Honey is already close enough to liquid gold as a foodstuff: wonderfully sweet, practically nonperishable, and impossible to replicate artificially. The alchemists of yore regarded gold as an end goal, but Griffin Abee of Alchemy Herbal Wine uses nature’s bounty as a raw material. Through the power of fermentation, she further transmutes the gold of honey into a variety of mead-based herbal tonics.
Abee’s approach stems from a longstanding relationship with the natural products of the region. Originally from Greensboro, she studied sustainable development at Appalachian State University in Boone before moving near the earth-based community of Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain to start an edible-landscaping business. She’s made her mark with fruit and nut trees and herbs all over the area, including in the landscaping of the Asheville Yoga Center.
The transition to mead making came from a personal need for what Abee calls “assistance from the plants.” Each of Alchemy’s three current flagship offerings, Prosperity, Love, and Heart, combine herbs and honey wine to address the challenges she was facing when she first started brewing around 2014.
The Heart blend, for example, aims to strengthen that constantly beating muscle through the inclusion of blueberries, hawthorn berries, cacao, ginger, and cayenne. “I was experiencing some heartache about my partnership at the time, so I chose to use the top ingredients known to support a healthy, happy heart,” Abee explains. “I wanted to explore how people could heal their hearts and open up more to love.”
The Love wine approaches matters of the heart from another angle. It’s brimming with rose petals, pomegranate juice, and exotic damiana leaves. “Damiana is a traditional aphrodisiac from Central and South America with this very distinct, sweet aroma to it,” Abee reveals. When she mentions it, people tend to bat their eyelashes, get embarrassed — and give her an “indulging smile,” she says.
Abee makes the most of her raw materials through a trifecta of extraction processes. First, she steeps the plant material in hot water, much like making an herbal tea. She then adds the tea to the honey mixture, which draws out even more of the flavor. In partnership with Addison Farms Vineyard in Leicester, she ferments the batch for approximately six months, using alcohol as a final solvent.
Those herbal additions provide a touch of bitter complexity, balancing well with the flavorful backdrop of local Haw Creek Honey. Alchemy Herbal Wine also has a drier mouthfeel than many other meads, more akin to a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc than a Moscato.
Area mixologists have taken note, with upscale bars such as Capella on 9 and 5 Walnut Wine Bar using Abee’s products in unique cocktails. Moving forward, she hopes to expand her options with new blends named for Eternity and Tranquility and distribute beyond the boundaries of North Carolina (right now, the wines are on more than a dozen local shelves and in stores in Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Greensboro, Boone, Blowing Rock, Winston-Salem, and Wilmington).
But Abee emphasizes that the wines are all about conscious consumption. “I don’t actually drink very much,” she says. “I’ve always used herbs and food as my medicine, and these wines are specific invocations with intention behind them.”
Alchemy Herbal Wine, Leicester. For more information, including locations where the product is sold, see alchemyherbalwine.com.