BEULAH — The bees have been busy in Benzie county since Kurt and Sharon Jones bought two hives and began making honey 30 years ago.
Today, their Beulah-based Sleeping Bear Farms is known for its many honeys, honey products, and "BeeDazzled gifts from the hive” shop. It also gave birth to St. Ambrose Cellars, a winery specializing in artisan mead and wines made from Sleeping Bear Farms honey.
Mead is the newest buzz in the food business, and St. Ambrose Cellars is making its mark as northern Michigan’s first meadery. A honey-based wine, mead was noted among Forbes top 10 food trends of 2011.
Its roots are deep.
“Mead is one of the oldest-known alcohols,” said St. Ambrose Cellars’ sales manager Doug Coster. “We think of the middle ages and Friar Tuck drinking mead in Sherwood Forest ... but there is evidence dating back thousands of years BC.”
“Mead is predominantly a honey wine,” Coster said, noting local fruits and grapes are often incorporated, as well. “All alcohol we drink is basically fermented and distilled sugars. Honey is a great source of sugar and comes in many varieties.”
Coster has been with parent company Sleeping Bear Farms for 25 years, and part of St. Ambrose Cellars since the beginning. He said mead making began with small batches after the honey harvest about 10 years ago.
“We made it kind of celebratory and gave it to staff,” he said. “Then we began developing formulas and skills.”
The Cellars’ products include carbonated draft meads found on tap at area brew pubs and restaurants, as well as bottled still meads and fine wines, including Riesling, Vignoles, Marsanne Cabernet Franc, Pinot noitre and a port-style Forte. All of the honeys used are raised at Sleeping Bear Farms and all fruits are locally grown.
St. Ambrose Cellars began three years ago, starting out in Sleeping Bear Farms’ former shipping and receiving department. It began with two mead varieties and the first bottle was sold in August 2011.