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The Resurgence of Irish Meade: Kate and Denis Dempsey’s Brewery in Kinsale

Arjen van der HorstKate and Denis Dempsey in the brewery of Kinslae Mead

NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:08

  • Arjen van der Horst

    correspondent United Kingdom

  • Arjen van der Horst

    correspondent United Kingdom

Irish brewer Denis Dempsey carefully lifts the lid from a large, blue barrel. It is filled to the brim with fragrant honey. Dark brown in color and as thick as apple syrup.

“This is Spanish forest honey,” Dempsey explains. “In Ireland we don’t have much honey because it rains and winds often. Honey bees don’t like wind and wetness. In addition, much of the natural habitat for bees in Ireland has disappeared due to deforestation.”

Against one wall of his brewery are seven stainless steel barrels with a capacity of thousands of liters. This is where the production process takes place. Mix 300 kilos of honey with 700 liters of water and add some yeast. Let it ripen for a few weeks and voilà, you have the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage: ‘meade’.

Meade (in Dutch co) has been around for thousands of years and was drunk all over the world. Scientists have found traces of this honey drink in 8,000-year-old pottery from China.

Thirsty hunter-gatherers

It was probably the very first alcoholic drink that humans drank, simply because it occurred in nature. Dempsey: “In wild beehives that were rained on, water mixed with honey and natural yeast. This is how it started to ferment spontaneously. Thirsty hunter-gatherers must have encountered this.”

They probably first met in Ireland meade with the arrival of Christianity. Monks knew the techniques of both beekeeping and alcohol making. Because honey was so valuable, it was mainly a drink of the elite. After the Middle Ages, when cheaper sugar increasingly replaced honey as the main sweetener, it slowly fell out of use in Europe.

Arjen van der HorstThe co-brewery of Kate and Denis Dempsey

Meade has deep roots with Irish-Celtic culture and history. Located in the eastern county of Meath Hill of Tara, one of the island’s most important historical and mystical sites. There are prehistoric burial mounds and remains of buildings dating back a thousand years to the New Stone Age. The most famous monument is the Stone of Destinywhere according to tradition the kings of Ireland were crowned.

The remains of the Middletown House, or the ‘Great Hall of Mede’. It was a party room for up to a thousand guests, with a large wooden chalice containing twelve litres meade passed around the room to share during ceremonies.

Atop this historic hill, Kate and Denis Dempsey got their inspiration for mead. In 2016, they founded a brewery in the picturesque Irish coastal town of Kinsale, breathing new life into centuries-old technology. It was the first time in 200 years that there again meade was made on Irish soil.

Honey and water are the basic elements, but with different types of honey and fruits you can create endless mead variations. This is how Kate and Denis produce the Wild Red Mead, to which blackcurrants and cherries have been added. With an alcohol content of 12 percent, this deep red mead resembles a semi-dry red wine. The Atlantic Dry Mead is light in color and has a fresh citrus taste, because it is made from orange blossom honey from Valencia.

Arjen van der HorstOne of the many mead variants

Apart from the rich taste, according to Denis, the revival of mead is the result of a combination of factors. “Drink lovers are increasingly interested in small, regional drinks rather than the big commercial brands. It is also a result of growing interest in Celtic culture and history thanks to popular TV programs such as Game of Thrones.”

Until a few years ago, the honey drink was only found on a small scale in Ireland. Today it is on the shelves of hundreds of supermarkets and liquor stores. Kate and Denis Dempsey have won several international awards. In 2022, the Irish Association of Food Critics named their brew ‘Drink of the Year’. According to a culinary journalist meade now at home in the list of classic Irish drinks: Guinness, Baileys, whiskey and meade.

The elite status of mead has also been restored. Denis Dempsey tells the anecdote with a smile. “Presidential visits are now meade donated, such as during President Biden’s state visit to Ireland. If it’s good enough for the American president, it’s good enough for most people.”

2024-01-06 19:08:37
#Irish #brewery #breathing #life #worlds #oldest #alcoholic #drink

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