It is somewhere between wine and beer but that is just a crude way of putting it. Something that is mentioned in the Rig Veda deserves an identity of its own.
In 1896, Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith, an English Indologist, translated the Rig Veda into English. HYMN XLIII has the following:
"Adhvaryus, make the sweet libations ready, and bring the beautiful bright juice to Vayu.
God, as our Priest, be thou the first to drink it: we give thee of the mead to make thee joyful."
This joyful drink, mead, is made from fermented honey. It is probably man's first alcoholic drink, found not just in India but across many cultures. The American Mead Makers Association says that "in Asia, pottery vessels containing chemical signatures of a mixture of honey, rice and other fruits along with organic compounds of fermentation dating from 6500-7000 BC were found in Northern China. In Europe, it is first attested in residual samples found in ceramics from 2800-1800 BC." The English word honeymoon derives from 'hony moone' and hony is about the newly married being given mead.
The good news is there is a revival of mead across many countries - the United States has more than 500 meaderies today, up from just about 30 in 2003. There is one Indian start-up trying its hand at this drink, the Pune-based Moonshine Meadery. It began producing less than a year ago. Will Indians drink a slightly modern version of the 'nectar of the gods'?
Business Today recently chatted with Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas, co-founders of the company. Their first challenge is to create this category. Not only do they have to school consumers but also state governments because under current excise laws, there is no category called mead.
What exactly goes in mead apart from honey? You could need just three ingredients - honey, water and yeast to ferment. Unless, of course, you are doing the modernist twist of adding fruit and spices. The founders say Maharashtra understood the category. The more mead made, the more honey gets consumed, the more honey consumed, the better it is for farmers. The state's Excise Department created a sub-category under Wine that accommodated 'Honey Wine'. The company, subsequently, got the approvals and is currently available in Mumbai and Pune, in retail stores, bars, and pubs. Moonshine is now in talks with Goa.
The reason it sits somewhere between a wine and a beer is because of how Moonshine makes and packages the product.
A beer's alcohol percentage varies between 4 and 8 per cent. Wines come between 8 and 14 per cent while distil spirits can start at 24-28 per cent. Mead can transcend across alcohol percentages. It could be as less as 4 per cent and go up to 21 per cent. Moonshine's meads have a percentage of 6.5 per cent and come in beer-like 330 ml bottles.
The production process, however, is closer to wine making. In wine, grapes are crushed and then fermented. In mead, the sugars come from honey. The fermentation process and temperature is similar to that of wine making. It takes about 12-15 days for mead with 6.5 per cent alcohol percentage to ferment. Those that have higher alcohol content can take longer.
"There is no malt, or hops. There is no boiling process involved. It is the cleanest form of alcohol you can get after the red wine. There is nothing artificial," Vishwas says.
The company has two flagship styles, the Apple Cider Mead and the Coffee Mead. The apple comes from Kashmir; the coffee from Chikmagalur in Karnataka. Moonshine experiments with other fruit and spice combinations in smaller batches. These include a Bourbon Oaked Apple Mead, the Kaffir Lime & Vanilla Mead, the Guava Chilli Mead, and a tart Strawberry Mead, among others. The flagship bottles are priced at Rs 220 in Maharashtra.
Moonshine, the founders say, is making about 2000 cases a month at the moment and hopes to reach an annual capacity of 60,000 cases next year. They raised a seed round from angels even before starting sales, earlier in 2018.
"Now, we have validated that there is a market," Vishwas says.
There is a whole new generation of consumers out there who gives innovation a chance. In Moonshine's case, it is also re-packaged history.