The land of beer and honey
Emmie Harrison-West visits Gosnell’s, the modern meadery that’s parked its tanks on craft beer’s Bermondsey lawn
Saturday 19 November 2022
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From the pages of Beowulf, to the shelves of your local Big Shop, there’s no denying that mead is making a long-overdue comeback. Albeit, a leisurely and relatively quiet one.
While the estimated number of commercial meaderies in America has increased 650% since 2003, with mead being one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages in the US, uptake in both the UK and Europe has been pretty slow in comparison.
But one London-based outfit is aiming to disrupt the mainstream by firmly planting its hive on one of the most iconic beer destinations in the UK: London’s Bermondsey Beer Mile. Founded in Peckham in 2013, Gosnells’ of London recently opened the Mile’s first meadery, at Arch 72, Enid Street, right alongside Cloudwater’s capital tasting room.
This infamous strip of railway arches has long been associated with brewing and distilling, its elevated Victorian viaducts giving shelter to some of the city’s oldest and most beloved breweries and distilleries. Nestling under a broad set of tracks that serve the bustling London Bridge station, Bermondsey Beer Mile is actually a two-mile stretch of craft breweries, distilleries, and taprooms that celebrates artisanal booze. It’s also home to Maltby Street Market, a must-go destination for foodies, as well as the breweries and tasting rooms of The Kernel, Moor, Brew By Numbers, Anspach and Hobday, Partizan, London Beer Factory and even Fourpure. Historically, it’s long been associated with beer and gin, with a cidery thrown in for good measure.
But is London’s craft beer powerhouse really the best venue for a drink that, in the eyes of many, is more ‘socks and sandals’ than skinny jeans?
“So many people think mead is something from the dark ages, strong, sickly sweet, the preserve of Vikings and knights, something that you find at the back of the drinks cupboard after a particularly long night,” founder Tom Gosnell says. “Our mead is the polar opposite: light, fresh, and complex.”
Gosnell’s new spot is far from the long tables and overflowing tankards of Viking yore; last September’s launch event was abuzz with eager excitement, attracting a relatively young crowd, potentially riding on the coattails of the craft beer renaissance. Dungarees and bright clothes were recommended.
The space comfortably accommodates 100 drinkers and oozes chic minimalism and modernity, playing against the typical image of mead, while also nodding to the drink’s origins with its honeycomb of hexagonal tables and decorative white beehive.
“So many people are popping by to see what it’s all about, and we are excited to be able to offer them such a wide range of flavours of mead, from 0% to 12% ABV,” Tom says, clad in yellow dungarees for the event, no less. “Our meads are based on just honey and water fermented to show the brilliance of the honeybee and its flowers,” he adds.
Tom, who’s been working with mead for over 10 years now (including as a home brewer) has “always been fascinated by bees and honey… and the fact that you can make booze from it is amazing!... The bar will provide a thought-provoking showcase and hopefully encourage guests to sample one of head brewer Will Grubelnik’s iterations of the world’s oldest alcoholic drink.”
Tom has already won some passionate converts, including the taproom’s general manager, Adam Lee. “The first time I tried mead was three months ago,” says Adam. “It was the Gosnells’ Hibiscus Mead and it made me realise that mead can have the same excitement and development that craft beer has had over the years, with weird, wonderful and exciting new ways of brewing.
“So I bought another can and that's where my Gosnells’ journey started.”
But instead of being served mead in tankards by Adam, or poured from dusty, wax-topped bottles à la days of yore, the Mead Bar boasts a draught and cask selection - perhaps indicative of classic styles making a comeback, albeit with a modern twist.
Its sparkling, gluten- and sulphite-free Wildflower Mead - already available in London’s Portobello and Laines pubs - leads the chalkboard at 4% ABV, and is drawn from the nectar of 45 species of flowers, trees and bushes.
Our personal favourite was Gosnells’ Tepache, at 5.4% ABV. The unique nectar takes inspiration from the Mexican drink of the same name, and is made with yeast extracted from the skins of pineapples. It’s all fresh fruit, cinnamon and Christmas cake.
In fact, the bar serves eight meads in total, including a sour, cloudy Mojito Mead at 5.5% ABV, aged in passionfruit; Raspberry Wildflower, Sweet Cherry, and an alcohol-free alternative, as well as canned, and high-percentage vintage meads.
“It feels really exciting to be breaking into the craft beer scene with a drink that has been on the periphery for too many years,” Adam tells us. “I can definitely see mead on the same journey that craft beer took a few years ago, so being able to see customers returning to try the new flavours we are releasing and educating themselves about the processes is really encouraging.”
As well as taste, sustainability and the environment are at the heart of Gosnells’ philosophy. Its long benches are reclaimed, upcycled scaffolding boards, with Adam adding that “being environmentally conscious goes into every part of the process”. From a ban on disposable plastics to planting bee-friendly, pollinating flowers in its outdoor space, the attention to detail is quite something.
Tom tells us the brand will be announcing some charity partners soon: “And we'll be making a donation for every pint of Gosnells’ sold as an extra incentive for everyone.”
It’s safe to say that things are changing, with a buzz in the air about what’s next on the craft drinks scene, for London, and beyond. By parking its hive on the lawn of one of the most prestigious stretches in the UK dedicated to craft brewers, is Gosnells’ finally making mead great again?
“We actually sold our first bottle of mead at Maltby Street Market back in 2014, so it's more of a homecoming than anything else,” Tom tells me. Rather than disrupting the scene, he wants to start adding to it. “We're really looking forward to taking more inspiration from all those great breweries around us,” he says.
“I think things are changing and there's a growing awareness of Gosnells’ in particular. We're getting more and more enquiries from pubs who like to see it as a great alternative to a cider. We're going to continue to grow, adding more pubs in London… and, who knows, maybe another taproom soon?”
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