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Lion City Meadery: How Two Friends Stirred a Buzz

Brewery Spotlight: Lion City Meadery

Region: Singapore

Image from SG Magazine

Mead - an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting honey that has close to 20,000 years of history, predating beer as the oldest booze of all time. While most ancient cultures enjoyed mead, from the Egyptians to the Greeks and even Ancient China, there’s no stronger association to mead than the Vikings, who have mastered beekeeping and making of the drink (even though mead was reserved for special occasions more often than not). 

As mead as mead gets - Vikings, fur coats and horns.

So fast forward to the present day. How did an alcoholic beverage most associated with the Nordic region make its way to Singapore, right smack at the Equator? And, managed to bag a few awards no less? That’s exactly the origin story of Lion City Meadery - where two mead enthusiasts and longtime friends from unrelated careers came together and decided to make their own honey brews. 

The two behind Lion City Meadery.

“I’m broke as hell. How hard can homebrewing be?” 

It was 2013 - and Sanjay Jegatheesan was working in audio-visual sales. Sanjay was on a trip in London, where it was love at first sip - tasting mead for the first time. Sanjay decided to try his hand at homebrewing, citing that “he was broke as hell”, and that making “bootleg alcohol” was a lot cheaper. 

One of the first few posts on the Lion City Meadery Instagram.

Cheap, perhaps, but not easy. Sanjay found a basic recipe online, and produced his first batch three months later - only to pour it all down the drain, saying it “tasted like crap” in an interview with SG Magazine. For the next four years, Sanjay experimented with his homemade concoctions, and created the first prototype of his mead: the Classic - and as classic as it gets, was made with only honey, water and yeast. 

Source: Lion City Meadery

As Sanjay experimented with his homemade concoctions for the next five or six years, he met an old friend of 10 years. Justin Herson, who was then working in construction, was also a fellow mead lover. Justin “crunched the numbers” and saw an opportunity to start a meadery. 

The two long time friends also have a history of music together. Both being band musicians, Sanjay was Justin's go-to guy for for audio and lighting when peforming.

This was a time where many small brewing and distilling outfits were booming in Singapore. In 2017, Brewlander made its debut. In 2018, Tanglin and Brass Lion started producing Singapore’s first gins. Early 2018, the duo started making plans for the meadery, and by August of that year, Lion City Meadery joined the growing family of Singaporean-made beverages.

 

“Our goal is pretty simple. To brew the mead that we love to drink and, most importantly, have some fun and meet new friends while doing it."  - Lion City Meadery

The bee’s knees 

When Lion City Meadery first started out, brewing operations were done in a Singaporean-owned, rented out brewery in Melbourne. The decisions made were practical ones - ensuring top quality for their ingredients which result in cheaper yet better brews. Honey was sourced from Walkabout Apiaries in Victoria, which was a custom eucalyptus honey blend that ensured consistency across Lion City Meadery’s product line. After each batch is brewed in Melbourne, the stuff is kegged or bottled, then shipped to Singapore. According to Justin, the quality of mead is hugely dependent on the quality of ingredients, hence “a good mead is rarely cheap and cheap mead is rarely good.” 

The brewing facility in Melbourne.

The style of meads produced by Lion City Meadery leaned towards being beer-like - a beverage that wasn’t cloyingly sweet which you could have multiple rounds of, yet an alternative to, you know, beer beer. The original trio of meads are as follows: the Classic Mead, the Blueberry and Hibiscus Mead where dried hibiscus flowers were steeped in the fermenting brew before being mixed with crushed and pureed blueberries, and the Spiced Mead that took inspiration from the masala spice blend.

 

The original trinity. Source: City Nomads

As the trio of meads made their debut on Singapore’s shores, they were only available at beer houses, taprooms and beer distributors. No, this was not an attempt at gatekeeping, but the product of Justin’s sharp observation of the mead climate then. Justin observed that, at least back in 2019, mead was in a strange place in Singapore - people either did not know what mead was at all or were really familiar with mead. Hence, the decision to sell at craft beer houses, taprooms and distributors was a prudent one - the folks in the craft beer scene were familiar with mead and were in a much better position to introduce the product to the masses. Not only that, craft beer drinkers tend to be the adventurous sort - and would be open to trying new types of brews apart from the usual pale ales.

Lion City Meadery makes regular appearances in food and beer festivals too. Source: Instagram

The initial meads were found in Singapore’s favourite beer haunts - Sixteen Ounces, Bunker Bunker, Thirsty, Good Luck Beer House (rebranded as Good Luck Good Luck) and many others, but has since expanded to other beer places as well as making its way to most supermarkets across the island. 

Smith Street Taps also carries LCM's mead. Source: Instagram

It didn’t take long before the mead caught on to palates - both locally and overseas. Even though the meadery was in its early years, Lion City Meadery was bagging awards abroad. In the Mead Madness Cup 2020 held in Poland, the largest commercial and homebrew mead competition in Europe, the Hibiscus Blubbery Mead won the Silver Award under the Session Dry Mead (2nd in category out of nine entries), and was the first Singaporean meadery to do so. That year, Lion City was the only Asian meadery to have won any awards in the competition - the previous Asian award winner being Kwan Sak Yoo from South Korea in 2018. This year, the Hibiscus Blubbery Mead once again won Silver in the 2023 edition of Mead Madness Cup, with the Spice Mead winning Bronze.

The 2020 medal.

At the Asia Beer Awards 2019, during Beerfest Asia 2019, the Spice Mead won Silver in Category as well (more on 2023's winnings later).

Locally, the 2020 edition of the SGMagazine’s Best Nightlife Spots and Entertainment venues awarded Lion City Meadery 2nd place under the Best Local Brewery or Distillery category, with this to say: 

Lion City Meadery, amongst other local producers.

“The guys behind Lion City have done two things right: produce really good mead, and brought mead into the consciousness of drinkers here.” 

Hot for cooling meads

Aside from the three meads, Lion City Meadery has released a few limited edition brews. 

Liang Teh (凉茶 liang cha) in Chinese translates to “cooling teas”, where the herbs and ingredients used in this tea is said to have cooling effects on the body. With the perpetually hot and humid climate of Singapore, it’s no surprise that most of us require a cooling brew on most days. 

Cooling teas, or liang tehs, often come in squarish plastic bottles with a big cap. Source: 8 Days

Lion City Meadery started out their “Liang Teh” Series - and as the name implies, is a line of meads that are inspired by actual local brews of cooling tea. Two meads were released under this banner: the Chrysanthemum Mead and the Longan Red Date tea. Production of these meads have been teased as early as August 2019, before making their official debuts a few months later. 

Longans and Chinese red dates (jujube) are common cooling tea ingredients.

The former, the Chrysanthemum Mead, was released on 14 April 2020. This mead took Singapore by storm - and has since gained quite a cult following. This mead was fashioned after the home-brew chrysanthemum teas that are favourite among Asian grandmothers - with Chrysanthemum tea being an already popular and familiar flavour amongst Singaporeans across all ages.

The ultimate thirst quencher on a hot day here in Singapore.

Remember when the COVID-19 pandemic was a thing? Lion City Meadery released this mead when the taps had to be shut in our favourite watering holes. The mead (whether by coincidence or not, chrysanthemum teas and brews are also common household remedies for flus and sore throats) quickly garnered fans all over, and within four months, every single bottle of Chrysanthemum mead was sold out - with a few remaining kegs hidden and cellared in beer taprooms. 

Since then, the Chrysanthemum mead has become quite an urban legend: memes were made about the rarity of the mead, and the last few remaining kegs of the stuff was treated like a unicorrn, sparking a hunt nationwide amongst fans. Since 2020 Chrysanthemum mead has made limited appearances (again, like a legendary Pokemon!), once at Beerfest Asia 2023. Looking back at the pandemic, the Lion City Meadery duo credited the fans’ outpouring love for the Chrysanthemum Mead for helping them and a few businesses survive through the tough times. 

The latter, the Longan Red Date mead, was fashioned after yet another popular cooling tea recipe. Red dates are believed to be high in iron, and are often given as a supplement to pregnant women as a prenatal tonic to improve blood circulation and general well being. Just like tradition dictates, dried longans and red dates (common ingredients in Chinese medicine halls) are utilised in this brew. Making its debut on 27th Janurary 2021, by popular demand, the mead has made a return in April 2021. This mead, like other seasonals, will be gone once it is all sold out. Be warned!

A work in progress shot of the Longan Red Date mead.

Since becoming a mainstay offering, the Longan Red Date mead has since bagged the Best in Singapore award alongside Gold for the mead category in Beerfest Asia 2023. 

Lion City Meadery's most recent accolades.

A quick detour from cooling teas - perhaps as a testament to the Lion City Meadery’s brewing prowess, the duo has worked on collaborations and released seasonal limited editions as well. The Peach Please, that was released on December 2020 was a limited, 53 only exclusive peach bochet (a mead made with caramelised honey) that came in at 16%, almost double or triple that of the usual mead ABV. The following year, Lion City Meadery would release the Grape Expectations, an 18% ABV mead that was brewed with 100% Concord grape juice, in December 2021. 

It does not come as a surprise that the Lion City Meadery duo are chums with the beer brewing scene in Singapore, and have worked on four collaborations till date: the Spice Boys porter with Daryl’s Urban Ales, and a few three-way collabs: Pucker Up between Red Dot Brewhouse and Wild Brew; Sweet Caramelions with Smith Street Taps and Lion Brewing (on tap only), and an exclusive Smith Street Taps mead Out of the Woods with Alive Brewing.

Setting hive in Singapore and the future of meads

As of late April this year, Lion City Meadery has set up brewing operations in Singapore - and to celebrate, the fabled Chrysanthemum mead made its return once more. 

A snippet of the brewing operation in Singapore.

More importantly, the brains behind Lion City Meadery feel that more work needs to be done before mead really catches on in Singapore. In an interview with Robb Report, Justin said that they’ll “like to think that we’ve helped increase awareness about its existence”, but don’t intend to stop making it more well known in Singapore. Justin also said that the seasonal meads are never going away, saying that “the gloves come off, (with) no restrictions, no limitations”. 

 

The memes made about the Chrysanthemum Mead are quite hilarious, coming from someone who didn't manage to snag a bottle or a taste when it was around.

On the future of meads, Sanjay spoke about how there’s a wide spectrum of mead styles to touch on - given the heritage of mead. While the Viking’s style of mead is still the poster child of the mead world, traditional mead styles have origins that go as far as Africa and Asia. 

“I think it would be exciting if we could explore these roots and bring them back.”

Classic Mead, 5.5% ABV — Review

The classic mead, is, well, as classic as it gets. Using the bare minimum of three ingredients: the custom eucalyptus based honey blend, water and yeast, the mead was brewed towards a style akin to sour beers. According to Sanjay, he wanted a mead that would be refreshing on a hot day, and a mead that would pair well with food - not only does the acidity help inspire an appetite, it helped  cleanse the palate without adding more flavours. 

When R&D-ing the first batches of Classic Mead, Sanjay was as precise as he could be - going down to the millilitre and grams despite being a 3000 litre batch of mead. He mentions that it is due to the barebones nature of the Classic mead that every little increment would ultimately influence the final batch. 

Nose: A bit spicy on the nose at first - there’s a fruity funk that reminds me of sour passionfruit and green mangoes. Imagine sour beers, but more towards the tropical side. Digging deeper into the  mead, there is a cooked apple filling aroma as well.

Palate: Juuusst a tiny bit effervescent. It has a piney, resinous taste that is somewhat similar to eucalyptus. There’s also quite a strong, herbal taste of tarragon and sage. The gentle sweetness of the mead comes through after the initial fruit rush, and it is distinctively raw honey like. This mead is sour, but not overly so - just two dials below the average apple cider.


 

Finish: The fruit flavours evolve to a refreshing apple-like taste, like biting into a slice of freshly cut red apples. There is a lingering floral and piney aroma on the palate. The sourness does not linger long after swallowing the mead.

My Rating

🥗🍎

A bowl of fruit salad. If sour beers and honey teas had a child, this would’ve been it. I could imagine this being a good reset button between each bite or course during meals, where the fruity funky aromas and the bold, herbal and sour taste gives a jolt of contrast to the dish at hand. 

 

 

Hibiscus and Blueberry Mead, 5.5% ABV — Review

Sanjay made an observation that a large portion of females are not beer drinkers in general - instead, leaning more towards wine and cocktails. While they’re not exactly adverse to the idea of trying out IPAs or stouts, there is still quite a bridge to cross. 

The answer to this was the Hibiscus Blueberry Mead - while still brewed in a similar style to beer and using the Classic Mead as its base recipe, whole dried hibiscus flowers are steeped into the liquid as it ferments for colour and tannins, then finished off with crushed and pureed blueberries.  The resulting mead is, according to Sanjay, like a very young Pinot Noir wine that is slightly sparkling. 

 

Nose: Powerful aromas of hibiscus tea from the get go. After the burst of hibiscus tea, there’s a blackcurrant cordial aroma that’s sweet and juicy - like Ribena. The blackcurrant cordial aroma  tapers off and makes way for concord grape jam instead, taking on a more sugary like sweetness while retaining some of its berry characteristic

Palate: Blueberry jam is the predominant flavour in this mead. It’s perceptibly more sweet than the classic mead, with the added blueberry jazz, without the tartness. The drying sensation from the tannins is very similar to a lightly steeped hibiscus flower tea or a Lambrusco wine - barely enough to give any friction or drying sensations in your gums.


 

Finish: The drying sensation of the mead still lingers, with the same low intensity as when you drink it. The flavours take on a more candy, bubblegum profile. Interestingly, the finish also reminds me of gnawing on berry skins and seeds as well, alongside the backdrop of honey.

My Rating

💋

 Is it strange to call a mead seductive? 

It has a very inviting, jammy aroma that appeals to the inner kid of most, at least, it invokes memories of eating jam by the spoonful when no one’s looking. The tannins are so barely perceptible it feels like a tease that you want more of. Don’t take this in a weird way, but this feels like a guilty pleasure drink that you indulge only when no one’s looking, like a quick make out session.

 

Spiced Mead, 5.5% ABV — Review

The Spiced Mead pays homage to the masala chai (chai tea), an all-too-familiar drink. Spice like cinnamon, cloves and star anise were roasted, before being added whole and fermented with the same eucalyptus honey blend in the previous meads.

The idea came about from Sanjay’s lineage, but also from an anecdote while he was at The Single Cask. Sanjay and one of the owners of Single Cask were having drams from a not-too-inspiring bottle of whisky, and thought how they could improve it (with a bit of fun). The initial experiment was infusing the whisky with dried fruits, too sweet. The next iteration of the experiment was throwing in cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise, and after some balancing, yielded a much better drink than before.

An example of a masala spice blend.

Hence, the spice mead was conceptualised - only without using the dried fruits. What sets apart this mead from the other two is that it underwent a three step fermentation process, compared to the Classic Mead and Hibiscus Blueberry Mead that only involved primary and secondary (two-step) fermentation.

 

 

Nose: I instantly get chai latte on the nose. More of the cinnamon and star anise opens up the more you let the aromas develop in the glass, with very similar sharpy, funky fruit aromas from the Classic mead. However, it leans toward a green mango aroma that has been tossed with freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

Palate: Equally light on effervescence as the Classic mead. From the spice blend, I distinctively taste the star anise and cloves a lot more, and the cinnamon less, which brings out a sweeter perception to the mead. There’s also an interesting mace-like flavour in the mead as well, that adds a freshness to the mead alongside pear.


 

Finish: There’s a mild but perceptible astringency - imagine dabbing ground nutmeg on your tongue or chewing on a piece of mace and letting it sit: that zappy, slightly numbing yet bittering astringency. There is also quite a warming sensation from masala chai, particularly the ones you get from cinnamon and ginger.

My Rating

😏🎭

If Classic Mead was the minimalist approach, the Spice Mead is the maximalist approach. The masala spice plays off well with the pome fruit aromas well, and I think of desserts served in fusion food restaurants. Masala spice sprinkled over vanilla ice cream? Poached pears? Just because you didn’t have to, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t - and I appreciate the spice mead for that reason. The smug alter ego of the Classic Mead.

 

Longan & Red Dates Mead, 7% ABV — Review

For this mead, that was originally part of the Liang Teh series, dried longans and red dates that were specially rated for aroma and sweetness are added into the brew. This was the mead that won the Best In Singapore in Beerfest Asia 2023.

Nose: Dried longans are the dominant note on the nose. Alongside the concentrated, tropical fruit aroma of dried longans, there’s a deeply sweet honey and floral aroma - I think of osmanthus flowers and chrysanthemums. Comparing to the Classic Mead, I can barely catch any of the sour, tart aromas.

Palate: Right of, there’s the strong taste of Chinese red dates, skin and all. There’s is that medicinal bitterness from the skin of the Chinese red date, alongside its grassy sweetness. After the initial wave of red date flavours, I get the sticky sweet flavours of longan coming through. Texture wise, this mead is thick and syrupy.


 

Finish: The finish is very floral. The thickness of the mead lingers in the palate, retaining more longan flavours. There is also this wolfberry aroma that, while not as present on the palate, shows itself a lot more on the finish.

My Rating

👵

Just like grandma used to make. It nails those homebrew aromas that are very nostalgic - hitting all the right spots for a liang teh. However, I have to caution that the tartness takes a backseat here and the sweetness takes the centre stage, so this may favour sweet tooths more.

 

And that’s the core range of the Lion City Meadery meads! My personal favourite is the Spiced Mead - I love how it adds so much more splashes of colour to the original Classic Mead. Nevertheless, I suggest that people who are looking to grab Lion City Meadery’s stuff to at least try out the Classic, as after all, it’s the base that which most of the meads are built off. For those that really love a fuzzy, fruity drink, go for the Hibiscus Blueberry Mead, and for those looking for a kick of nostalgia or just like sweet things in general, definitely the Longan Red Date Mead.

Now, that leaves us the last mead - the Chrysanthemum Mead. Will I be able to taste it? Will I be able to catch this fleeting Legendary Beast (I’m referring to the Legendary Beast trio from Pokemon SoulSilver/HeartGold that sporadically appear around the map and are able to run from battle: Suicaine, Entei and Raikou)?

Find out in the next episode of this mead-fuelled escapade!

@vernoncelli