By TAndrea Bearce
Photography by Andy Sams
It was the first fermented beverage known to man—dating back to preagricultural civilization when barley and grapes were yet to be cultivated. It was the drink of gods and nobles and lauded in the works of Chaucer, Aristotle and Pliny the Elder. But in more recent centuries, mead—this most ancient of tipples—fell out of favor. John and Wendy Rohan of Rohan Meadery in La Grange say that mead, or honey wine, declined in popularity several centuries ago as honey prices rose and grape winemaking took hold.
“It slowly lost favor with the populace,” Wendy says, “and by the time the colonists came over here, they were already into beer and rum.”
Today, the Rohans are striving to revive the allure of mead while simultaneously revamping their personal lifestyle; the couple, who met and married in Houston, says that after having children, their number-one goal was to get out of the city, be more self-reliant, have some land and dream.
Opened in 2009, Rohan Meadery is still in its infancy. And while all of the ingredients needed for the mead are currently sourced from outside the property, big changes are on the horizon as the business grows. Throughout the 28 acres surrounding the Rohans’ private residence are rows of tree saplings that promise future seasons of ripe cherries, peaches, pears and apples. A small vineyard boasts several grape varietals, and low-lying blueberry bushes are already beginning to sprawl. “Our goal is to be totally self-sustaining here,” says Wendy.
The couple is inspired to learn as much about mead-making as possible, and welcomed their first honeybee hive to the property this spring. Having a hobby hive will allow the Rohans, their three children and visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the process. For now, though, all of the honey used for the mead comes from Reed Honey Farm in Montgomery.
More than 300 pounds of either Texas wildflower honey or South Texas Guajillo (also known as Huajilla) are used in just one batch of mead. The honey is diluted with water, fed with commercial wine yeast and left to ferment for four to six months. “Once you begin to dilute it, it’s the same process as grape wine,” notes John.
Just like with wine, any flavor mead is possible. The Rohans acknowledge that mead has an undeserved reputation for being little more than a cloyingly sweet dessert wine, but they’re quick to defend the validity of their product’s place on the table. “All of our meads are considerably dryer than any mead you would find in Europe,” says Wendy. “Just like wine, anything is possible: sweet, dry and anything in between.”
The meads featured in the Rohans’ newly built, spacious tasting room truly do run the flavor gamut. Their Traditional Mead is minimalist in nature, allowing the distinct honey flavor to emerge. It’s dry on the palate, with a pleasing beer-like scent and aftertaste. Cinnamon, orange peel and powerful clove are prominent tastes in the Orange Spice Mead. Wendy thinks it’s ideal for her hot winter wassail. Fruit lovers and patio loungers will become fast friends with a glass of rosy-pink Raspberry Mead—beautiful when served chilled or with a splash of Champagne—and the Apple Mead, the sweetest of the bunch, serves the same role as a cooling riesling might when paired with spicy entrées.
All of the Rohans’ meads are available for purchase on their website and in specialty retail shops throughout the state, including Austin’s East End Wines. But the Rohans enjoy the face-to-face interaction their tasting room allows. “Part of the fun is the education,” Wendy says. She estimates that about 70 percent of their visitors have never tried mead. More often than not, that works in their favor. The Rohans also keep a close eye on the recent honeybee blight that has swept the nation, and take every opportunity to inform customers about it. While their business has yet to be affected, they started a “Save the Bees, Drink Mead” campaign, and all the proceeds from shirts sold at the meadery are donated to the Texas Beekeepers Association and the new bee research center at Texas A&M. “We’ve thought about doing mead-making classes and eventually hosting a beekeeper school,” Wendy says. “There’s lots of possibility.”
As two of only a handful of mead brewers in Texas, the Rohans welcome friendly competition and eagerly offer advice to other brewers. It’s all part of the laid-back culture the couple is working hard to cultivate—where community is paramount, self-reliance is a virtue and humor is the cure to all frustration.
“Somebody asked if we milked bees to make mead,” John says with a laugh. “I told him yes…at least he knew where bees came from.”
6002 FM 2981, La Grange