Friday, March 29, 2013

Nectar Creek Honeywine

I'm staring at a 55 gallon barrel full of a golden, waxy substance. Sitting on top of it is what can only be described as the world's largest potato masher, its handle extending well into the air over my head. Next to the barrel, my host lowers a large vacuum-like pump into yet another barrel. What appears to be a second golden substance, this one fluid, races through the clear hose, channeled into a steel tank at the back of the room.

This is neither a strange made for TV movie on the sci-fi channel, nor is it some odd dream I had last night. It is a scene from my most recent foray into the grand world of Corvallis fermentation. A field trip to the home base of Nectar Creek Honeywine, where massive barrels of raw honey are slowly warmed by a heating element, pumped into steel tanks, and combined with water and yeast to make honeywine, or as some might know it, mead. The basic recipe is this:

Honey + Water + Yeast = Awesome

Heating element just about to start its work in warming 55 gallons of raw honey
 Pumping warmed honey into tanks for fermentation

Our hosts, mead-makers (meaderers? meadmasters? meadificators? meadmeiseters?) Phil and Nick Lorenz were kind enough to let us hang out in their space for a while, watch the magic, and taste their delightful beverages. Located in the Eastgate Complex off of HWY 34, one can drop in between 12 and 6pm Th/F/Sa to taste and chat. While Drew (of former Oregon Wine Blog glory) and I were there we got to see nearly the entire process (we declined to stay just over 3 weeks to see the finished product) of making a batch of honeywine.

Where honey becomes wine...

Each of the session meads boasted by Nectar Creek are made with locally-sourced Willamette Valley raw honey from Queen Bee Honey Co., and flavored with fresh ingredients. Currently there are three mead varieties (though we got to try a couple of tasty experiments as well):

Wildflower Session Mead: this has the simplest and cleanest flavor of the three. Light and crisp, it has a soft floral nose (as belied by its name), and a clear honey flavor. Just because it is made of honey does not mean it is sweet or syrupy. This mead is quite dry, and sparkles on the tongue with a hint of citrus in the finish. This is a great sipping beverage, or, as Morgan from Les Caves told me, it is an excellent mixer for a jazzed-up gin and tonic. Just be careful - it rings in at 6.2% ABV.

Drew enjoying the tasting

Raspberry Session Mead: with a vibrant berry color and fruity nose, this mead is packed with raspberry goodness. Again, not overly sweet, but tart in the way that fresh raspberries are tart. None of the flavor of the honey or flower is lost, just deepened and rounded out by the fruit. I'd sip this alone on a hot summers' day, or I might use it to soak a sponge cake, or make a fruity ice cream float.

The Raspberry Session Mead was by far the prettiest, and you know how I like pretty :)

Ginger Session Mead: we got a peek inside the cooler at the meadery, and saw the HUGE hands of ginger used to flavor this mead. It brings a spicy nip to the floral and honey flavors, and boasts a nose that is unmistakeably ginger. The warming finish left my mouth feeling clean and refreshed. Nick shared with us that this mead is excellent mixed with some whiskey, and I don't doubt it. I plan on taking my own bottle and adding a little sumthin' sumthin' in the near future.

A big thanks to Phil and Nick for being such gracious and informative hosts. Nectar Creek has been around less than a year, but it is clearly on its way to becoming a Corvallis (and Oregon) staple. If you are looking for something new, innovative, and tasty, I highly recommend!