What is your background briefly?
I’m Kate Dempsey and together with my husband Denis, we’ve set up Kinsale Mead Co. We’ve just reached a year since our first bottle sold. We both come from technical backgrounds. Denis has an engineering background and managed a large electronic organisation. I have a physics degree and moved into IT in various guises, databases, data analysis, technical writing. We’ve both worked in multinationals in the UK, the Netherlands, USA, France and back to Ireland over the years.
Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?
The fast prototyping and leveraging best in class from other meaderies were taken directly from our previous working lives. Setting up a meadery from scratch in a blank warehouse space was a smaller scale version of planning a fab setup. And IT skills are useful in all businesses now. In between I write poetry (The Space Between, Doire Press 2016) There are more crossover skills than I expected with wordsmithing for the labelling and website.
Give us a one-minute pitch for what you are doing now.
Kinsale Mead Co are makers of refreshingly different contemporary meads. We have taken the world’s oldest alcoholic drink and made it anew with raw, natural ingredients, leveraging age-old recipes and best in class modern techniques, coupled with uniquely different branding. We are Ireland’s first new meadery in 150 years, creating refreshingly different meads that can be drunk at any occasion. There are layers of history and millions of bees behind every glass of mead!
Where are you based? Why did you move to Cork?
We’re in the heart of Kinsale, 600m from the tourist office, which is handy as we are now running tours and tastings for visitors from home and abroad. Denis is from West Cork and we were actually married in Kinsale many years ago. We love the arts and foodie culture here and the views are fantastic.
Is mead wine, beer, or something else?
Mead is its own drinks classification. The drink itself can vary between thin 2% through beer strength around 5% up to wine strength 12% to a possible 15% to 18% which some of the Eastern European meads finish at. The sweetness can also vary depending on the yeast chosen and the amount of honey added at the start. Some meads are even backsweetened after fermentation is complete, though these can be quite cloying. Our meads we ferment to wine strength and off-dry as we want to have it with food, living in Kinsale, the gourmet capital of Ireland!
Are there historical precedents for mead in prehistoric Ireland?
After the end of the last ice age, Ireland was left without the honey bee. They had migrated south and had not returned before the landbridge between us and mainland Europe was washed away. Bees were reintroduced around the 5th century. St Molaga our local saint from Timoleague is generally credited with this, bringing bees back from Wales to provide beeswax for candles as well as honey. And where there’s honey, there’s mead.
Mead was a huge part of Celtic and medieval Ireland, socially and politically. The Great Mead Hall on the Hill of Tara was the scene of many a long feast with mead flowing along with stories and song. It was drunk in a Mether, a traditional mead drinking cup with two or four handles. The Liam MacCarthy Cup is a mether.
Mead is also associated with weddings. The story goes that the happy couple were gifted with a month’s worth or a moon cycle of mead for a happy and fruitful marriage. So basically they started the marriage drinking together for 30 days!
Why is Ireland creating so many interesting different types of food and alcohol these days?
I’m not sure. Perhaps a combination of things. There’s a rich history of Irish agriculture alongside food and drink production with the clean air and sustainability backbone as emphasised in the Bord Bia Origin Green initiative that we are part of. Also I think there is a new confidence in Ireland that we here can make as good product as elsewhere, food, drink, poetry, art, electronics, tech, whatever, so why shouldn’t we give it our best shot. We had help and guidance from Enterprise Ireland as well, along with the Food Academy in Supervalu which values local food and drink producers.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Many people assume that mead has to be a sweet drink because it is made from honey. But we let our yeast ferment out most of the sugars to alcohol (science!) and let the flavours mature for 6 months or more so we are left with an off-dry, wine-strength, delicious, smooth drink.
We have three flavours, Atlantic Dry Mead, a traditional style mead made with raw Spanish orange blossom honey, which won a gold medal at the International Mazer Cup, the Olympics of mead! This is served chilled or half and half with tonic makes for a refreshing drink. It’s lovely with seafood, herby pasta or light desserts.
We also have a melomel style mead, Wild Red Mead which uses Wexford blackcurrants and dark cherries fermented with the honey. This is lovely with duck or sticky BBQ ribs or with strong cheese or dark chocolate.
Our third limited edition is called Hazy Summer Mead. It’s all the summer berries, fruity on the tongue and light. Great with summer salads or grilled chicken. Trying topping up with sparkling wine if you’re in a celebratory mood. This is currently selected as a special buy in all Aldis around Ireland, while stocks last.
How can people contact you & learn more about you?
We have a website and an online shop www.kinsalemeadco.ie. There’s some information on the history and process, our stockists, you can book our tours, find out about some of our cocktails and get directions. We’re on social media, Twitter, Facebook and instagram @KinsaleMeadCo. Do get in a touch and let us know what you think!