Thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, mead is often referred to as the grandmother of both beer and wine.
Discovered most likely by accident, probably by some thirsty hunter-gatherers who filled up an upturned beehive with rainwater and then drank the sweet liquid, mead became associated with magical and sacred properties by early civilizations.
They began the art of mead-making in a quest to replicate the intoxicated state they experienced upon drinking the beverage.
The ancient Greeks called mead ambrosia or nectar and it was believed to be the drink of the gods. In England, certain types of mead were used as curative potions. Its stature rose as kings and queens imbibed in it and poets and writers lauded its virtues.
“I found so many references to it in books,” explains Ingalls. “Then later on after college, I married into a family that dealt with honey. My father-in-law was a honey packer and I went to work for him.
“ I started messing around with honey and experimented with making mead. Along the way, I got help from experts and researchers, some from Cornell University.”
In 1997, the local woman, a 1988 WHS grad, established Sky River Meadery and released her first wines in 1999.
For a number of years, production was a side pursuit, but today it’s a full-time job for Ingalls, who runs the business with her sister Glenda Downs. The company, which was based in Sultan, has recently moved to Woodinville, located off the Woodinville-Redmond Rd.
“We needed more space,” explains Downs. “In Sultan, we did strictly production, but here in our new location we will have a tasting room and retail area. As far as square feet, we were at about 2,900 and now we’re at 4,000, so it’s really given us the ability to expand.”
Downs adds that the decision to come to Woodinville stemmed from a desire to be in a more accessible location. She adds, “Being in wine country definitely played a part, too, as we know all the wineries are what draws people to the area. We wanted to contribute something different for visitors to experience.”
Sky River produces six types of meads with its semi-sweet style the most popular, along with the blackberry and raspberry honey wines. The company currently ships its products to nine states, as well as to Japan and Sweden. Locally, they can be found in many grocery chains and various bottle shops.
“Our mead is lighter, drier and cleaner tasting than the mead of years ago,” comments Ingalls. “We have taken an old beverage that fell out of favor and made it new in our efforts to reintroduce the public to the drink.”
She continues to explain that people are sometimes reluctant to try mead because they might have had a negative experience with it back when they first tasted it.
“The old world mead is a heavy, cloying, dark drink,” she says. “Our mead is different and if we can get people to try it, they’re often really surprised by the taste. They also find that it’s a beverage they can drink with certain cuisines like Indian or Thai – foods with garlics, gingers and curries. These types of cuisines don’t go well with wines because wine has tannins which compete with the flavors of these foods, whereas mead doesn’t have any tannins.”
Sky River has grown organically, according to Ingalls, and in the beginning, production was limited to 500 cases per year. Today, it’s at 3,500.
“Our immediate goal is to finish moving into our new space,” remarks Ingalls. “Once we’re settled in, I plan to experiment with some new fruits and use different types of barrels to age out the meads.
“I really enjoy the creative aspect and the freedom of artistry that is involved in the process. And the satisfaction is in the great feedback we get from people who try our product.”
For more information about Sky River Meadery: www.skyriverbrewing.com.