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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Making Mead in the Wine Capital


The profile and popularity of the honey-based alcoholic beverage mead is slowly but steadily growing in New Zealand. So, for this month’s Club Catch-Up we drop in on a mead-making session hosted by the Marlborough Beekeepers Association (MBA) in Blenheim to learn a few brewing tricks and meet the club based at the top of the South Island.

World famous for is sauvignon blanc wines, Marlborough is a province of great expertise and facilities in the art of winemaking and brewing. On Sunday July 25 a group of about 20 local beekeepers benefitted from that expertise as senior club members demonstrated their favourite mead recipes, before taste-testing some previously prepared tipples.

During the beekeeping season the MBA regularly gathers in Blenheim at the shared site of the Marlborough Research Centre and Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, looking through the club’s hives on site or enjoying presentations in the lecture theatres. For the most recent gathering the location was more appropriate than usual though, as club members got the benefit of the Research Centre’s on-site winery where two mead brews of about 20 litres each were laid down.

Club president Dion Mundy led off, calling on his knowledge as not just an experienced home mead maker and beekeeper, but also as a senior scientist at Plant and Food Research. Add to that the home-grown nature of his key ingredients, that being honey from the hives and hops from the garden of his Tua Marina property which narrowly missed serious flood damage the weekend prior, and the mead created has a story which marketers could only dream of.

Mundy’s mixture had a combination of honey, malt, hop flavours (through water briefly soaked in 100g of dried hops) and the required amount of warm (about 20℃) water to fill the brewing vessel, all topped off with yeast to get the fermentation process underway. Getting the correct ratios of ingredients is essential to ensure fermentation.

“Too sweet and the yeast dies, too dilute and you end up with fizzy water,” Mundy explains.

“Hops impart bitterness, so this brew will be both bitter and sweet on the pallet. That way it doesn’t just taste like cordial.”

Once soaked and drained the hops can be discarded – “pigs love them, hens not so much, compost? Yes!”

The target alcohol volume for that first brew is about five percent, while fellow club member Philip Vercoe demonstrated brewing a more wine-like mead which would reach about 10 percent alcohol.

“If you are going to deviate from your recipe, be sure to write done what you have done, because you can get very different results,” Vercoe advises.

While the demonstrations are likely to create a few more home brewers, the highlight of the day for many was trying out a few of Vercoe’s meads, which garnered a favourable response from most.

The mead workshop was just one of many regular events the MBA hosts, with get togethers held the last Sunday of the month. On top of that, mentors are provided to new beekeepers as required, the club has a manual honey extractor for hire, every second year an “Introduction to Beekeeping” course is run and there are events throughout the year, such as the mead making workshop.

The association has about 40 members, mainly hobbyists, but with a few commercial beekeepers, and Mundy says they are lucky to have such a supportive venue as the Research Centre to base the club.

It certainly makes a good location for a mead making workshop, but now club members must wait for the demonstration brews to ferment – a process expected to take about three weeks – before the results can be judged.

“Worst case, you make vinegar!” Mundy quips.

The Marlborough Beekeepers Association invites new members, via their website,



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