If mead makes you think of tipsy monks or medieval knights playing drinking games, think again. From the tej honey wines of Ethiopia to the iqhilika of the Eastern Cape, mead is an all-African elixir, perhaps made first by the San people of southern Africa thousands of years ago.

Did you know?

Many South African cultures still revere the revitalising and healing powers of mead.

Bees visit thousands of different species of flowers, and make countless combinations of flavours in their honey. For mead-makers, balancing the natural variance in honey with how the mead is fermented and flavoured is both an art and a science.

South Africa has healthy, disease-free bee populations that produce pollen-rich honey. It's this very ingredient, the golden ambrosia of the gods, that is used when making mead, or honey wine.

South Africa's earliest San people pioneered mead production using honey-water mixtures they found in tree hollows. They added the roots of the succulent plant, trichodiadema (common name: African bonsai), to speed up the process of fermentation.

They passed on the secrets of mead production to the Xhosa people in the Eastern Cape.

Dr Garth Cambray, a biotechnologist from the Eastern Cape, has fused African mead-making techniques with modern technology, to delicious effect! His meads, bottled at Makana Meadery outside Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, are organic, sustainable and made with indigenous ingredients.

An international award-winning mead-maker, Cambray has revolutionised mead-making worldwide by perfecting a process that takes the honey must (the mixture of water and honey) to 12% alcohol in only 24 hours. His impressive alchemy can be savoured in the following flavours of mead: herbal, sweet, chilli, coffee, dry and Cape fig.

Hilko Hegewisch was the resident winemaker at the Solms-Delta Wine Estate in Franschoek, Cape Town. His maiden vintage mead, Dik Delta !Karri ('Dik Delta' means 'broad delta' and '!karri' is the Khoisan name for mead), is barrel-aged in seasoned oak, sweetly aromatic with fresh acidity and infused with a hint of rose hip for spiciness. !Karri is only available for tasting at the wine estate.

Mead hobbyists Collin Tedders and Pam Struthers make their honey wine on a mountaintop overlooking the Swartland village of Picketberg in the Western Cape. Their off-dry and golden-hued honey mead is called Faraway Fields, the name of the farm where the winery is situated and a tribute to the West Coast’s seasonal spring wildflowers.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Makana Meadery
Phone: +27 (0)46 636 1227
Email: info@iqhilika.co.za

Solms-Delta Wine Estate
Phone: +27 (0)76 552 4106
Email: hagen@solms-delta.co.za

Faraway Fields
Phone: +27 (0)82 445 9310
Email: farawayfields@agrizone.co.za

Best time to visit

Makana Meadery and Solms-Delta are open year-round for tasting.

Tours to do

A mead tasting and tour at Makana Meadery

Where to stay

Self-catering cottages are available at Faraway Fields Farm in Piket-Bo-Berg.

What to eat

Mead pairs well with cheese, duck and spicy dishes. Fyndraai restaurant at Solms-Delta incorporates !Karri as part of its rural Cape heritage menu.

Best buys

Makana sells honey and beekeeping products. Faraway Fields also makes organic vinegars (honey mead, red wine and white wine), a mead mustard, and three wines – shiraz, mouvedrè and a private blend – at its on-farm garagiste winery.