Cape Town Meadery: A Mythical Mead-Tasting Experience

Photography: @nickylittle333 Photography: @nickylittle333

A palate-tingling journey into the world of mead.

“In mythology mead is known as ambrosia, literally the drink of the gods,” says Dr Ernst Thompson at the start of our mead-tasting at the Cape Town Meadery. He’s been making mead, the world’s oldest fermented beverage, since 2018, determined to bring this ancient celebratory tradition back to its African roots, with a range of different meads to suit every occasion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the popularity of Game of Thrones that sparked a renaissance of craft mead-making in the States, where it’s overtaken craft gin in the hipster stakes, but Ernst is the first to develop a commercial range in South Africa.

From the first sip we’re hooked, and the initial surprise is that not all mead is sweet!

The tasting room

A glorious scent of honey greets you at the door to the meadery, where bottles upended in a riddling rack take up the floor space downstairs. Upstairs the tasting room is decorated with a honeycomb patterned wall and seating at bar tables, and eyes are drawn to the mead fermentation yeastily bubbling in the small tanks on one wall, next to a window looking out towards Table Mountain.

Time flies when you’re sipping mead

Cape Town Meadery: Dr Ernst Thompson

Ernst’s approach combines enthusiast, storyteller and academic (his Phd is in nutritional physiology); with such a wealth of stories and depth of knowledge accompanying the varied tasting of 10 to 12 meads, the time flies. Our conversation touches on Viking legends, ancient mythology, theories on the early history of mead, bees and bee-keeping, fermentation technology just for a start, and Ernst is happy to delve deeper into whichever topics interest each group.

Bubbles with a honey bouquet

Cape Town Meadery Melaurea

Our first tasting raft kicks off with Melaurea, a hand-crafted, bottle-fermented mead that is two years in the making. Dry and sparkling in the style of a good MCC, it has a seductive aroma of honey on the nose and has been a hit with fine-dining restaurants such as Salsify, Fyn and Aubergine who were quick to see its potential.

Ernst’s personal preference is for dry meads (although they are much trickier to make) and these are easy for wine-lovers to appreciate. We taste a pyment (where honey and grapes are fermented together,) a fruity mead similar to an oaked chardonnay in drinking experience, followed by his dry !Karri mead, which Ernst recommends chilled for easy summer quaffing. It has the base acidity of a fresh chenin, with a pleasing muscadel nose. The !Karri range is named for the Khoisan word for mead, a nod to the drink’s origins back in the mists of time on the African continent.

What’s in a bottle of mead?

Cape Town Meadery Bottles

Ernst uses organic Zambian honey for most of his mead-making. Naturally plentiful, it has a subtle flavour from the Miombo woodland biome. Our local fynbos honey has too strong a flavour and isn’t produced in large enough quantities for commercial mead-making, he says, but he uses small amounts to back-sweeten some meads and add a touch of fynbos flavour. All that is added to the honey to make the meads is pure water and champagne yeast. Plus a touch of technical magic in the special fermentation process.

Sweet as honey

The next tasting flight is sweet but not overpoweringly so. The !Karri sweet mead is well balanced with a good acidity, designed to pair beautifully with cheese and desserts. Next, a chilli-infused sweet mead, followed by a much sweeter melomel (fermented with fruit) for comparison, made by a local hobbyist. And a winter favourite, the !Karri Gluhwein mead infused with spices and ideal drunk hot by the fire to warm you to the core. We also taste a pale ale braggot and an acacia mead among others, getting an insight into the many different styles possible in the world of mead.

A delightful way to spend an afternoon, convivially learning, tasting and chatting through a totally new tasting experience.

Good to know There is plentiful off-street parking inside the small business park. Vouchers are available to give this experience as a gift, and there’s a maximum of 10 people per tasting.

Cost R120
When Two Saturdays per month, 11am – 1.30pm; 2.30pm – 5pm
Contact 083 236 3244,
Where to find it 27 Old Timber Yard, 7th Avenue, Maitland, Cape Town
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The Inside Guide has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, we do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, cost, time, and location.

Time of publication: 24 October 2022