Sweet Dream of Mead-Making
Comes True at Isaaks of Salem
by Brian Knowles
Photographs by: Katie Noble
In the spring of 2010 Ian Bennet and a friend spent the day moving a 1,000-pound, 750-gallon stainless steel fermentation tank from the South Shore to the future home of Isaaks of Salem in Beverly, Massachusetts. This was the beginning of Ian’s dream—to make honey wine, also known as mead, using local ingredients—finally coming to fruition.
One night in 2004, when Ian was a senior in college, he went out with some friends to the Old Toad in Rochester, New York. Excited to see mulled mead on the menu, Ian decided to splurge and spend a good portion of his weekly budget on this beverage he had read so much about in books like Game of Thrones and Beowulf. That night in Rochester, Ian ended up being disappointed, as the warm mead was nothing like he had expected. It was there that his fascination with mead stopped—until three years later when he was surfing the web and came across a mead recipe. Remembering the mediocre mead he drank in college, he decided to try and make his own in his basement. That first batch of water, honey and yeast must have had potential, because in the fall of 2009 Ian decided to start his own commercial meadery in a small industrial building garage.
Once the fermentation tank was installed and the cooling coils and chiller attached, Ian was ready to start making mead. The next hurdle was to secure a large amount of local honey, which Ian was able to do in nearby Billerica. With the help of a friend, Ian picked up 1,800 pounds of local wildflower honey that tasted of wild clover and honeysuckle. It was smooth on the tongue and warm in the mouth with a sharp edge that, according to Ian, works best for the smoothest honey wine.
Around five months later the first batch was ready and the Dry Honey Wine was dominated by honey overtones. Ian kept this wine simple in order to let the local wildflower honey shine through and be the star. Take a sip and that honey flavor lingers in your mouth for some time. Ian does not want people to be fooled into thinking this is a light, crisp white from California; quite the contrary, this is a Big White Wine. That first batch of honey wine yielded around 80 cases, thus taking Ian and his family on a new journey. The second batch of mead was the Sweet Tooth Honey wine. This wine starts off as a dry honey wine and is then sweetened with more honey after the first of two fermentations to augment the residual sugar. Those people who enjoy their white wine on the sweeter side will love this honey wine.
To make a fruit mead like Isaaks of Salem Popp Road Raspberry, you once again start off with dry honey wine but then add puréed fruit after the first fermentation. Ian uses raspberries that David Popp grows in Dresden, Maine, on Popp Farm. David’s raspberries are grown without pesticides and fertilizers in open fields that abut a saltwater estuary. The first sip of this wine will bring back childhood memories of eating more wild raspberries than you picked to bring home. According to Ian, you will experience a dry finish with a wonderful wild bouquet without any of the tart aftertaste or syrupy sweetness found in other raspberry wines.
Not being a trained sommelier, Ian learned how to pair his honey wines with food through trial and error. He loves to serve his Dry Honey wine with pork chops and big, thick, hearty sauces that other white wines can’t handle. The Sweet Tooth Honey wine is very smooth and pairs well with big, bold blue cheeses. The Popp Road Raspberry pairs well with goat cheese and brie and again strong sauces, pork and anything with fruit. Due to its well-balanced sweetness, Popp Road Raspberry works perfectly as an aperitif or as an after-dinner drink.
It was Ian’s dream to use local ingredients to make his honey wine and his partnerships with these small local producers are the most important part of the mead-making process. Due to the quality local ingredients Ian uses, his honey wine is pure New England at its best. Nowhere else in the country will you find raspberries like David Popp’s that flourish in Maine’s chilly summer nights while their roots dangle in salt water. The same goes for the local wildflower honey that Ian secured with the help of Crystal Card and the Merrimack Valley Apiaries. Wildflowers found in the Merrimack Valley help to bring New England flavor to the honey wine. Besides the quality of the local products Ian is using, these producers work on a small scale and can put more care and love into their products and farms. Ian may pay a bit more for ingredients, but the quality and final product far outweigh the costs.
For those who have romanticized winemaking, keep this in mind: Isaaks of Salem is a one-man band. It is Ian’s day job as a Lead SAP Analyst for a medical device company that is paying the family bills … for now. Ian likes to say he wears many hats—owner, winemaker, janitor, salesman. Whatever needs to be done, he is most likely the one doing it. After work, before work and on weekends you will find Ian toiling away at the meadery. Once in a great while Ian will enlist the help of friends and family, like having his wife, Brittany, design the logo or having the local pastor help label, fill and cork that first batch. Ian Bennet sums it up best: “Isaaks of Salem is a 300-case winery. We harvest, ferment and balance fruit and honey from New England to create a local wine. You won’t find a purer expression of your local area than our aged honey wine.”
To purchase any of Isaaks of Salem honey wines, visit www.isaaksofsalem. com, where you can order online or find a retailer near you.
For more information go to www.isaaksofsalem.com
Brian Knowles is always in search of the best things to eat in the greater Boston area. Whether he is eating at a family-owned restaurant in East Boston, attending a festival in Jamaica Plain or shopping at a farmers market, he will find it and share it. Brian is the editor in chief of www.thegringochapin. com and writes about ethnic eats for Examiner.com and Exposed Urban. He can be reached on Twitter (@thegringochapin) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.