Hunter and the Harp: the Illawarra’s first meadery opens

Illawarra meadmaker Joel Robinson with some samples of his meads - which are far from the honey-sweet versions you may have tried in the past. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Illawarra meadmaker Joel Robinson with some samples of his meads - which are far from the honey-sweet versions you may have tried in the past. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Beer might be the country’s alcoholic beverage of choice but one man reckons mead is making a move.

Joel Robinson has opened up Hunter and the Harp – the Illawarra’s first meadery – within Wollongong’s Five Barrels Brewery.

Mr Robinson has been making mead for two years and he says he’s gotten in on the ground floor of a market segment about to take off.

“Mead is the fastest growing alcohol industry in the United States,” he says.

“It’s increasing exponentially and has done over the last five years. That trend that we’re seeing in the states, I believe is just around the corner in Australia.”

Mead is the fastest growing alcohol industry in the United States.

Joel Robinson

Mr Robinson says that in 2013 there were just 30 meaderies in the United States, a figure which had skyrocketed to around 450 last year.

But perhaps right now you're wondering just what mead is.

That’s fair enough – it’s not as if it’s a well-known beverage in Australia (though Mr Robinson plans to change that).

It’s a drink that’s made by fermenting honey with water and maybe other ingredients like spices or grains and tends to clock in around 8 or 9 per cent alcohol.

It’s an old drink too – it’s been around for well over 2000 years.

But don’t let the presence of honey trick you because not all meads are sweet – though a large number do seem to be.

Mr Robinson isn’t into the sweet variety – instead he's looking to push the boundaries.

“We’re making a type of mead unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else in Australia,” he says.

“We’ve found that most meads are fairly sweet, maybe reserved for after dinner or celebrations. We’re doing something different to that. A style of mead that suits us, that suits our country, our climate our way of life.

“We have meads that are served sparkling and they’re served about 5-6 degrees, similar to beer. It’s refreshing, it’s a palate cleanser.

“But we’ve just put down a tart cherry mead that is as jammy and a viscous as a red wine.”

At present, the only place to try the Hunter and the Harp meads is at Five Barrels in Keira Street. But Mr Robinson plans to change that.

“We will bottle and sell as soon as we can,” he says.

“Within the next three months we will be self-distributing and having select retail outlets that we’ll approach to stock our product.”