When Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas, both 33, brewed their first batch of mead in their kitchens, they sent it to a lab to check if it would blind anyone. “It tasted like rocket fuel,” says Vishwas, almost fondly. “But, we got high really quickly, it served the purpose, we were happy.” Hundreds of batches later, they are ready to place their brews behind some of the coolest bars in the country. Mead, also known as honey wine, is making a huge comeback across the western world, and although the earliest surviving description of the brew is in the Rig Veda, it wasn’t even recognised as a category of alcohol by the Central Board of Excise and Customs. That is when Vishwas decided to put his work experience with consultancy giant McKinsey India to good use and do what consultants do best — make a banging presentation. “We put together a deck, and three pages in, we had already sold them on it.” Three months later, they opened the first and only licensed meadery in the country near Pune. This December, they are going retail in some of Mumbai’s and Pune’s toniest bars and restaurants, perfectly timed for some good old Christmas cheer.
The brand, Moonshine Meadery, is a nod to their amateurish beginnings, when they were fiddling around with yeast and honey and testing their experiments on trusting friends. “We didn’t even know what mead tasted like, so it was a shot in the dark,” he explains. “We had no taste profile, we just got honey, went on Reddit, saw how it’s done and started fermenting it. It wasn’t supposed to be a commercial venture, just two guys wanting some slightly cheaper alcohol.” By the time they got their hands on a bottle of the real stuff, they were already five batches in. “One thing you have to give us — from the very first batch we decided to be very process-oriented. So, we have it down to the last recipe, the last temperature. We have a laal kitab, as we call it, [which] has every batch that we made, ever. It was only when my wife came back [from the US] with a bunch of bottles that we realised, damn, we’re here and that’s there.”
Luckily for them, they were welcomed and nurtured by the thriving craft beer community. “The insight we got was insane, even though they’ve never made meads. But, the science remains the same and to tap into that kind of experience and knowledge base helped us move forward.” Additionally, Rehani quit his job last year, as a partner at ProLogic Corporate Advisors, to focus on the brand (Vishwas points out, in his defence, that he had a wife and kids to think of), and they’ve since experimented with flavours from chocolate orange to gooseberry to vanilla, before settling on their two opening batches: green apple and coffee. “We have to first educate people about the category itself. I need to be able to sit across from people and say, ‘Look, this is a mead. It’s fermented honey. It’s not as sweet as port wine. It’s not as dry as white wine. Give it a try.’”
The crisp design on the label is a reflection of their straightforward attitude. “We’re not as pretentious as wine. Your palate needs to be really trained to figure out what the notes are in a wine, but with us it’s clear — they’re all on the label. If you read gooseberry vanilla mead, you’ll get a bit of gooseberry, some vanilla, honey.” Does the sweet base mean that mead is just the snootier cousin of the Breezer? “I mean, Vikings drank this before battle. So, clearly, there’s a manliness to it.” Classier than beer and more fun than wine — who exactly is this drink for? “Since it’s in the wine category now, I can safely say anyone over 21.”