At Brewers Hall, nestled away in the sleepy village of Mereworth, winemakers William Boscawen and Scott Gebbie are leading the charge in a new mead revolution. Having already successfully grown grapes in Kent’s outstanding soils with their viticulture venture of Mereworth Wines, the producer partnership soon saw the potential to breathe new life into the world’s oldest drink.
“I’d long harboured an interest of moving into the wine trade,” says William. “I realised that we have the perfect terroir for English sparkling wine, but also began to wonder if we could start making mead as well. Given that we had over 70 beehives and lots of fruit growing on one of our farms, it sounded like an interesting opportunity.”
For William – whose family has been farming in the area for over 250 years – a move into the drinks sector was a long time coming. He returned to the countryside in 2015 to take on the family farm, having worked in finance and marketing in London and Hong Kong; planting a vineyard within a year, he took his first harvest for English sparkling wine in 2018. While these bottles will be released in a few years, the passion to produce wines drawing from local terroir, and other fruits, piqued an interest.
“The more I looked into it, I could see that mead was kicking off in America, and indeed, was the fastest-growing sector of the drinks industry,” he continues. “It didn’t look like many people were doing it in the UK, so I wanted to see if we could make something more elevated, using honey as the principal fermenting sugar, which kicked off this fascination with fermenting.”
The gamble paid off, and Marourde was born, winning Produced in Kent’s Food Product and Specialist Drink of the Year at the Taste of Kent Awards 2018. But the work was far from finished; with Scott by his side, William has since relaunched and rebranded his deliciously crisp sparkling mead, creating three innovative new flavours for a contemporary spin on the ancient beverage.
In their current roster are Blends 7, 11 and 14: A light Manuka Flower & Oak; Hemp & Hop’s subtle herbal notes; and the bright, floral Elderberry & Elderflower. With their lower ABV of 4%, these vibrant meads take a new approach to the traditional recipe of honey and water, bringing a younger, sexier, more palatable product to the market, without compromising on tradition or quality.
“I’ve been experimenting and getting creative with what William started,” reveals Scott. “I wanted to add a bit of structure in the background and bring on some winemaking techniques to enhance the nose and give a bit of body. We looked for botanicals that we could get our hands on and use, such as manuka flower, which has a sweet, almost honeylike aroma, and pairs very well with oak.”
Adds William: “Mead is fundamentally a very approachable product to make, but I felt that the meads on the market weren’t particularly sophisticated, or marrying up with what current consumers expect from their drinks products, so there was an opportunity to reinvent and reimagine what mead could be.”
Indeed, that reimagining spans every element of the brand: From the sessionable flavours to the clear glassware, Scott’s unique perspective as a highly experienced winemaker added another dimension to the process. And with a blank canvas to work from in a drinks category brimming with potential, there’s never been a better time for mead to shine.
“We wanted a sessionable mead that wasn’t cloying or sweet,” William notes. “We’ve brought 21st-century winemaking expertise to mead; in particular, we strived for a clean ferment that creates a crisp, subtle base wine. Then, taking inspiration from the flora and fauna around us, we blend back botanicals into this clean mead. It’s a very delicate drink, derived from honey and flowers.”
“There aren’t many 4% drinks that focus on aroma and flavour, so we’re emphasising a more sensory experience than some of the other competitors on the market,” explains Scott. “Unlike wine – which is restricted in so many ways by heritage and law – there are very few rules within this category, so we can be creative, have a lot of fun, and adapt to what our consumers want.”
Of course, there’s been a degree of re-education for William and Scott’s customer base. By employing modern processes, developing a clean, contemporary look, and teaming up with chefs, bars, restaurants and hotels that understand and embrace the product and ethos, Marourde is a far cry from mead’s medieval, ‘Robin Hood’ roots, as William puts it.
“It’s always nice to be at the start of a new educational process,” he considers. “People have heard of mead, but it’s been more of the traditional variety, which is great, because it starts a conversation. Stockists want to be part of it by providing a new experience for their customers, and increasingly, people are seeing the value of botanicals, provenance and biodiversity in their drinks.
“It’s a 7,000-year-old product, but I wanted to get away from the clichés of what people thought mead was. As with anything, it requires people to first be visually stimulated, and secondly, for the taste to stand up on its own, so it’s taken a long time and a lot of experimentation to get to where we are now. There are lots of positive factors behind it, which we love and want to shout about.”
With premium venues such as Thackeray’s, Fuggles, The Curious Eatery, Reuthe’s and The Beacon taking more orders every day, as well as collaborations with the likes of For Cocktail Sake already under their belts, William and Scott have found their stride and hit the ground running. By building a new narrative, they’re reviving and rejuvenating mead for the next generation of drinkers to discover and enjoy – and the sky’s the limit.
“We have to be a credible and consistent brand, because we’re making an extremely high-quality, refined product,” concludes William. “I want this to be something that’s approachable, colourful, young and contemporary.
“Mead shouldn’t be staid, old or stuffy; it’s what everybody drank around the world for a millennia, which is why we should be celebrating it as a fun drink to look at and to taste – and I think the results speak for themselves.”