Monday, August 28, 2017

Starrlight Mead: North Carolina Winery Visit

Mead, a honey-based wine, is experiencing explosive growth across the country. Would a trip to a North Carolina meadery be able to sweeten us up?

What Kind Of Wine Could This Bee?

A visit from family last week proved to be the perfect opportunity for some fun in the sun at Jordan Lake, not far from our digs in Fuquay-Varina, NC. After splashing in the water, overturning floats and enjoying a picnic lunch, we heard a crack of thunder.

The winds began to race gray clouds across the sky and a smattering of raindrops began to fall. We knew exactly what to do – we headed for the shelter of a nearby winery!

A short drive away from Jordan Lake is Pittsboro. Pittsboro is the county seat of Chatham County and the main street is lined with quaint shops and cool restaurants. There also is a music store where we picked up a second-hand banjo for a birthday gift.

Most importantly, Pittsboro has a nearby winery –a meadery to be more specific. Mead, wine made from honey, is quite possibly the oldest alcoholic beverage on earth. It’s typically made with just three ingredients, honey, yeast and water. The Greeks called it the nectar of the gods. One more bit of mead trivia – the origin of “honeymoon” goes back to the medieval tradition of drinking honey wine for a full moon cycle after marriage.

Seeing The Starrlight

The sky opened up and we made it to Starrlight Mead just in time. The meadery is owned by Ben and Becky Starr, who started as home mead makers. Their early batches got rave reviews from friends and in 2008 they entered a mead competition for fun. Their fun outing resulted in a “best of show” award as the best of 212 entries. In 2010 they opened their meadery in Pittsboro.

Becky hosted us during our visit – walking us through the various tasting options. There are 20 different meads on their tasting list. She noted that 80% of the people who visit Starrlight have never tried mead before. The number of meaderies in the state is small but growing – soon to be a half dozen.

The meads offered include traditional mead in the off-dry or semi-sweet versions, often with fruit juice added as part of the process. There are also some herb-infused meads as well as some fun seasonal meads, like the Rita mead, a mashup of mead and Mexican cocktail sweetened with Agave nectar. All Starrlight mead is made with North Carolina honey.

The Honey-Do List

With four tasters, we divided the tasting list and sampled most of the offerings. I started with the drier end of the spectrum, the off-dry Traditional Mead, Pear Mead and Blackberry Mead. Like wine, mead can be finished dry or sweet and anywhere in between, depending on when the fermentation process is halted. The more honey that is fermented into alcohol, the less sweet it is.

The off-dry Traditional Mead, to my palate, wasn’t as interesting as those with some fruit flavor added. The Pear Mead, using pear juice instead of water and barrel aged, was light and fruity. Becky termed the off-dry Blackberry Me
ad as their “fake red wine.” It was absolutely delicious and is oaked aged to boot. Rich in fruit flavors, the sweetness level is on par with a typical red wine.
Starrlight also has a semi-sweet Blackberry Mead and this is even better than the off-dry. It delivers a flavor explosion and is sure to create legions of mead lovers.

The flavor of the mead differs depending on the honey used. Starrlight has a Traditional Mead made with Sourwood honey from the North Carolina mountains. It has a curious sour note that leaves you wanting more.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Spiced Apple Mead, Starrlight’s best seller, is apple pie in a glass. This is a great mead to warm up on a chilly fall or winter night.

The Starrs love to experiment, and so they have no less than eight herb-infused meads. Our daughter loved the Lavender Mead. The Lemon Balm Mead tastes like herbal tea. I also tried the Ginger Mead, but my favorite of the herbals was the Nordic Blend Mead.

Nordic Blend is an improbable combination of mead, caraway, fennel and anise. This delivers a funky pumpernickel rye flavor – and I’m a big lover of pumpernickel.

Starrlight meads cost from $18 to $26 for a 750 ML bottle, a very appealing price. They also offer two reserve meads, Chocolate Orange Mead (aged for a year on coca nibs) and White Chocolate Raspberry Mead (sweetened with meadowfoam honey and aged on cocoa butter). The reserve meads are $45 for a half (375 ML) bottle.

Ben and Becky’s love of mead shines through in every bottle of Starrlight mead. Stop in for a sip and you’ll understand what the buzz is all about!

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