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Jeri Carter is owner and proprietress of Queen's Reward in Tupelo.

Mead makers hoping for a dilly comeback for ancient drink

By JACK WEATHERLY

Mead goes back thousands of years in cultures around the world, but these days it’s on the fringes.

If you are a Game of Thrones nut, you know that a cup of Starbucks coffee was accidentally left on a table while everyone was downing great quantities of mead.  Or surely you’ve caught the “dilly dilly” television commercials where the odd man out in the drinking hall wants a mead, “an autumnal mead,” rather than a Bud Light.

Naturally, his order got him a stay in the pillory.

Those who are older may recall Friar Tuck made his own in the Robin Hood tales in the movies and on television.

But if Jeri Carter of Tupelo and others who have taken up the craft of making mead have anything to say,it will make a comeback in the real world.

Okay, what is mead?

It’s a wine made from honey.

If that sounds just too sweet, then consider that varieties of the drink range from admittedly sweet to dry.

The Queen’s Reward honey is made by Mississippi bees, said Carter, who opened the business nearly a year ago.

She and her husband, Geoff, decided they wanted to buy honey made by Mississippi bees who do their pollinating and starting of the honey-making process in the state.

They struggled to find a Mississippi source, and finally found the Yazoo Honey Bee Farm owned by Kip Isonhood.

Some bee farmers shut down honey sales in the winter so the bees will have food in winter, she said. Other take their apiaries to other states to help out with pollination.

But the Carters wanted honey made by Mississippi bees from Mississippi nectar.

She buys the honey from the Yazoo Honey and Bee Farm in Tinsley, on the edge of the Delta with all of its flowering crops.

She buys a lot of honey.

Eleven thousand pounds in the first six months of operation, resulting in $250,000 in sales.

Sales this year are ahead of that pace, according to Geoffrey Carter. Sales have already hit $200,000 this year, including shipments to 15 states and visitors from all 50 states and 12 foreign countries.

Queen’s Reward has relied on social media to spread the word, but in January the Carters hired a broker to represent them with liquor stores.

The mead is available in liquor stores from north Mississippi to the coast, which get it on special order through the state Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, including Kats Wine and Spirits on Fortification in Jackson and Colony Wine Market on Colony Crossing in Madison.

It is sold for $25 for a 750-milliliter bottle in the Tupelo tasting room and slightly more than that in stores, she said.

It comes in seven varieties, soon to be eight, Pucker Up, which is made with lemons and tastes like lemonade, “so it’s dangerous,” she said. It was big seller last summer, she said.

Sales are all-important, but contests are, too.

The current best seller is Blackberry, was winner of a silver medal in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in New York state.

It was one of six medal winners for Queen’s Reward. Also winning silver medals were Scarlett Noir, Delta Dry Grape and Winter Spice. Winners of bronze medals were Traditional Dry Mead and Traditional Sweet Mead.

To get medals for six of the seven entries is “great confirmation that we’re doing a good job. We were tickled with that. We get judges’ notes, and that helps us,” she said.

Her husband, who owns Hyperion Technology Group, does the bookkeeping and accounting; otherwise it’s her baby.

She concedes that mead thus far is more appealing to women rather than the latter-day version of a brawnyViking or medieval knight.

Oh, and the name? It is a tribute to the matriarch of the hive, the queen bee.

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About Jack Weatherly