August 25, 2016
By Luke Slater
Munchies_ Food by VICE
Mention the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and a few things come to mind: the Viking raiders in 793 AD, the gospels, and a precarious causeway crossing. But this tidal island, situated a mile off the north Northumberland coast, has also become renowned for the production of one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world: mead.
This sweet-tasting drink made with fermented honey and water has been consumed for centuries, and is linked with ancient traditions around the globe. Its popularity has increased massively in recent years, with “meaderies” popping up in Denmark, Maine, and London.
But J Michael Hackett, who began the production of Lindisfarne Mead on the island (population: 180) in the early 1960s, was well ahead of his time. In July this year, the Lindisfarne “original” mead won a silver medal in the Los Angeles International Wine Competition and, after a decades-long export struggle, sales in the United States are growing. Lindisfarne Mead just passed the two million bottle mark.
But why did Hackett choose Lindisfarne? History was a big factor. Medieval monks are as renowned for their alcoholic beverages as they are their presence on this island (St. Aidan founded a monastery here after being exiled from Iona by King Oswald of Northumbria.) Was there some kind of ancient monk’s recipe that Hackett used to revive the mead? Not exactly, according to current Lindisfarne Mead director Christopher Walwyn-James.
“He chose the one which was more commonly utilised in Roman times. That indeed was the inspiration—that it was made here,” Walwyn-James explains. It uses a blend of honey, water drawn from the island, and—unlike some meads—fermented grape juice.