This week I ventured into the world of druids, honey, booze and surprisingly - food.
As my taxi hurtled down the motorway to Bolton, I decided to have a quick Google on my phone to see exactly what a druid is. And then I Googled mead. And then druids again. And then I went a bit crazy and decided to just sit back and enjoy the drive. All would hopefully become apparent as soon as I arrived.
Located in a small industrial estate in Horwich in Bolton, The Lancashire Mead Company is run by husband and wife team Gordon and Ann, and has been in operation since 2013. They started by supplying their extensive range of all-natural meads to anyone who wants them, and as they soon discovered – there were a lot of them!
Growing from Gordon working in his garage to operating from their current site, demand for pure mead has gone through the roof, not only with the general public but also with chefs and restaurants who are looking to utilise the unique flavours and tastes of the drink and get it into their dishes.
Simon Rogan is a huge fan of the stuff, incorporating it into many dishes at Michelin-starred L’Enclume in the past (Suckling Pig with northern mead, vegetables and artichoke), and even Manchester’s very own Simon, Simon Wood has taken the plunge to not just stock a range of meads at his bar but also to start cooking with it.
So at this point it’s probably a good idea to answer the question that’s probably on your mind – “What is mead?” Well, in its simplest terms it’s a wine made from honey, yeast and water and that’s it. Nothing else.
Mead has been around since humans first discovered that life was a bit rubbish getting chased around by sabre-toothed tigers and decided they wanted to drown their sorrows and get pissed up. The earliest evidence of mead comes from China in 7000 BC but it’s certain that we were snuffling the stuff a long time before then.
Throughout most of time mead has been a staple drink for most ancient societies and has even played an important role in the mythology of some peoples. In recent times though mead sort of fell out of favour – replaced by beer mostly because of the difficulty and expense of honey – a factor that still continues today.
As bee numbers dwindled and the supply of honey drags behind the demand, mead was seemingly left behind, a fact that makes anyone who’s actually tasted PROPER mead a little bit sad.
‘Proper’ mead is simple. VERY simple in fact. So simple that you could even do it yourself at home probably right now with the ingredients in your cupboard. Get some high-quality honey (not the fake shite), water and a bit of yeast – put them together and leave it for a bit and there you go – welcome to Mead Town baby!
What has happened in recent years with mead though is that many big companies have been making a fake version – one that’s made with a base alcohol or wine with honey flavourings added on top.
Anyone who’s tried a £3 bottle of mead from ALDI will know about this stuff – it’s pretty terrible. And as a druid, Gordon found it frustratingly difficult to find pure mead that he could enjoy. So he decided to make his own.
Modern Druid beliefs vary widely, and there is no set of belief system but the things that are important to Gordon and Ann are a pretty common thread throughout the whole spiritual movement. One that promotes harmony, connection and reverence for the natural world and looks to respect nature and the environment throughout all forms of life.
In that respect the idea of drinking mead which was mass produced, full of chemicals and not particularly environmentally friendly was the major influence in Gordon starting his own mead production. Starting the process in his garage at home, Gordon started by using only natural ingredients and age-old traditional fermentation methods.
Still to this day ALL mead produced is made using these fermentation techniques, utilising the best honeys and with 100% natural ingredients. They’re free from sulphites, gluten, egg, dairy, fish and gelatine – something more than 90% of all boozy beverages cannot claim.
As the company has grown, so has the range – as The Lancashire Mead Company now have a huge offering, each one with its own flavouring, taste or spices and I should probably add – all brilliant. (I tried them all while visiting)
There’s dry versions, a spiced version for Christmas, an Elderflower version that’s amazing with tonic and their best seller – Viking’s Blood is made with a combination of blackberries, blueberries and blackcurrant (and is apparently fantastic when mixed with Prosecco).
Each mead is named after a Norse God, with their most traditional variation known as Ægir’s Mead – a firm favourite which incorporates tea and orange juice to the fermentation process to give a more full-bodied flavour with a fruitier taste.
I must admit to holding the opinion that mead is going to be much more popular in the coming years, especially as people start to realise that the highly industrialised food and drink processes are completely unsustainable if we are to ensure we don’t destroy the Earth any more than we already have.
If you want to get on the bandwagon and give mead a try, as I said – it’s easy peasy to make at home and if you’re looking to give the proper stuff a go they now offer an impressive range of Lancashire Mead Company drink at WOOD over on First Street. The plan is to get it on the menu in the food as well as create some cocktails with it – so watch this space for news on that!
Cover photo courtesy of Nigel Taggart / The Bolton News