From Bee to Bot­tle

On the lush is­land of Kauai, a lo­cal ar­ti­san brings mead into moder­nity


A SOFT AM­BI­ENT GROOVE drifts through the tast­ing room of Nani Moon Mead­ery on Kauai, as three trav­el­ers take their first sips of Laka’s Nec­tar, the most hon­ey­for­ward blend in mead-maker Stephanie Krieger’s col­lec­tion. Light, com­plex, and oc­ca­sion­ally ef­fer­ves­cent, her meads are noth­ing like the dense, sweet honey wines cre­ated by ancient brew­ers. By the time the group has fin­ished their glasses, mead has shaken its 7,000-year-old rep­u­ta­tion to ex­hibit com­plex­i­ties as di­verse as its mod­ern mak­ers.

Krieger was a ma­rine sci­en­tist be­fore she shifted to mead-mak­ing. She is us­ing her train­ing to help forge a new path for the in­dus­try, one com­mit­ted to lo­cal sourc­ing and coun­ter­ing the global de­cline in bee pop­u­la­tions. She con­cen­trates on lo­cal fruits that don’t ex­port well— all grown within 15 miles of the mead­ery—and her 40 bee­hives sup­port the is­land’s di­verse agri­cul­ture.

Now, as more and more craft-beer brew­ers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with honey fer­men­ta­tions, a new in­dus­try of mead-mak­ers has emerged. Krieger finds her­self one of a grow­ing num­ber of women in a surg­ing in­dus­try; to­day, in the U.S., there are more than 400 mead­eries. But, like the brew­ery cir­cuit, mead has his­tor­i­cally been a man’s world.

“Cus­tomers of­ten as­sume the owner is a man,” Krieger says. Shat­ter­ing stereo­types has be­come her busi­ness; she con­tin­ues to work on up­dat­ing mead’s rep­u­ta­tion as heavy and cloy­ing from its Vik­ing days. “There are peo­ple who say, ‘Oh, I had mead once. I don’t like it,’” she says. “But you don’t hear them say, ‘I don’t like beer or wine’ after just one ex­pe­ri­ence. They know there’s more out there to try.” Hap­pily, there’s more mead to try now too.

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