Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Mead 101: What you need to know about this popular 'honey wine'

Meads from Honeygirl Meadery, Starrlight Mead, Schramm's Mead, Silver Hand Meadery, B. Nektar and Windsor Run Distillery.

By Dathan Kazsuk and Jennifer Primrose
Wednesday, August 1

Do you recall the first time you tried mead? Diane Currier does. The founder of Honeygirl Meadery in Durham remembers it like it was yesterday. Hiking through a field of Alaskan wildflowers with her sister – strolling through a sea of pink. That pink coming from what's known as Fireweed – a plant that grows freely after forest fires in Alaska.

That same evening, Currier recalls visiting Ring of Fire Meadery in Homer, Alaska, and trying its Fireweed Mead. "I'm drinking this mead, and I was just out in that field. It just blew me away. From that point on, I was going to make mead," she claims.

How about you? Was it a renaissance fair, between the jumbo turkey leg and funnel cake kiosks? Maybe it was mentioned by your dungeon master while on some epic quest as Alagorn, your level 12 Paladin. There's a good possibility, if you were paying attention in high school, you learned about mead in your world history class.

Glenn Lavender of Silver Hand Meadery.                                                               Photo c/o Silver Hand Meadery.

Glenn Lavender, co-owner of Silver Hand Meadery in Williamsburg, Virginia, first heard of mead within the pages of fiction writer Stephen Lawhead. "In a lot of his books, he had Celtic warriors who came back from battle and drank mead," he says. "His description of mead just sounded awesome."

Honey wine, as it is sometimes referred to as, has been making a comeback here in the U.S. lately. According to the American Mead Makers Association (AMMA), the number of meaderies is growing at a tremendous rate. In 2016 there were a total of 280 operating meaderies, and that number has climbed to over 520 in 2017.

Here in North Carolina, the number of meaderies is starting to reflect that as well. Ben and Becky Starr of Pittsboro's Starrlight Mead have been crafting honey goodness since 2010, and were one of the first meaderies here in the state. Many mead makers got their start in the world of home brewing, such as Currier, but Ben was one of the anomalies. "Actually, my first batch of homemade alcohol was mead," he says. "Becky bought me a mead-making kit, and I read a book on mead making, and it told you everything you can do to screw it up. That scared the crap out of me, and I set it aside for about a year."

(l-r), Becky and Ben Starr of Pittsboro's Starrlight Mead is getting ready to expand.

That was until he picked up what is essentially the Bible of mead making – The Compleat Meadmaker: Home Production of Honey Wine from your First Batch to Award-Winning Fruit and Herb Variations, by Ken Schramm. "Reading his book, it started making sense, so we made our first mead, and that was around fourteen-and-a-half years ago," Starr says.

Schramm, who owns Schramm's Mead in Ferndale, Michigan, has almost a cult status with its very fruit-forward meads such as Red Agnes, The Statement and the highly sought after Heart of Darkness. These meads, which are known as Melomels, use a lot of fruits, such as raspberries, cherries and black currants. "That can lead to many of Schramm's meads being crafted with more than 10 pounds of fruit per finished gallon," says Schramm. "Yes, that is very expensive. It makes the style and profile of meads that we enjoy and want to share with the world."

Related Story: Mead Flows in Ferndale, Michigan


With so many different styles of mead, one is sure to find a honey wine that's right up their alley. From Cysers and Metheglins to traditional dry meads and fruit-forwards Melomels. Silver Hand's Lavender doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and diving into any style. "We did a little bit of everything: Cyser, traditional, Methaglyn, Melomel, Bochet, coffee mead. My goal is to just teach people with all the different types of meads out there," he says.

Starr is similar to Lavender in his approach of trying many different styles. "I enjoy the complexity of mead," he says. Take for example the spiced apple mead from Starrlight Mead. Starr explains that it's not just a Melomel, nor Metheglin, or even a Cyser. The meadery also releases a seasonal mead called Kickin' Cranberry Orange, which contains roasted chipotle peppers.

Diane Currier of Honeygirl Meadery in Durham.

But you can't make any of this happen without honey. Honey to a mead maker is the equivalent of grapes to a wine maker. According to the National Honey Board, there are over 300 different types of honey in the world – from Alfalfa to Tupelo – and all of these have distinct characteristics. 

Most of the honey used in Schramm's mead comes from Orange Blossom honey, which he sources through a beekeeper in California, as well as some honey from Michigan. "The meadery also uses Tasmanian Leatherwood as well as Scottish Heather and Michigan wildflower, which adds flavor and aroma," Schramm says.

In Durham, Currier explains that a lot of her honey comes from outside the state. "We can not source all our honey from North Carolina, nor the U.S. About two-thirds of our honey comes from outside the U.S.," she says. Honeygirl Meadery, which produced around 600 cases back in 2017, is currently purchasing around 12,000 pounds of honey per year.

"I use wildflower in a vast majority of our meads, and I also use orange blossom honey," she says. "There are other honey I'd love to work with, such as Sourwood and Tupelo, but the price tag on a bottle can be expensive."

In Williamsburg, Lavender likes using different honey varietals for each of his meads – Orange Blossom, Avocado Blossom and Blueberry Blossom to name a few.

Ken Schramm of Ferndale, Michigan's Schramm's Mead picking apples.                               c/o Schramm's Mead


Mead is such a tricky libation. Beer drinkers love it or hate it. Wine drinkers love it or hate it. Or maybe they just don't seem to know enough about mead. There are a handful of local-area beer forums on Facebook where beer drinkers share photos of their hauls from places such as Schramm's Mead. Other beer drinkers are big fans of yet another Ferndale, Michigan establishment, B. Nektar, who also produces different styles of unique mead.

But Silver Hand's Lavender thinks mead fits in more in the wine world. "Look at the bottles. We're in wine bottles. The gravity is like wine, and we treat it like wine," he says. Lavender sees more of the wine drinkers file into his store to sample his mead. "People are adventurous. People that go to wine festivals like mead, especially if it's sweet wines," Lavender concludes.

Adventurous may be the right word. Whether you enjoy a craft beer or a fine wine, if you are adventurous you'll give mead a try. And that seems to be the case in North Carolina, as there roughly 12 meaderies open or near completion. Starrlight Mead is nearing completion of its new facility in Pittsboro, doubling the size of its current location. And Honeygirl Meadery keeps producing more and more mead every single year.

It appears mead is on the rise. But there is one piece of advice that Schramm would offer to any new or existing mead maker, and that is "If meaderies want to play the game and stay relevant, they must attain a high-level of legitimacy, which means mead makers will have to use the finest ingredients."

Monday, July 23, 2018

Raleigh's Whiskey Kitchen works Patience with Wild Turkey 101

Photos by Caitlin Penna

By Jennifer Primrose
Tuesday, July 24

Whiskey Kitchen, located at 201 W. Martin Street hosted its Supper Club No. 5, Tuesday, July 17. This was our first time visiting the Kitchen, but certainly not our last. Described as modern, sleek and industrial, and occupying the former White Horse Transportation location, the space welcomes you into a contemporary and upscale feel the moment you walk through the doors. Opening about two years ago, this restaurant and whiskey bar certainly has a bright future.

Whiskey Kitchen hosts Supper Club the third Tuesday of every January, April, July and October – each with a unique theme. July’s theme was “Aging 101 Four-Course Time Machine – Patience is a Virtue.” Six months prior, they began the aging process with Wild Turkey 101-proof straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey in four different barrels using varying aging techniques. This was then paired with a four-course meal.  

As the evening began, we talked with owner Michael Thor and his wife Sarah on what we could expect from the evening. The aging process that went into the whiskey being served and the process of pairing with just the right dish.

The evening began socializing over hors d’oeuvres of 101 Midnight Manhattans paired with Bagguettes. The Manhattans were made with Wild Turkey 101, Montenegro Amaro and Angostura bitters and paired beautifully with the baguettes made with boursin cheese, grilled peach jam and white balsamic gastrique. A simple appetizer yet one of our favorite pairings.


The first course featured Wild Turkey 101 – extra aged paired with shrimp & grits. Being in the South you typically can't go wrong with shrimp and grits – but add a slab of house cured maple smoked pork belly and you can’t go wrong. The extra-aged 101 was the perfect way to start this 4 course meal. The extra aging didn’t take anything away from the whiskey, and made this the base for the other three to come.


The second course featured Wild Turkey 101 – Pinot Noir finish paired with double oaked duck with rested cherry sauce, chard and cauliflower puree. The Wild Turkey was aged for three months in a new, charred white American oak barrel, then another three months in a charred barrel used to age Pinot Noir. Being wine lovers, this intrigued us. Typically when we hear duck, we’re not quite sure what to think, but in all honesty, this was our favorite pairing of the night. The addition of the pinot noir barrel for this whiskey added a subtle hint of the grapes fruit flavors of black berries as well as some tannins. For us wine lovers, this whiskey really hit the spot.


The third course featured Wild Turkey 101 – Trophy stout finish paired with barreled beef wellington. The rosemary smoked beef wellington was accompanied by Carolina mushroom farm duxelle, confit pebble potatoes, broccolini with pickled carrot radish, barrel reseted imperial stout, barrel rested Worcestershire and house smoked onion jus. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, then imagine this paired with Wild Turkey 101 aged three months in a new, charred white American oak barrel, then three months in a charred barrel used to age Trophy Brewing Company’s Imperial Stout. The stout left what we felt was an ever-so-slight chocolate finish. It was also nice to see Trophy’s co-owner Chris Powers and head brewer Les Stewart both on hand for this dinner.


Finally, the fourth course of the evening paired Wild Turkey 101 – Bieler Rosé finish with Peaches & Cream and was the perfect way to end the night. Barrel rested rosé marinated local peaches, almond sponge cake, brown butter almonds with peach cream mousse paired with Wild Turkey 101 –Bieler Rosé Finish aged in three months in a new, charred white American oak barrel and a then three months in a charred barrel used to age Bieler rosé. Next to the Wild Turkey aged in a Pinot Noir barrel, this was our second favorite sample of the evening. The whiskey took on some of the semi-dry complexities of the rosé barrel – which again, for true wine lovers, we really enjoyed this one.

Our first ever experience at Whiskey Kitchen certainly has us wanting more and we’re looking forward to future visits and to also try the regular menu. With one part whiskey bar and one part Southern kitchen, you can’t go wrong.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

By the Numbers: The Rise and Decline of Triangle-Area Breweries

Raleigh's Trophy Brewing Co. has seem a steady incline in production since 2016.

By Dathan Kazsuk
Saturday, July 7

There's been a huge explosion of new breweries across the U.S. and North Carolina. In 2017, our state alone was home to 56 new breweries according to the NC Beer Guys brewery map. So to say it's an explosion is an understatement.

And with another 26 slated to open in the Triangle in the near future, this state is really starting to become over-saturated with breweries. Though we haven't seen a lot of closing due to this over-population of suds, we might be seeing less production from some of these breweries.

Last year, Triangle Business Journal put together its inaugural "Largest Triangle Breweries" list based on barrel production in 2016. The top 5 should come to no surprise last year, as Lonerider, Aviator, Big Boss, White Street and Fullsteam were on the top. The 2017 numbers came out this past week, and there were a few surprises. So let's take a look at the top 25. These numbers were given to TBJ by the breweries themselves or by help of the N.C. Brewers Guild.

Click on the chart to see the hi-resolution version.

  1. Lonerider Brewing Co. – 20,000 barrels (up 5.2% from 2016)
  2. Aviator Brewing Co. – 20,000 barrels (up 76.4% from 2016)
  3. Fullsteam – 7,911 barrels (up 40.1% from 2016)
  4. White Street Brewing Co. – 7,000 barrels (down 6.6% from 2016)
  5. Big Boss – 6,500 barrels (down 40 percent from 2016)
  6. Raleigh Brewing Co. – 6,000 barrels (up 9% from 2016)
  7. Carolina Brewery – 4,305 barrels (down 24.9% from 2016)
  8. Deep River Brewing Co. – 4,211 barrels (up 5.3% from 2016)
  9. Trophy Brewing Co. – 4,200 barrels (up 68% from 2016)
  10. Lynnwood Brewing Concern – 4,000 barrels (up 6.66% from 2016)
  11. Carolina Brewing Co. – 3,000 barrels (down 25% from 2016)
  12. Double Barley Brewing Co. – 2,000 barrels (down 11.1% from 2016)
  13. Ponysaurus – 2,000 barrels (no change)
  14. Bond Brothers – 1,984 barrels (up 65.3% from 2016)
  15. Crank Arm – 1,850 barrels (up 23.3% from 2016)
  16. Bombshell – 1,800 barrels (was not on the list in 2016)
  17. Brueprint Brewing – 1,650 barrels (was not on the list in 2016)
  18. Gizmo Beer Works – 1,593 barrels (up 46.1% from 2016)
  19. Top of the Hill – 1,200 barrels (down 20% from 2016)
  20. Mystery Brewing Co. – 1,200 barrels (down 14.3% from 2016)
  21. Clouds Brewing – 841 barrels (up 10.6% from 2016)
  22. Nicklepoint Brewing – 800 (no change)
  23. Brewery Bhavana – 750 barrels (was not on the list in 2016)
  24. Steel String Brewing – 680 barrels (up 63% from 2016)
  25. Bull City Burger – 550 barrels (was not on the list in 2016)

There were a total of three breweries in 2016 that fell off the list in 2017: YesterYears, Neuse River and Compass Rose. And replacing them on the 2017 list were Bombshell, Brüeprint and Brewery Bhavana.

What do these numbers tell me? Just from my observation, the ones that are making a name for themselves are continuing to grow – Trophy Brewing, Bond Brothers and Bhavana – who in their first year-plus, have already produced 750 barrels.

Breweries that have a lot of cans or 6-packs sitting around in places like Harris Teeter and Food Lion have seen a small decrease in production, in the likes of White Street, Carolina Brewery and Carolina Brewing Company. This decline might be because they sit on the shelves for a long period of time and distributors aren't picking up more refill orders.

The two big stand outs on this list is Aviator, who went from 11,000 barrels in 2016 to almost double in 2017 to 20,000 barrels. This more than likely stems from the new $4 million production facility. But the biggest surprise is from Raleigh's Big Boss Brewing Company. In 2016 the brewery had 11,000 barrels, dropping a whopping 40 percent in 2017 to just 6,500 barrels. 

For some of these breweries the numbers may continue to dwindle with more breweries coming to the Triangle. The over population of breweries means the desaturation of brew made – I would only assume.

What are your thoughts on this list? What are some of the trends you see? Be sure to comment below.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Buku provides all new global possibilities for Wake Forest residents

By Dathan Kazsuk
Thursday, July 5

Inspired by street vendors from cities across the globe, Buku's latest location in Wake Forest is a visual array of amazing dishes dreamed up by Executive Chef Andrew Smith. The restaurant had its official grand opening on June 28, and I decided to pay the restaurant a visit to check out some of its top-selling and most delicious dishes.

Arriving at 5:30 p.m. that hot and humid Thursday evening, I met up with JNK Media's Jennifer Kelly where she introduced me to a couple other local bloggers as we all pulled up seats near the kitchen. Our server for the evening was gracious, funny and knowledgeable. After bringing everyone a free sample of the new Sangria that was on the menu – the 6 of us at the table decided it would be best to let the chef decide on the top dishes in his menu to bring out for us.

After a few minutes, dish after dish made its way to our table. Deep-fried cauliflower, pierogis, oysters and more started to fill the center of our long table. The first item I helped myself to was the Ostras Asadas. Spanish for oysters, the Ostras was local grilled oysters with apple mignonette, rocoto butter and a dab of chimichurri. The plate of 4 oysters would be a perfect start to any meal – and would pair well with a glass of Raats Chenin Blanc from South Africa or Mount Eden Chardonnay from California (both available by the glass).

That was then followed up by some twice-fried cauliflower with pickled chickpeas, cucumber yogurt, cabbage and Thai chili. We also sampled the pierogi, which was filled with Muenster, goat cheese and local sweet potatoes. But my two favorite dishes, in the small plates menu, was the Hawaiian ahi tuna poke and the NC beef tartare. I've recently cut back on eating sushi, but this tuna almost fell apart in your mouth. And as far as the beef tartare ... I know it's raw beef ... but the beef on top of Buku's house toast was bliss.

Then came some of the restaurant's main courses – Argentinean Short Ribs, Jerk Chicken and a Black Grouper. Each dish was just as savory and rich as the dish before it. I started with the flaky, yet mild taste of the black grouper. This fish was paired with Japanese rice, papaya, cashews and an amazing Thai green chili sauce. Next was the chicken. This was one of the most tender chicken dishes I've had in a long time – and you almost get dessert with this dish with a side of caramelized plantains. The final dish, and my personal favorite, was the short ribs. With roasted carrots, smoked potato puree, chimichurri and an ancho-espresso mole – you just can't go wrong.

Then came the dessert. We tried three different plates, and it's almost impossible to advise you on which one to get, because each dish had its own set of flavor profiles. From the light and almost healthy looking Citrus Fusion to the Espresso Terrine – you can't go wrong with any of these dishes to end the perfect night of dining. The Terrine was my favorite with its spiced truffle, rum glazed bananas and avocado ice cream. 

Buku in Wake Forest really has it going on. The food is incredible. They have an extensive selection of wine by the glass and bottle – and right next door is a bottle shop if you want to hang out there if you're waiting for your pager to light up!