When I went to Slate Point Meadery in Pleasant Valley to interview owner Eric DeRise, he made me promise not to make any Viking or Medieval Times references in the title of my article. Mention mead and many people do indeed conjure up a vision of a long oaken table with bearded ruffians wielding cow horns waiting to be filled by bodice-wearing wenches. Or at the very least they might consider it a syrupy drink fit only for Renaissance fairs. “We’re trying to get away from that,” Eric told me.
I have to admit that I also had relegated this fermentation of honey and water to the too-sweet-for-me category, and was quite surprised that my brewery-enamored son wanted to check out Slate Point. I assumed it had something to do with his fascination with Game of Thrones. The number of meaderies has increased from 30 to over 500 within the five years it’s been on the air, leading some to believe that the show was partly responsible for the rise in mead’s popularity. That may just be a coincidence considering it’s hardly mentioned in the show. But all the same, I’m pretty sure there were any number of viewing parties which featured the beverage. It just, well, seems right. (Sorry, Eric).
In spite of its association with the Middle Ages, mead is actually much, much more ancient. In 1984 archeologists found a pot of dried mead at a dig on Rum, an island off the coast of Scotland. Analysis revealed that the mead dated back to 2500 BC. (Rum, however, was first distilled on a different island—Barbados). Outside of Europe mead goes back even earlier: remnants of honey-fermented alcoholic beverages have been found in 9000-year-old pottery jars in northern China. Mead was also produced in ancient Egypt, Greece, and throughout the Roman empire.
I asked Slate Point Meadery’s owner why the oldest alcoholic drink in the world seemingly fell out of favor--and why its suddenly developing some fresh-faced street cred on the craft brewing and distilling scene. Eric explained: “As a drink associated with Medieval Times, it became more a nostalgia thing and a not-so approachable product, particularly since it has traditionally been found in the dessert wine section in a large bottle that looks like hard liquor.” The new mead scene, however, is all about carbonated “session meads” which are less sweet and lower in alcoholic content, producing a lighter, crisper drink.
Mead is also highly versatile; it can be flavored with spices, citrus, berries—Slate Point even makes a green-tea-infused mead. “As long as the beverage has been fermented primarily from honey, it qualifies as a mead, so we can add different ingredients to each batch to change the flavor profile,” says Eric. Mead naturally does have sweet notes, but often a honey flavor is not prominent. “Our Revolution, for example, is flavored with blood orange and hops and is very citrusy and complemented by floral notes from hops. And our Currant Rose has more black currant flavor coming through than honey.”
Because of their relative dryness, their versatility also carries over into pairing with foods. Slate Point offers a number of different flavor profiles to complement various cuisines. Eric offers these suggestions: “Currant Rose pairs very well with peppery meals, such as pepper-crusted steak or Cajun-style food. Green Lit (a green tea style) pairs well with Thai or Japanese food. Revolution is great with all-American fried foods like chicken tenders and fries.” There’s even a mead that complements a cigar—Queen’s Crown, a “bochet-style” mead made with caramelized honey and enhanced with dark maple syrup from Crown Maple.
You can try out a flight and purchase cans or bottles of Slate Point mead at the combination production facility and tasting room in Pleasant Valley. The space is simple and industrial, with a steel carbonation tank on view and a bar with a beautiful countertop that Eric’s father fabricated from a piece of a bowling lane wood from Fishkill Bowl. “They were changing out their lanes to a synthetic style and had some extra pieces to offer. The owner is a close friend of the family so he kindly offered it as a gift,” Eric told me. “The bar was designed and built by my father. I wish I could say I helped, but it was all him!”
Slate Point’s meads can be found in several Hudson valley wine shops and restaurants. They’ll also be on site at some upcoming local events including the Bethel Woods Fest, Orvis Sandanona Game Fair Weekend in Millbrook, and the Oktoberfest Craft Fair at the Dutchess Fairgrounds. Check their website, spmeadery.com, for tasting room hours, upcoming events, and other information.
Slate Point is at 11 Charles Street in Pleasant Valley. The non-descript storage-type building that houses the meadery is marked only by a small sandwich board on the side of the road, so keep your eyes open or you’ll miss it like we did.