Meet the two Singaporeans who are making mead cool again
For centuries, people have been taking nature’s best sweetener (honey), fermenting it with water for mead. It was the stuff of legend. In fact, JRR Tolkein once wrote of the years passing like “swift draughts of sweet mead”.
However, there came a time when mead faded into oblivion and the proliferation of other drinks didn’t help. But two Singaporeans are determined to restore its reputation and make it taste even better. Sanjay Jegatheesan and Justin Herson, friends who spent over a decade in audiovisual sales and construction respectively, founded Lion City Meadery in 2018 and have been brewing a culture of mead-drinking in Singapore ever since.
“I’d like to think that we’ve helped increase awareness about its existence,” says Herson. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done so we’re not stopping on that front yet.” Lion City’s mead leans towards the beer/cider style, and though brewed in Australia with Australian ingredients, it has been deliberately interpreted for Singaporean taste buds. The limited-edition Chrysanthemum batch was a major hit and has been followed by a Longan Red Date release as part of a series. Found in most craft beer places, it is balanced yet complex, subtle yet full of oomph.
How do you accomplish great flavour?
Justin Herson (JH): Good ingredients. The quality of the mead is so dependent on the quality of the ingredients that it’s borderline scary. For that reason, a good mead is rarely cheap and cheap mead is rarely good. That said, it doesn’t mean we should be getting S$100 musk melons from Shizuoka to make melon mead. As with all things, there must be a balance.
Any fun and weird experiments on the docket?
Sanjay Jegatheesan (SJ): It always starts with a crazy idea, a “what if I tried this?” Like a nitro squid ink mead. Sometimes I focus too much on whether I can. I don’t stop to think if I should.
How do you approach questions about the authenticity of your mead?
SJ: I find authenticity to be a dirty word. How authentic is authentic? If it means following the first known recipe, then I don’t think it’s going to be sellable because it tastes very bad. When it comes to food and drink, evolution is important. You respect the origins and base, but you put your own twists on it and make it your own. In our case, the origin of mead is honey. So we work with different varieties of honey and put our own spin on the fermentation processes. We make the final product uniquely ours.
JH: It depends. For what purpose does this proof of authenticity aim to serve? I find it a waste of time trying to pander to purists. I take the simple approach. Authenticity means me being happy to be associated with the mead and calling it as such. I’m also happy to engage with anyone who believes otherwise as long as we hold that conversation in good faith.
What do you see in the future of mead?
JH: From a business perspective, a sustainable trend. Mead as a product covers a ridiculous spectrum of flavour, mouthfeel and presentation. From a cultural perspective, it has a very deep history across the world. It was popularised by the Vikings, but there are iterations of mead from China, Africa, Asia, etc. I think it would be exciting if we could explore these roots and bring them back.
SJ: World domination! I kid. Mead is going through a resurgence in the US right now, and with the right education, the mead industry will continue to grow.
What does tomorrow mean to you?
JH: Opportunity. To learn, to explore and to do.
SJ: Carpe diem, baby! As cliché as it is, we never know what is going to happen tomorrow. I try to lead my life knowing that if I go to sleep, and tomorrow doesn’t happen, there’s very little that I will regret.