Wanaka entrepreneur Chanelle O’Sullivan has taken a generations-old alcoholic beverage, given it a distinctly New Zealand flavour and has sent it sparkling into the 21st Century.

Her startup company Borage & Bee Meadery has launched, with the honey-infused drink rolling out onto shelves around the country and online this month.

Unfamiliar with mead? It’s traditionally a still wine, sweetened by honey and fermented by yeast over time. Traced back to over 9000 years ago, it is arguably the oldest alcoholic drink known to mankind.

“Mead is steeped in the history of Vikings, rebels and kings. People who lived for freedom, cared for the earth, dared to dream big then celebrated the efforts of their hard work with a swig of fermented honey brew,” Chanelle explains.

Reinventing this traditional beverage with modern twists, Borage & Bee has set aside glass vessels and opted for sleek 330ml cans. Chanelle and her super-brewer Sam White also added carbonation, giving Borage & Bee mead some fizz and dialling down the alcohol content to 5%, which makes it comparable to cider or craft beer.

Borage & Bee Meadery
The Borage & Bee Meadery sleek 330ml cans feature a watercolour painting by a local Wanaka artist Sophie Meville.

“Environmental impact and regeneration are at the forefront of our mead. This is why we chose cans over bottles, and recycled cardboard and sugarcane pulp can rings over plastic. Every bit counts and we wanted to start on the right side of history,” 32-year-old Chanelle says.

Her foray into mead making began two years ago when she read an article about sparkling mead. A keen home brewer for nearly a decade, Chanelle began scribbling down flavour combinations and experimenting with fermented honey concoctions.

In enlisting the aid of Sam – a Dunedin-based qualified brewer, scientist and beer judge – Chanelle found the perfect technical whizz to enable Borage & Bee to fly.

“Sam is a problem-solver with years of experience and shedloads of brewing sector knowledge. I couldn’t have asked for better brewing brains!” Chanelle says.

Further boosting the Borage & Bee production team are four Otago University Food Science undergraduates, who are experimenting with flavour and methodology trials in the laboratory.

Shifting from South Canterbury to the shores of stunning Lake Hawea in April last year – where she lives with her husband David and children Hunter (5) and Izzy (8) – Chanelle gathered a regional network around her to help realise her dream of bringing a natural, primary industry product to market.

“The majority of people I have collaborated with for Borage & Bee live in the Southern Lakes region – from the Wanaka artist who painted the beautiful watercolour artwork for my cans, to my designer and my marketing team.”

“Entrepreneurship is celebrated in this think-outside-of-the-box area and it’s a really supportive community to live in,” Chanelle says.

She is looking to support local in return and has chosen to use only small family-owned apiaries to supply the honey for Borage & Bee’s mead.

“My goal is to be really transparent. I want to know exactly where my honey comes from and my strict belief was that we would not be using any sulphites or chemical additives. There are no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives and certainly nothing that can only identified as a number in a Borage & Bee can.”

“Essentially there is nothing in our mead other than honey, yeast and water, until we start playing with New Zealand grown botanicals, herbs, spices and fruits,” Chanelle explains, hinting at her future flavour plans.

Although mead production is her first venture into the alcohol industry, it’s not the first time she has entered the entrepreneurial world.

Chanelle created a rural women’s support group Farming Mums NZ in 2013, which has grown to connect 13,000 rural Kiwi women. She also owns and operates a holiday house in Twizel called Highland Escape with her husband and has co-written a children’s travel activity book called Cross Country Kiwis.

“I’m bringing all my knowledge and experience I’ve gathered over the years and channelling it into this opportunity I’ve seen,” she concludes.

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