Download the latest issue of Business Today Magazine just for Rs.49
Try Mead this weekend. The ancient honey-based fermented alcohol is making a comeback in India

Try Mead this weekend. The ancient honey-based fermented alcohol is making a comeback in India

Mead, an ancient honey-based fermented alcohol that is flavoured with natural fruits and spices, is making a comeback in India thanks to a handful of enthusiastic alcobev buffs

Moonshine produces  year-round flagship meads  such as Coffee and Traditional  as well as small-batch,  experimental and seasonal  meads like Guava Chilli Moonshine produces year-round flagship meads such as Coffee and Traditional as well as small-batch, experimental and seasonal meads like Guava Chilli

Quick, what's common between Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Vikings? It’s mead (rhymes with need), an ancient honey-based fermented alcohol that’s slowly making a comeback in India with a handful of players producing it. “Mead is not beer,” says 38-year-old Rohan Rehani, Co-founder of Pune-based Moonshine Meadery­—the very first meadery in India that started production in 2018.

Rehani and childhood friend Nitin Vishwas (38) read about mead in 2014 in an article that talked about how London was getting its first meadery in 500 years. Having only read about meads in Lord of the Rings (Gandalf takes swigs of it) and Harry Potter (Hagrid orders four pints at the Three Broomsticks Pub in Hogsmeade), they had thought of mead as something mythical that had been lost to time. “We were fascinated. Mead is probably the first known alcohol. It finds a mention in 7000 BC in Chinese pottery. The Vikings drank it before going into battle. Mead was also a part of ancient Indian culture. The word mead comes from the Old English word ‘medu’ that comes from ‘madhu,’ which is honey and then there is ‘madhushala,’ which is a place where you drink alcohol,” says Rehani.

Both Rehani and Vishwas are engineers by education and had corporate careers. In 2016, Rehani quit his job to make mead full time. What started as a kitchen experiment finally moved to a proper plant on the outskirts of Pune. However, since mead had not been made in India before, there was no provision for it in the excise law. “You could brew beer and ferment grapes to make wine but you could not ferment honey,” says Rehani.

Cerana’s Pinot Noir Pyment (made with honey and grapes) has a higher ABV of 12 per cent

Rehani and Vishwas decided to meet the excise minister of Maharashtra to change the excise law and get a licence.

Meanwhile, Yoginee Budhkar (39) and Ashwini Deore (39), two friends who completed their PhD in biotechnology and bioprocess technology, respectively, from Mumbai, also decided to make mead. After almost a year of trying, all four finally met the excise minister. “It was difficult to meet him but once we did, he was very open to the idea of us making mead and we got clearance instantly,” says Budhkar.

While Moonshine hit the market in 2018, Cerana (named after the Indian honey bee) started producing mead in 2020.

. No Label, a brand of Bored Beverages, has raised Rs 2.5 crore in seed funding

Currently, Moonshine produces two types of meads: the year-round flagship meads, such as Apple Cyder, Coffee, and Traditional, and a MeadLABs series, which comprises small-batch, experimental, and seasonal meads. Salted Kokum, Grilled Pineapple, which is Rehani’s favorite, Guava Chilli, Hopped Mead, Thai Ginger, and Kaffir Lime, all at 6.5 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) are the best-selling items under the MeadLABs series. Moonshine is available in Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Assam, Rajasthan and Silvassa, and is priced at Rs 140-250 for 330ml. Production has gone up from 200 cases in the first year to 5,000 cases a month today, and they plan to expand capacity to 3x by the end of the year. “Mead is made with all natural ingredients, with honey being the most important. We now control our supply of honey to ensure we have the best quality,” says Rehani.

Nashik-based Cerana has a focus on local flavours. For its main meads, which include the Jamun Melomel, Pomegranate Melomel, and Chenin Blanc Pyment, priced at Rs 180 for 330ml, it procures the jamuns, pomegranates and grapes locally. Its limited-edition seasonal meads, which include varieties like Yule Spice (made with honey and spices) and Pinot Noir Pyment (made with honey and grapes), typically have a higher ABV of 12 per cent and are priced at Rs 450 for 375 ml. Currently, Cerana is available in only Mumbai, Nashik and Pune. But it is planning on increasing production and will soon be available in Bengaluru and Goa.

. Stump, Karnataka’s first mead, is available in two flavours— coffee and apple cider

Childhood friends Anant Gupta (26) and Vinayak Malhotra (27) are fascinated with all things alcohol. They discovered mead on their travels abroad and thought there was a market for it in India. “We saw this wide space in India in the alcobev sector. The younger generation was looking for something more flavourful in the ready-to-drink segment,” says Gupta, Co-founder of Bored Beverages. Initially they thought they would make wine. “Our idea was to simplify wine. Right now in India wine is considered so fancy that most consumers run away from it,” says Gupta. However, they realised that not only was making wine a very expensive proposition, it was also seasonal, and that they would have to depend on someone else to make it. Mead, on the other hand, could be made the whole year round, had a long shelf life, one could play with flavours and, most importantly, Gupta could learn to make it. Their brand No Label with 7 per cent ABV was launched in November 2021 and is currently available in Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai and Pune, priced at Rs 150. They produce nearly 1,700 cases a month. Currently, they have only one flavour and will launch another by the end of the year. They have recently raised Rs 2.5 crore in seed funding from Inflection Point Ventures and other private investors.

Like wine, meads come in a variety of rich to sweet flavours and can be either still or effervescent. India’s mead producers are hard at work developing new varieties of their product to suit the tastes of their customers. Take, for example, Stump, Karnataka’s first mead, which is available in two flavours—coffee and apple cider. Founded by Himavanth Hasaganur Jayanth (26), Chandrakanth (33) and Thejaswi (43) in February this year, their coffee mead has an ABV of 8.5 per cent (Rs 180) while the apple is lighter with 6.5 per cent ABV (Rs 160). Currently available only in Karnataka, they plan to increase production to 10x by November and then target Goa, Maharashtra and Hyderabad. Jayanth has a coffee plantation and the coffee comes from there.

Arkä from Maharashtra-based Hill Zill Wines produces three high-quality dessert meads: Wildflower, Rose, and Jamun. The meads are packaged in ice wine bottles and specialised corks to aid in the ageing process and are made using local and fresh ingredients such as honey obtained from wild flowers, dried rose petals, and Konkan jamuns. The meads are available in Maharashtra, Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka. They are priced at Rs 1,075 for a 375 ml bottle.

While mead is still a small market in India with the producers spending a lot of time educating customers about it, it is a growing market globally. The global mead beverage market is projected to grow from $487.9 million in 2021 to $1.62 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 18.71 per cent between 2021 and 2028, says a report from Fortune Business Insights, a market research firm. It’s time to raise a toast to mead.