Royal Canadian Mead merrily side-steps the craft-beer bandwagon with a brand-new-old beverage.
By Doug Wallace | September 17, 2021
The story is far from new: Two guys, in this case Mike Mills and Benjamin Leszcz, leave their day jobs to wander off on a wing to make booze of some kind—beer, wine, gin, what have you. But this particular tale takes a twist: These entrepreneurs have recently helped revive Royal Canadian Mead, an age-old alcoholic drink made from honey.
“We are romanced by the simplicity of mead: Leave a clay pot of honey sitting out, and it will become mead—a bit of rainwater, a bit of wild yeast from the air,” Leszcz says. “We also love the idea of an alcoholic beverage so timeless that it might just be timely again.”
Pared right down, mead is created from just honey and water, which is then fermented with yeast. Tastes range from dry to sweet, and you can jazz it up with vegetables, herbs and/or fruit—whatever you want, just like craft beer. But unlike beer, mead goes directly into fermentation mode, omitting any boiling process. And in terms of street cred, mead is actually the mother of all fermented drinks, pre-dating both wine and beer by centuries, reaching back as far as 7000 BC. That’s clout.
You Can Chug If You Want To
Typically, "session" beverages are ones you can pound easily. Session meads are light-bodied without tasting watery like some session beers. RCM drinks range from 3.5 to 5.6 ABV (alcohol by volume).
The story also has an eco-angle.
“Mead is the world's most sustainable alcohol,” Leszcz says. “Since it uses honey—an insect by-product—it doesn't generate an agricultural footprint. More, it's regenerative: Every can of mead represents the pollination of roughly 185,000 wildflowers. We lean into this simplicity by adding only fresh-pressed juice, and we love the idea of creating and consuming an alcoholic beverage made simply from food—not ‘natural flavours,’ which everyone knows are far from natural.”
The honey comes from a third-generation apiary near Prince Edward County and the juices are from Ontario when possible. The drinks are also unfiltered, unpasteurized and gluten-free, and made with no extras or additives.
The response so far has been positive, helped along by the fact that ciders and radlers and other hybrid tins on liquor-store shelves have grown in popularity, and will easily transition from summer to fall and beyond. Light-tasting fruity drinks are not just for summer anymore.
For now, the great taste of Royal Canadian Mead comes in four flavourways:
• Bright Nights—a bracing lemon-ginger mead, maybe a little spicy
• Magic Hour—a slightly tart sour cherry mead
• Feels Like Friday—more like beer, this is a dry-hopped mead
• Garden Party—a crisp and fresh cucumber-lime mead
“One of the interesting questions we've faced in developing products is: how do we know if people will like this? The answer we've come to is: That's the wrong question. Who the hell knows? We try to develop products and flavours that we love. And by ‘we’ I mean me and Mike. If we love it, we are excited to share it.”