For many people, the word ‘mead’ conjures images of Vikings and medieval feasting halls. For brothers Kit and Matt Newell, it means something very different.

The founders of Wye Valley Meadery take a thoroughly modern approach to one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages, having developed a range of sparkling brews far removed from the historic traditional mead made by monks.

The burgeoning Caldicot business, which launched in 2018, has its origins in Matt’s teenage desire to become a beekeeper.

“I was about 13 or so when I approached a beekeeper at a country show and said I’d love to learn how to keep bees,” he explains. “The wages were terrible – a jar of honey for a day’s work – but I learned a lot.”

Matt (pictured, above right) continued beekeeping as a hobby, having bought a few hives from his mentor, while going on to study geology at university. Kit, meanwhile, did a marketing and design course before working for a UK tech company in product development and design.

With a shared love of brewing and experience of home-brewing, the brothers decided to make a drink based on honey.

“It was an experiment, and the difference was that the fermentable came from honey rather than malt,” says Matt. “We brewed with beer yeast, we dry hopped it, we bottle-conditioned it. We did all the things that you shouldn’t do with a mead, treating it like a beer.”

Trio leaves

Source: Wye Valley Meadery

Among the variants in Wye Valley’s six-strong session mead range are rhubarb and ginger flavours.

The brothers hoped their sparkling ‘session mead’ would bring beer and cider drinkers into their world. It has an abv of 4%, far lower than traditional mead (which can be up to 20%).

“In the US, which has a slightly more developed mead market than the UK, [low abv] was a style that was growing in popularity,” Matt explains.

Wye Valley Meadery’s first stockist was Forest Deli in Coleford, Gloucestershire, a supporter of local producers. Sales built from there.

“It was selling well, we were getting great feedback and winning a Great Taste Award in 2019 was very encouraging,” says Kit. “We were both in the fortunate position that we could leave our jobs to focus on brewing.” 

Initially delivering products directly to trade customers, the brothers approached a distributor as the business grew.

“They took us on as a bit of an experiment but were pleasantly surprised and come here at least once a week to pick up another half-pallet,” says Kit. The meadery now works with three distributors and its products are sold across large areas of the country.

Having started in Matt’s garage, Wye Valley Meadery moved into the corner of a larger brewery in Chepstow – and outgrew it within a year. At around the time of the first lockdown, they moved again, into their current site in Caldicot, a much larger unit that has space for a small taproom. 


Source: Wye Valley Meadery

The business transforms an area of its production site into a taproom on Friday evenings

“Monday to Thursday, the area is production space, and then on Friday we tidy up, fold down the tables and open it to visitors,” says Kit. “We’ve got a really lovely core of regulars who come in and sort of treat it as their living room.”

The Caldicot site is also home to some of the meadery’s 120 beehives, a number increasing every year as demand for honey grows. In fact, even the full 120 hives are insufficient for the demands of the business, so it also buys honey from other local beekeepers. 

“There are quite a few beekeeping clubs and hobby beekeepers, and we buy any surplus they have,” explains Matt. Unusually, the business also takes in honey that has been harvested too early. This is known as ‘wet honey’, a waste product that beekeepers struggle to use.

“Wet honey will start to ferment and would usually go to waste, but we are happy to use it in our meads as we are going to ferment it anyway.”

The business has benefited from TV appearances on the likes of Countryfile and BBC One’s The Farmers’ Country Showdown, which drove “explosive” growth in sales and enquiries from up and down the country.


Source: Wye Valley Meadery

Wye Valley’s profile has been boosted by a string of TV appearances.

The Wye Valley Meadery product lineup has expanded considerably since the original Honey & Hops made its debut. The sparkling 4% session mead range has grown to comprise six variants including Honey & Elderflower and Sour Cherry. There’s also a selection of beer under the Hive Mind sub-brand, and the brothers last year unveiled a traditional, wine-style mead. 

“We kept getting asked for a traditional mead and decided that, if we are going to do one we are going to go all in and make the best product we possibly can and really champion the wonderful honey from this area,” says Matt.

“While other meaderies will not be shy about the fact they make out of half sugar (or more) and half honey, ours is 100% honey. It costs a lot more to brew but, really, we were just trying to make the best possible product.”

The result was the 14.5% Traditional Mead that scooped a Gold Award in April at The Farm Shop & Deli Awards.

“As with any new product and a new business, to win such an accolade is incredibly reaffirming, and shows we are making something that has appeal to the consumer,” says Kit.

The brothers continue to experiment and innovate, and last month launched a wine-style 12.5% medium-dry mead. Co-fermented with fruit such as raspberry, this style of drink is known as melomel.

“The raspberry gives a nice acidity and it’s quite aromatic, quite punchy and quite fruit-forward. We then aged it on vanilla pods for six months to mellow it out,” says Kit. “It’s an unusual style, more commonly found in the US, and we are excited to see what the UK market thinks of it. It is expensive to brew as it is taxed heavily and the ingredients are more expensive compared to a typical wine – but it’s worth it.”

The brothers’ product development has revealed to them the long and colourful history of mead. On many occasions, they have come up with an ‘original’ idea only to learn it has been done before, albeit not always in recent centuries. Even beer/mead hybrids, like Wye Valley’s Hive Mind, appear in history books and are known as braggot.

Another Wye Valley Meadery innovation is set to launch in November: Traditional Mead aged in whiskey barrels.


Looking further ahead, the business will revamp its branding and move all products to the Hive Mind name, as it looks to widen its reach and appeal. This will also see a switch from bottle to can for the core 4% lines.

“We will tread carefully as we have a lot of customers who like us for our regionality,” says Kit. “We don’t want to upset our current stockists, so there may be a period of time when we’re doing both, or make a specific product line for our local market.”

The move is part of the ongoing drive to modernise the image of mead while being careful not to alienate traditionalists, including sword ‘n’ sorcery lovers and historical re-enactors.

“Things like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones have been great publicity for mead, and we don’t want to disregard fans of history, for example, as that’s a ready-made market very familiar with the world of mead.”

The meadery team is also expanding, the business having recently taken on a full-time beekeeper as caring for the hives was taking up too much of the brothers’ time.

“As we try to fulfil demand for our expanding market for mead and honey, we have taken on staff to assist with the beekeeping and ensure a good supply,” says Matt. “Most beekeepers in the UK are hobbyists, which is amazing if you think the vast majority of the insects that pollinate all of our food are owned by hobbyists.”

The business has also hired a full-time brewer and is planning to grow its on-trade presence after rolling out its first kegs.

Among such expansion and ambition, however, it is clear the brothers haven’t lost sight of what matters most to them.

“We wanted to spread the message about supporting bees while valuing honey properly,” says Matt. “The local area has limited options when it comes to employment and local amenities so we want to grow Monmouthshire’s reputation for quality food and drink while doing our bit for the bees and highlighting the importance of honey as a product with many applications.”