Holiday Gift List

Just a few holiday suggestions for those people in your life who may be more difficult to buy for! Come to the Meadery for all these great gifts and more!

For the Wine Lover
Breeze Corkscrew - $36
Wine Glass or Wine Bottle Wooden Puzzle - $15-20
Wine Racks - $24-55
Wine Bottle Lamps and Tiki Torches - $13-33
Cork Cage - $27.50-29.50
Starrlight Mead Off-dry Traditional Mead - $16
Starrlight Mead Off-dry Blackberry Mead - $25

For the Mead Lover
Starrlight Meads - $16-25
Bumper Sticker - $2-3
Got Mead? T-shirt - $21-25
Starrlight Mead “A friend with Mead…” - $16-18
Mead Making books - $17-20

For the SCA or Renaissance Faire Lover
Drinking Horn – Small, Medium or Large - $35-55
Dragon or Knight Pen - $7
Blue Dragon Glass - $25
Runic “Got Mead?” T-shirt - $21-25

For the Dragon Lover
“Name Your Poison” Dragon Plaque - $19
Judging the Darkness Dragon Candle Holder – $30
Dragon Glasses and Goblets – $25-144
Dragon Castle Candle Holder - $56
Dragon Flute Glass - $60

For the Locavore
Starrlight Meads – all local NC honey - $16-25
Stained Glass by Swanfire Farms - $15-60
Bottle Tiki Torches by Casey Yunker - $20 each/$36 for 2
Red Light Chocolates and Caramel - $5-18
Bee Gifts by Carolina Bee Company - $3-17

Stocking Stuffers – $10 and under
Dragon or Knight Pen - $7
Wine Stopper s- $2-6.50
Bottle Tea Light Holder - $6.50
Bumper Stickers - $2-3
Honey Pot - $7
Corkscrews - $2-7

Extended Holiday Shopping Hours
Wednesday, Dec 19 - 12-6 pm (Special Wednesday hours!)
Thursday, Dec 20 - Saturday, Dec 22 - 12-6 pm
Sunday, Dec 23 - 1-5 pm
Monday, Dec 24 - 12-4 pm (Special Christmas Eve hours!)

If we don't see you this week, have a very Happy Yule and a Merry Christmas!