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Grahamstown Brewery Pty (Ltd), trading as Makana Meadery, was founded in the year 2000 with the primary objective of placing this 20,000 year old South African honey based beverage, iQhilika on the world's shelves.
Makana Meadery is a modern, hi-tech African Meadery making African style meads with a global approach. Advanced recipes are used, and the mead is filtered and packaged so that it is both attractive and pleasant to consume. In this way the meadery is bridging the divide between a largely dormant European mead drinking culture, and a vibrant African mead drinking culture - creating and preserving the history of mead drinking.
Makana Meadery has its beginnings in a Rhodes University based research project to develop state-of-the-art fermentation technology for producing iQhilika, an African mead. The meadery is housed in a historic Grahamstown landmark on the outskirts of this picturesque educational town in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Makana Meadery is an equitable, empowerment driven company. It is more than 50% owned and funded by previously disadvantaged individuals and is as such an Affirmative Business Enterprise. The company was founded by Dr Garth Cambray, the late Dr Winston Leukes (1969-2006) and Vuyani Ntantiso.
Dr Garth Cambray, founder and director of Makana Meadery was recently judged the overall winner of the annual Herald Citizen of the Year Awards at a banquet held in Port Elizabeth. The Awards are aimed at honouring those who serve their communities.
Garth, also the winner in the Business category believes in a triple bottom line approach to business: people, planet, and profit. Makana Meadery is renowned for its service to the community through empowerment of aspiring beekeepers and job creation across the Eastern Cape. A spin-off project aimed at converting used oil into environmentally friendly bio-diesel is just one of the ways the company serves the community and the environment.
iQhilika is a unique, fermented honey beverage produced within the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. The Xhosa people, as well as the descendants of the Khoi-San group of peoples who inhabit the region, produced the beverage by taking the specially-prepared roots of succulents of the Trichodiadema genus and mixing this with honey, fruits, and/or spices. Sometimes pollen or an extract of bee larvae (similar to 'royal jelly') is added to the brew.
In Africa, mead is consumed in vast quantity. In subsistence economies honey is harvested from wild, or semi-wild hives and is rich in pollen and debris - perfect for mead making, but not for sale as table honey.
Famous African meads, consumed in huge quantities are drinks such as the Tej and Meis of Ethiopia, and the iQhilika of the Xhosa people of South Africa. There are many other types of mead unique to every nation in Africa. Most African mead is sold for immediate consumption and sophisticated marketing and packaging channels are not well developed.
Hence a problem exists: African mead is consumed in large quantities in Africa, but is not easily marketable outside the continent due to shelf life problems. European mead is produced in small quantities and is marketed as a curiosity not a commodity which is consumed regularly.
Honey is a vital ingredient in the making of iQhilika and to match this demand the company has developed an extensive beekeeping program. With the acquisition of a sawmill and the development of beekeeping training programs, the company has also expanded its products and services to include: beekeeping products, beekeeping training and R&D.
The honey used for making iQhilika is from many species of savannah wildflowers (e.g., Portulacaria, Aloe, Psideroxylan, and Schotia) and trees such as the Acacia. The honey is generally low in pH: 3.5-4.5 is typical.
In ancient times it was believed to be a good thing to give a young couple sufficient mead that they could drink a considerable amount each night for a month after getting married. This was a term politely referred to as a honeymoon; the primary objective of a honeymoon was for a couple to conceive a child. Hence many people connect the dots and suggest that mead is an aphrodisiac. We believe that this may be the case - but mead is also generally a very pure alcohol and as a result if one were to drink a considerable amount of any other less pure alcohol one may fall asleep (which would not help with the conception of children side of the honeymoon).
In Africa the story is that if you drink mead you feel strong like a lion.
Mead has been seen as being a medicine; in fact, the word medicine is derived from the word metheglin (pronounced "medeglin"). Metheglin is a type of mead containing infusions of various herbs.
How to Drink Mead
Mead is a sophisticated beverage. The flavors in honey are more complex and subtle than those in fruit or malt, hence the mead drinker develops a very discerning palate.
The mouth must be cleared of foreign uncomplimentary tastes, such as toothpaste or peppermints. This is best achieved with a light snack - cheese, pickled quails eggs, light meats or the like.
The mead should be chilled in a fridge for at least an hour before consumption. It is best to let the mead stand in the fridge for 48 hours as this allows it to settle into the bottle and recover from any shaking it may have received on the way from the Meadery to your fridge. Some mead drinkers place ice in the mead - it is important to use good quality water for making the ice as the chlorine in tap water will affect the taste of the mead.
Mead should be poured gently into the same type of glasses used for red wines. This allows a decent amount of mead to contact the atmosphere and develops the bouquet of the mead.
If you have not consumed mead before, we recommend that you start with a semi-sweet mead. This can be either a spiced or plain mead. Once you have become acquainted with mead in this way you may migrate to less sweet and dry meads.
Mead is an excellent accompaniment to most savory dishes. Sweeter meads tend to go well with spicier foods while dry meads are excellent served with delicate dishes such as chicken, duck, fish and calamari.
All meals should be consumed with good friends, music and conversation as has been the way for thousands of years.
Wines and beers are normally from a specific region, or culture, whereas there is a mead, or a record of a mead, for nearly every human culture that has lived with bees. Hence a mead connoisseur needs to know about the world, and about our planet's cultures.
A mead connoisseur will understand that bees visit thousands of different species of flowers all over the world, making millions of combinations of flavours in their honey every year. Whereas in wine making we are limited to a handful of cultivars of grapes, mead makers have access to honey - a magical mixture of natural flower nectar which will always be different as you never get exactly the same flowers flowering at exactly the same time every year!! For a mead maker this great diversity of honey types forms the foundation of the art and science of mead making. The style of mead making adds further levels of complexity to the product.
A mead connoisseur is somebody who can appreciate diversity, uniqueness, and above all live with the fact that the chances are she or he will open a bottle of mead, enjoy it and probably never be able to buy another bottle which tastes exactly the same!
Mead and the Environment
Mead is a sustainable beverage.
To make honey, bees ideally require a lot of flowers. In a small number of places on Earth, such as an orange grove or sunflower field, these flowers are planted in monocultures, but across the vast woodlands of Africa, the rainforests and highlands of South America, the forests, swamps and plains of Europe, Eurasia and America, and the confusing ecosystems of Australia, the majority of flowers bees go to are on wild natural plants. Hence, to make honey, bees need nature at its best.
By drinking mead, the consumer is voting with their money to conserve biodiversity - bees nurture the environment and provide an income for beekeepers without them having to clear fields, use tractors and pesticides.
Mead also saves water. Bees kept in natural areas do not require irrigation for honey production. Flowers make nectar when it rains - bees gather it; no rivers need to be dammed to make mead.
Vote with your glass - conserve our biodiversity and have fun at the same time!
|Picture: Makana Meadery Exterior