The drink of the Vikings to be brewed in Convoy

TWO Letterkenny-based friends are finalising plans to transform honey, water and yeast into mead, the world’s oldest alcoholic drink.
The Ulster Mead Company will initially produce two varieties of the beverage in their new meadery which is located in the former Convoy Woollen Mills building.
‘King of the North’ and ‘Ragnar’ are both made with Polish honey blossom honey. The mead ferments in three to five weeks, and is allowed to mature for a further two to three months before being blended and bottled.
The meadery will also produce a number of herbal wines, using various ingredients like hibiscus, strawberry and blueberry – which will take approximately two months to mature.
Jakub Blaszczok and Tomasz Rotuski have both called Letterkenny home since 2005. Jakub works as a chef in Hillcrest Nursing Home while Tomasz formerly worked in Gallagher’s Hotel.
In recent years there have been new craft beers, whiskey and gin distillers opening but there have been no commercial mead makers in Donegal going back hundreds of years.
“It’s an idea that I’ve had in my head this past five or six years. I’ve been brewing at home and friends like the taste of the finished product so I decided to go into production,” Tomasz explained.
“The site (Convoy) is perfect. It’s an old traditional building which fits in with a product that has been around for centuries,” Jakub added.
While mead is not as prevalent in Ireland as it is in Poland, Germany, America and England, Tomasz has already won medals for his new Donegal beverage.
“I won two silver medals at the Mead Madness Cup, which a top competition for European mead makers, last year” he said.
The Ulster Mead Company premises is fully fitted with four 500 litre steel tanks and its owners are now patiently waiting on their licence.
“We hope to be in full production by Easter. One tank will be for mead and the other three will be used for wine. Our wines are made from herbs and, as far as we know, there’s no similar product on the market in Ireland,” Jakub said.
Jakub arrived in Donegal ‘by chance’ with his sister in 2005.
“We had heard a lot about Ireland and we decided to give it a go. We picked Donegal on a map and that’s how we first came here – in September 2005. Now, I’m married and I work as a chef in a nursing home here in Letterkenny. I work for Ann Gallagher (Hillcrest Nursing Home) and I really love my job,” he said.
Tomasz, who comes from a different part of Poland, followed a friend to Donegal – also in 2005.
“He told me it was a good place with friendly people and he was right. I started work in Gallagher’s Hotel and then worked in Carrigans for thirteen years but now I’m following my dream,” he said.
The friends recently travelled to Cork to visit Kinsale Mead Company and they’re excited for the future.
“Ireland is a low producer of honey and Kinsale are taking their’s in from Spain. We’re getting our barrels from Poland,” Jakub said.
The Ulster Mead Company plan to take the techniques and methods traditional to ancient meads and update them with ingredients for a modern palette.
“King of the North would be a semi sweet mead containing an alcohol percentage of 13/14 per cent, while Ragnar would be stronger and sweeter (18 per cent).
“The floors are fixed, renovations are complete and we’re ready to start producing mead and herbal wines. We have the equipment and we’re waiting for the licence. Once we have that (licence) we’ll be able to start production within weeks. It’s an exciting time,” Tomasz said.
“You can drink it (mead) just like wine or you can mix it with other juices and make a cocktail. It was a big part of Irish culture many, many years ago. It’s what the Vikings drank. It’s still very poplar in Poland and we’re looking forward to making it popular once more in Donegal,” he added.

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