Always Drink Responsibly

17 April 2013

Drinking with the Ancestors: Interview with Sky River Meadery

copyright Sky River Mead
Take a few minutes now and step back in time with me, back to days of yore... this may instill an image of Medieval Times, or perhaps you imagine Ancient Greece. That's not quite far enough though. I'm talking about 20,000 years ago - that's the approximated origin of mead; a time we cannot envision without the help of Google. It is hotly debated yet widely believed that mead predates beer and wine by a long shot. Why? Soil cultivation not needed- just bees. Honey comes from bees so mead could possibly be as old as the honey makers themselves (given water & yeast are hanging about).

So, what exactly is mead? This is typically the first question when I tell someone I am having a glass after dinner, or when patrons visit Sky River's Tasting Room in Woodinville. Let me quickly clarify... whereas wine = fermented grapes, cider = fermented apples, mead = fermented honey. It is honey wine. Mead is mead, and that is that. (For an excellent but brief explanation and history, click here)

Fast forward to present day. I was fortunate enough to meet with Sky River Mead Maker, Denice Ingalls, in Woodinville to tour the facility and discuss the mead making process and how Sky River came to be. Denice came to make mead through a fated path that began when she took a job working with honey. As time went on, home brewing experienced a resurgence, and reminded of mead from English Literature, she saw an opportunity, took a chance, and seized it. Denice never looked back, and along with her sister Glenda, who runs the tasting room with an artist's touch, has produced a variety of mead for the modern day palate since 1999. Their mead continues to evolve to the benefit of the consumer.

All of the honey used to make Sky River Mead comes from Washington State, and Denice ensures the inherent qualities of the delicate honey she uses is not lost in the process. They offer a mead for every palate, regardless if you prefer dry, off-dry or sweet. Pleasantly, none of the mead is the syrupy, overly sweet concoction some may imagine if thinking it the equivalent of dessert wine. Residual sugar (RS) of the finished product is roughly 6%, similar to Riesling but without the tannins (no skin on honey). Active fermentation is 2-6 weeks on average with bottling at 3 months and additional aging time in the bottle. The exception is the newest release, Solas, at 14% RS, it is aged in Dry Fly Whiskey barrels and bottled at 8 months with additional aging time in the bottle prior to release. Even at 14% RS, it is light, not syrupy like a dessert wine, with a smooth hint of whiskey finish. Current Sky River releases include: Dry, Semi-Sweet, Sweet, Raspberry, Blackberry and my personal favorite, Solas. Denice informed me of soon-to-be released rose infused mead- certainly one to try!

Sky River's reputation is ever-growing with recent acknowledgement of Solas in Rachel Ray's Blog on April 3rd of Top 5 Craft Meaderies in the USA as well as in Local Libation's initial feature of Solas on February 24th (I have to wonder if Rachel saw it here first). The Herb Farm, a renowned restaurant in Woodinville is also offering Solas as a part of their dining experience. Denice assured me my beloved Solas is here to stay so long as Dry Fly continues to provide the whiskey barrels. Do you hear that, Dry Fly? We are all counting on you!

The years ahead will bring us many more treasures from Sky River, I am certain. But take the time now, if you are able, to sample all of their delicious meads, each deserving in their own right. Sisters Denice & Glenda represent the best of what can come from women in small business. It's the sort of local business that inspires & that you want to see succeed for the quality and heart put into it is evident. And reader, if you are wondering if I am sitting here sipping some Solas as I type, you'd be correct.


Sky River Meadery
14270 Woodinville-Redmond Rd.NE
Redmond, WA 98052 ... (at the South end of the Woodinville Winery District)

Tasting Room hours:
Thurs.-Sat. 1-6pm, Sunday Noon-4pm  

Where to buy?
In WA State: QFC, Whole Foods, Malt & Vine, specialty bottle shops
Outside WA State, order online at MadWine