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Bees to Mead

This Michigan couple raises bees and makes an ancient drink from the honey.
  • Raising bees

    Melissa Hronkin and John Hersman raise bees on their 38 acres in Ontonagon County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Their bees pollinate fields of pumpkins, sunflowers, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, and clover.

    They started with two hives their first year, sold out of honey, and expanded to 70 hives the next year. Then the question became, what do we do with all the honey? “Those bees work so very hard to make it,” says Melissa. “We wanted to present it to our customers as a precious commodity.”
     

    Date Published: March 10, 2014
    Date Updated: April 1, 2014
  • Mead

    They decided to brew handcrafted mead, or honey wine, an ancient drink of fermented honey and water.
     

    Date Published: March 10, 2014
    Date Updated: April 1, 2014
  • How to make mead

    The ancient process of making mead, considered by some historians as the ancestor of all fermented drinks, is quite simple. “You start with honey, water, and yeast to make the traditional true mead,” says John.

    “Lots of meads are sweet, depending on the level of honey used. We specialize in dry mead. Think of it like making a dry wine vs. a sweet wine. Some people taste ours, expecting a syrupy sweet drink, and they are amazed that ours is so dry."

    Sanitation is key, because foreign bacteria can ruin the batch. Mead has to be aerated at first. Then it’s locked up and oxygen becomes the enemy.

    The mead is racked until the liquid is clear and sediment-free, and then it is bottled. The couple makes it year round. “Honey lasts all year,” says Melissa. “We stockpile fruit in our freezer, and when one fermentation is done, we make another batch.”
     

    Date Published: March 10, 2014
    Date Updated: April 1, 2014
  • The church

    “We learned that if we wanted to retail honey, we had to process it in a certified kitchen and bottle it there,” says Melissa. They rented an old school’s kitchen for a weekend, did all the work by hand, and were in business, but they needed a permanent place.

    A friend told them of a Catholic church that had closed in 1995. They bought it. The old church houses the meadery, as well as displays of artists’ work, and tables of honey, mead, wax candles, soaps, and other products for sale. Colored light from the big stained glass windows casts shadows on groups of artists and history buffs that meet in the old structure. It is a beehive of activity.

    “The relationship between our honeybees and this building have, in a sense, come full circle,” says Melissa. “Monks were the first beekeepers, who produced wax for the church’s candles and used the surplus honey from their managed bee colonies to make mead.”
     

    Date Published: March 10, 2014
    Date Updated: April 1, 2014
  • Expanding

    “John’s culinary skills pay off in making mead,” says Melissa. “We work on our packaging, use great bottles, and have no problem selling it. We host tastings, and the mystery about drinking mead is dispelled.”

    You can come at mead from a culinary, technical, and scientific side, says John. “The first batch I made, I was very scientific, but it got easier and I started tweaking the recipe."

    Next, the couple plans to expand the meadery and continue to experiment with new recipes such as pyments (mead fermented with grape juice) and cysers (mead fermented with apples).

    Date Published: March 10, 2014
    Date Updated: April 1, 2014

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