SAVANNAH BEE Co.'s flagship retail outlet on Broughton Street received a big makeover recently. If you've never ventured past the honey bar and rows of gold-filled glass jars you're not likely to have noticed the change. But if you take a few steps further in you'll notice a second bar nestled into a back corner, beautifully constructed to blend in with their rehab-rustic chic.
This bar, however, has a sign perched on top that politely restricts access to those 21 and over.
Savannah Bee Co. has expanded into the world of meads, also commonly referred to as honey wines. To introduce store visitors to the exceptional variety of flavors and styles available, a dedicated tasting bar was the perfect solution.
For $5, you receive small pours (a little more than an ounce each) of six different meads from Michigan's St. Ambrose Cellars. You also get a handful of palate-cleansing crackers, perhaps a nibble of fruit or chocolate to demonstrate a pairing suggestion and most importantly, a lot of helpful advice from your bartender.
For my visit, Danielle Hicks was my server and she demonstrated a commanding knowledge of the available meads, the drink's history and all of the traditional tools of an expert sommelier. She has a talent for guiding the tasting participants through each glass as if she's telling a story, winding personal flavor detections with optimal food coupling suggestions and innovative mead cocktail ideas.
Hicks' passion for mead comes in large part from the drink's heritage.
"Men were drinking mead before they had harnessed the fermentation process," she says. "Rainwater would combine into an abandoned hive with a brewed comb and leftover honey and the natural yeast in the air. The treasure was taken back to the village and shared with everyone and they realized that, before they were drinking booze, they got more poetic, became better dancers, better lovers, they were funnier after they had this delicious mead."
The tasting progresses from a mild, dry mead that makes the honey connection obvious to complex sweet blends that incorporate wine grapes and other fruits. They range from 10-12 percent alcohol, in line with typical white wines.
Star Thistle Mead is the perfect starting point with a fresh combination of smooth, rich honey and acidic, tropical citrus culminating in a perfectly dry, clean finish. The flavors are very subtle and balanced sitting behind a fresh floral aroma.
Pyments, created from a blend of mead and wine techniques are also showcased in the tasting, providing additional striations of flavor. Rose´ Ambrosia's strawberry jam-like soft sweetness would be a perfect companion for a bowl of creamy alfredo-smothered pasta noodles.
The session closes with a third variety of the mead family, melomels, which feature the addition of fruits like cherries and raspberries. Cherry Amore was served with a sliver of dark chocolate from local chocolatier Adam Turoni, creating the time-proven combination of chocolate and cherries.
By coincidence, Adam was also at the bar for a tasting on my visit, excited to find a new pairing for his hand-crafted confections. He found himself preferring the Tupelo Ambrosia, but conceded that his favorite would likely change on his mood and how much sweetness he was craving.
"If I wanted something a little less sweet, I'd lean toward the Dancing Bear Ambrosia," he said.
Before Savannah Bee Co.'s expansion, the owner of West Broughton Street's Chocolat had never heard of mead. "I think they're going to be starting a trend in Savannah. You can't go to a bar here at night and get mead and I think this might be a new avenue. It's really wonderful what they're doing."
The standout for me was also the Tupelo Ambrosia. Made from the local and rare Ogeechee Tupelo honey that is only found in South Georgia down through the Florida panhandle, it closely follows its source material with a sweet buttery flavor that leads into a surprising slight spiciness behind a rosewater aroma that begs for Thai food.
Based in Beulad, MI, St. Ambrose Cellars is a small, three-man operation consisting of a bee keeper, a mead maker and a sales representative. Savannah Bee Co. is currently the only location in Georgia where St. Ambrose Cellars meads are available, both by the bottle and the case.