Starrlight Mead Blog

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

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!

Slowing Down the Money and Bringing it Home

We are very lucky to have become involved with a local organization here in Pittsboro that is putting everyone’s money where their mouth is! Slow Money NC is reaching out to everyone with the crazy notion that if we each pitch in and invest in local businesses, our local economy will strengthen right here in our own neighborhoods.

“Inspired by a visit from Woody Tasch in May of 2010 (author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money,) a few folks in North Carolina set out to build resilience in their local food economy by catalyzing low-interest loans to local, sustainable food and farming businesses. Since then nearly $590,000 has changed hands, and is now helping sustainable farmers and local food enterprises throughout the state!”

What a brilliant idea! By asking each of us to invest only 1% of our portfolios into local food businesses and farms, we can have an extraordinary impact on not only our neighbors who are trying to make their business dreams grow, but in the quality of food that is available to us. To date, Slow Money NC has facilitated over 50 loans to 26 businesses.

We are so excited that we are able to support this great organization and that the local community is helping support our dreams too. We have recently received our first loan through Slow Money NC, and a local friend here in Pittsboro, to increase our production so we can expand our distribution and product offerings.

Everyone is invited to the meadery, Wednesday, October 24 from 6 – 8 pm for a Slow Money NC informational meeting to find out more about what this great organization is doing to support the local economy. We’ll have mead tasting, local food, and lots of fun learning how all of us together can support the growth of the local slow food industry and our neighbors here in Chatham County. (For those of you in other counties, you can come hear about other great projects in Raleigh and Durham too!)

When: Wednesday, October 24 from 6 – 8 pm
Where: Starrlight Mead in Pittsboro
Why: Because it’s great to get involved and help!

More info on Slow Money NC

Tell us what you think about the idea of investing locally!

Cranberry Orange Kickoff!

I love the Fall! Cooler temperatures, changing leaves, fun holidays and the start of football season are all signals to me that the next few months are going to be a blast. And hectic! But, I love it just the same!

In celebration of Fall, this weekend, October 6 & 7, we are releasing our Seasonal Meads – Cranberry Orange and Kickin’ Cranberry Orange with chipotle peppers! Last year, the first year we made these seasonal delights, we had such a great response, we decided to bring them back again this year.

Of course, mead made with chipotle peppers made some of our friends and customers ask, “What was Ben thinking?” and “How on earth does he come up with these flavors?” So, I’m here to solve the mystery – how does he come up with this stuff?

The original idea for Cranberry Orange Mead started as a less sweet holiday alternative to our Spiced Apple Mead. This time of year, just as soon as the temperature starts dropping, we start selling the heck out of the Spiced Apple. But, Spiced Apple is one of the sweeter meads we make. So we came up with the idea to make a less sweet mead, that still celebrated the flavors of the holidays, and would go with all kinds of yummy holiday foods. The idea for Cranberry Orange was born. The tartness of cranberry, combined with the sweet citrus of orange, was already a holiday favorite, so why not make it into mead? (Many of you have heard me say it before, “The man will ferment ANYTHING!” It’s true!) And, once we sweetened it just a touch, so that it didn’t pucker your face up completely, we had something wonderful!

But that isn’t the end of the story! A few years ago, Ben had found a recipe for Cranberry Relish that used peppers in it that he made for Thanksgiving. Remembering this recipe (which was too hot for me to eat!), Ben thought it might be great to combine the fruity, tangy Cranberry Orange Mead with a little bit of heat and smoke from chipotle peppers. We tried a test batch at home and, volia, a new favorite was born! And it was Kickin’!

For this year’s version, we bought 10 lbs of jalapeño peppers from local Pittsboro farmer, Granite Springs Farm, combined them with a few peppers from our own backyard, smoked them for 8 hours and then threw them in the mead! (For those of you that are worried, we took the seeds and membranes out of the peppers before we smoked them, toning down the heat level.) If you didn’t try it last year, you are in for an interesting treat! As Ben likes to say, “It isn’t everyday you can find a wine that will go with Shrimp and Grits!” Of course, it will also go with Turkey Dinner or anything with bacon in.

Come on in this weekend and get a taste of this year’s Cranberry Duo!

List: Meads We Love – For You to Try

I have decided that the third week of the month will be “List Day” here at Starrlight Mead Blog! Going to try to come up with some crazy, interesting, outrageous lists to keep you amused! And so, we proudly present… our first list – Meads We Love – For You to Try (that aren’t ours!):

Traditionals – honey, water, yeast – a classic
Sweet MeadRabbit’s Foot Meadery, CA – sweet, but not cloying; leaves a honey fragrance in the glass
Chaucer’s MeadChaucer’s Cellars, CA – We know what you are thinking (we used to think the same thing!), but Chaucer’s was reformulated recently and in 2009 took the Gold Medal in the Mazer Cup Traditional category in blind tasting. We are told the judges were shocked when they found out who had won! If you haven’t tried it in several years, now is the time. Yes, it’s still sweet. But the flavor is much more complex now and very pleasant!

Melomels – mead with fruit (Becky’s favorites, by far…)
Ginger- Apricot Honey Wine- Fox Hills Mead, NC – lightly sweet with the floral heat of ginger
Pirtle’s Raspberry Mead - Pirtle Winery, MO – raspberries and honey, simple, sweet, pretty blush color
2002 Red Raspberry & 2003 Boysenberry Reserves Redstone Meadery, CO – currently sold out, but you can still get the 2005 Black Raspberry for $50. Worth. Every. Penny!

Carbonated - lower alcohol meads
Black Raspberry Nectar - Redstone Meadery, CO – Light carbonation and lower alcohol than many meads makes this one is easy to drink. Ben enjoys floating a half pint of Guinness on top of this nectar; with each sip the two combine and it is like sipping a black forest cake by the time you get to the bottom of the glass
Nectar of the Hops – Redstone Meadery, CO – This braggot reminds Ben of a pale ale. It is not as hoppy as the IPAs that Ben and the owner of Redstone are so fond of, but the floral and bitterness of the hops balance nicely with the light honey flavors.

Methelglins – mead with spices or herbs
Vanilla Cinnamon Mead – Redstone Meadery, CO – the cinnamon sharpness is cut nicely by the softness of the vanilla (Ben prefers this one just above room temp to let all the flavors loose)
African Birds Eye Chili Mead Iqhilika, South Africa – Birds Eye chilies (equivalent to habanero chilies), HOT, can be ordered online for delivery here. Drink this one last!

Fortified – crazy stuff that you just need to try
Viking Blod Dansk Mjod, Denmark – dry honey wine with hibiscus and hops, 18% ABV, not for the faint of heart
Honeymoon – formerly Buck Shoals Winery, now Winsor Run, NC – fortified mead at 18% ABV with a rich honey flavor. Don’t know if they are going to continue to offer it, but maybe if we ask nicely…

Well, this gives you a lot to try out, if you haven’t already! Let us know in the comments if we missed one of your favorites! Cheers and Enjoy!

Wine and Honey Month – Drink Up

In August, North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue proclaimed September 2012 as “NC Wine Appreciation Month.” A fitting month to celebrate North Carolina’s amazing, and rapidly growing, wine industry, as most of NC’s grape harvest is brought during the month of September. With over 115 wineries and 400 commercial grape growers, the wine industry contributes 1.28 billion dollars (with a “B”) to the state economic impact. An industry with a long history that deserves celebrating!

Of course, we over here at one of only two HONEY wineries in the state, can’t fail to notice that it is also National Honey Month! Proclaimed in 1989 by the USDA, assisted by the National Honey Board, National Honey Month is a month to celebrate our favorite little pollinator friends and the luscious, golden nectar that they create. (Check out the Honey Board’s website for tons of ideas and fantastic recipes for your own celebration! And if you haven’t signed up for their recipe newsletter, I would highly recommend it!)

A coincidence, that these two months coincide, you ask? I think not! Or, as Gov. Perdue would write:

WHEREAS, National Honey Month and NC Wine Appreciation Month are celebrated during the same month; and
WHEREAS, mead is wine made from honey; and
WHEREAS, mead is the oldest fermented beverage;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BECKY STARR, Head Mead Wench of Starrlight Mead, do hereby proclaim September 2012, as “Mead Appreciation Month” and commend its observance to all citizens.

There, that should take care of it, don’t you think?

Happy Birthday to Us!

After a weekend of celebration, mead, and cake, today is the official, actual TWO YEAR Anniversary of the opening of Starrlight Mead! (Yay us!) It’s amazing, to me, to think that we’ve been in business for two years now – the time has flown by so fast! But it’s true, and here we are!

Of course, having said that, yesterday Ben pulled out the pictures of the renovations we did before opening and I was shocked at how long ago it felt like that had happened. (Check out the pictures here. Hit the “Previous” link to go through the pictures in order!) The constant dust. The smell of paint. The sore achy legs from climbing up and down the ladder. The production room floor from hell. The frustration at delays in opening. The boo-boos. (Truly, blood, sweat and tears in this one!)

And then came opening day! Finally! It still seems like only yesterday that our dear friend Sharon Hill walked into our meadery as our very first customer! And we were off and running!

Now, two whole years later, we are thrilled with the number of really amazing people we’ve met, vendors with whom we’ve done business, and people with open minds coming in to see just what mead is all about! Add to it the beekeepers, eager students in our classes (whether it’s learning home mead making or thinking about opening their own meadery or brewery), and local merchants and towns people and you have the recipe for a wonderful, thriving business – that is a lot of fun to own and run!

What’s in store for the next year, you ask? Well, partly in thanks to a very recent loan through Slow Money NC, we are increasing production, included an expanded line of mead flavors, and increasing our reach through the wonderful local shops that carry our meads. We are also working on plans for a new Mead (Wine) Club and some other fun things to help build our mead community!

We are so glad to all of you that have been a part of our first two years! And, we hope that you will continue with us on this journey of mead for the next, however many years! Cheers!