We Tried It: Liliko‘i, Pineapple and Java Plum Mead from Mānoa Honey Co.
A beekeeper turns honey into a Champagne-like mead.
Yuki Uzuhashi wants to change what we think of mead.
Most of us think of a heavy and sweet medieval drink. But that’s not at all what he was envisioning when he decided to expand Mānoa Honey Co.’s offerings to include the alcoholic beverage. After years of experimenting and learning—he took a course from UC Davis’ viticulture and enology department and purchased Beer Lab’s old tanks to scale up production—he debuted his first bottles of mead: light, refreshing, infused with the subtle aromas of tropical fruit, and fizzed with fine bubbles like Champagne.
The timing couldn’t have been better. With the pandemic shuttering his three main markets—restaurants, tourism and farmers markets—Uzuhashi was taking a break from harvesting honey as the number of unpurchased jars grew (good thing honey never spoils). In April, Mānoa announced its liliko‘i, pineapple and Java plum mead for sale.
Mead is made by fermenting honey with yeast, similar to how wine is made from fermented grapes. Traditional mead tends to be flat; seeking a more refreshing drink to suit Hawai‘i’s weather, Uzuhashi carbonates his. He also adds locally grown fruits in the fermenting process and then steeps the fruit after fermentation: The liliko‘i mead is drier than you might expect, drinking like a light beer without any bitterness; the pineapple sour lightly tart; and the Java plum rosé (Uzuhashi harvests the invasive, small dark berries in the wild) achieves a sweet and tart balance. (Fun federal labeling fact: Because Uzuhashi adds fruit to his mead, he cannot actually label it as mead, though he can call his business a meadery.)
The Java plum rosé quickly sold out and the fruit’s season ended; to replace it, Uzuhashi brewed a four-fruit punch including dragon fruit, mango, liliko‘i and Tahitian lime, yielding a fragrance like strawberry jam. Each is 7.6% alcohol by volume—stronger than most beer but weaker than most wine—and delicately and deliciously sparkling.
“What I always say about the honey, you see the trees blooming in daily life. Those are the liquid, that’s what you’re tasting. The alcohol is from flowers that you’re living in. The flowers you’re looking at, that’s your buzz,” Uzuhashi says. “It really resonates, what we do from where we’re living. That’s what I think is the most beautiful part. If I can deliver that, it’s beautiful.”