For as long as there has been alcohol, there have been people figuring out ways of making it. Many ingredients have proven themselves worthy of the sacred transmutation: barley, grapes, corn, cane sugar, rice, apples, sorghum, agave, bread, and even yogurt. With its sweetness and purity, however, nothing calls to be turned into a libation quite like honey does. Even the ancients agreed — cave paintings show that we’ve been gathering honey for at least 10,000 years, and archaeology proves that we’ve fermented alcohol with the stuff for at least nearly that long. Could it only be coincidence that “bees” sounds so much like “booze?” Almost certainly, although that doesn’t detract from the fact that mead is very good. North Dakota native Susan Ruud is taking mead onward. She has studied agriculture at NDSU, her alma mater, for the past 27 years. When she started there her coworkers got her interested in homebrewing, a natural pastime for botanically-minded people. Susan quickly found beer, cider, and mead in particular as the perfect distractions from her work fighting canola ailments, and her newfound passion brought her to a slew of homebrewing competitions which she won. She would soon join the governing committee of the American Homebrewers Association and now enjoys good company with their 45,000 members. They inspired her to found Prairie Rose Meadery.
Bee keeping is out of reach for such a busy academic and brewer, so Susan relies on Sperry Apiaries in Kindred, ND for all of her honey needs. The bees there gather clover, alfalfa, and sunflower pollen to make the perfectly spicy and pure honey for brewing mead. (Whether Kindred’s bees believe their honey is best suited for mead and not, say, bee consumption is a matter of opinion.) Prairie Rose Meadery goes through over 600 gallons of local honey per year to brew 19,000 bottles of mead.
“My mead has a nice balance,” said Susan. “Its alcohol level is on par with wine’s, enough to elevate its delicate flavors without overwhelming them. When you smell it, you get the gentle aroma of honey as well as the different fruits I include in the batches.” In addition to traditional mead which is made only with honey, Susan creates a variety of melomels with fruits including blackberry, apricot, plum, cherry, strawberry, blueberry, and lemon. She also makes metheglins with hints of spice like vanilla, cinnamon, mint, star anise, and ginger. Susan is inventive with her recipes. She brews a pineapple chipotle mead which has a touch of heat to compliment its tropical flavor, and she uses her neighbor’s own maple syrup to make a sweet, arboreal mead.
Prairie Rose Meadery has a tasting room at 3101 39th St S, Suite E in Fargo where you may drink their meads right where they’re brewed. Try a flight of several different kinds of mead there, have a whole glass of your new favorite, or take a bottle home with you. It’s a cozy den with a bar, leather couches, television, and a light menu with all the snacks requisite for fine drinking. Dare I ask you to go and see what all the buzz is about?
By David Scheller