From Spotlight to Moonlight

The Half Past crew (along with our friend and photographer for the day, Vicky Salch) drove up to NH to visit a modern meadery that’s bringing a vintage beverage back into fashion.

We discovered Moonlight Meadery at the annual Harvest Fest in Salem, MA. Their company produces Mead (wine made from honey, not grapes) and hard ciders. Their mead line-up at the festival was impressive, but we were shocked to see how many different flavors and kinds of mead they produce when we visited their tasting room and production facility in Londonderry.

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Who is Moonlight Meadery?

Michael Fairbrother noticed his male friends enjoyed his home brews, but his female friends didn’t seem to feel the excitement. Soon after he happened upon a Cyzer (mead made with apple cider) and his life changed forever. Fairbrother finally found a drink that would unite all of his friends.

In 2010, he launched the Moonlight Meadery LLC after winning Meadmaker of the Year at the New England Regional Home Brewers Competition. Now, Moonlight Meadery beverages can be found in 30 states and internationally in Australia and Japan.

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How does Moonlight make their brand of mead? 

The production facility receives honey in 3200 lb boxes that are then heated to 80°F so that the liquid honey can be pumped into fermentation tanks. The large quantity of honey is then mixed with water and yeast. Moonlight specifically uses White Wine Yeast to start the process. The fermentation is heavily regulated in large metal tanks because the chemical reaction naturally produces sulfites and heat. If the temperature gets too high, it ferments into toxic alcohol.

The fermented mixture is then transferred to giant plastic tanks to age for 1 to 3 months. In these tanks,  the meadery adds aromatics like cinnamon, vanilla, peppers, etc.  Barrel aged meads are transferred to old beer or whiskey oak barrels instead of plastic to age. These meads can age 10+ years like their Utopian mead, which is aged for 5 years in former Samuel Adams beer casks.

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Next, the mead is filtered to remove dead yeast and sediment. On our tour, we discovered the meadery’s new filtering machine costs $90,000 and filters 400 gallons of mead an hour.

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Moonlight Meadery produces 45+ different kinds of mead, including two new apple ciders. The tasting room has 29 meads currently on the menu which are divided into 7 categories that range from dry to sweet in style.

We did the Tour & Tasting option, which allowed us to taste one mead from each category after the tour.  We cheated a bit and shared our samples, so we got to try 21 meads and their ‘Them Little Apples’ cider. For tasting and tour prices check out their website.

21 is obviously a lot of mead, so which ones stood out the most? Get ready for the Half-Past inside scoop!

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Moondance

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Moondance is a pyment style mead (mead made with honey and grapes) aged in oak casks for 2 years. They decided to use Riesling grapes for this dry style mead. It was crisp, floral, nutty, and light and a perfect starter mead to buy that will introduce you slowly to this wine style. Its the wine lovers mead!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meadowfoam

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Nothing beats the classics!

Meadowfoam is a traditional style mead and is the perfect representation of this ancient beverage. If you have never tried mead before or maybe never even heard of if before this post, we recommend that you try this bottle. Its made from 100% orange blossom honey, moderately sweet, and won the silver medal in 2015.

 

 

 

 

Kurt’s Apple Pie

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Holy yum, this is their gold medal winner cyzer style mead that literally tastes like classy liquid apple pie. It’s produced with local apple cider, Madagascar-bourbon vanilla, and Vietnamese cinnamon. Why bake a pie when you can drink it?

 

 

 

 

Wild

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It’s a match made in heaven: blueberries and honey. This mead is made with unprocessed wildflower honey and wild grown mountain NH blueberries. Technically it’s a dry style mead but we would say that its juicy, fruity, fresh, and coats your mouth in berry flavor.

 

 

 

 

Mojo

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Get saucy with this Latin inspired mead. It has lime and mint flavors that pair surprisingly well with honey. We know how hard wine pairing is with spicy food, but luckily Moonlight has already figured it out.

 

 

 

 

 

So, we tasted all we could and gave you some recommendations. But you’re probably wondering which mead stole the show………drum roll please…..

Smolder

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We are resisting making a Tangled reference here, but this mead is spicy, sweet, fruity, rich, and smooth. We personally took home bottles after our tasting.  This is a controlled, sweet heat that may not be as intimidating as you think. A sip greets you with sweet, fruity flavors, but the spice increases on the palate the longer you hold the it on your tongue. Once you swallow the heat releases, leaving no spice on the tongue as the raspberry flavor returns. It’s fun, warm, and definitely worth a try.

 

 

After the tasting was over, we got an behind the scenes look at the company’s current ideas for their rebrand. They hope to do away with old full moon logo to welcome a more modern and sleek design. Here’s a comparison shot to give you the idea.

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Even though the mead bottles are only 375ml (half the size of a standard wine bottle), you can expect to pay anywhere between $15 and $22 per bottle.  Each bottle will last 2 weeks at room temperature or 1 month in the refrigerator after opening. We highly recommend that you visit their tasting room or attend an event where Moonlight Meadery is in attendance before you buy. Even ‘dry’ style mead may still seem sweet to your average wine drinker.

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We hope you enjoyed our review of Moonlight Meadery. If you stop by let us know what you think! We’ll see you soon!

Stay Thirsty!

 

 

 

 

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Lux at La Belle

Want a classy, fun, unique, and beautiful place to go for your next night out? Check out La Belle Winery in Amherst, NH.

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The Half Past Team recently visited this hidden gem in NH and were pleasantly surprised to see what this winery had to offer. The facility is not only beautiful and large but it sports it’s own restaurant, event rooms, vineyard groves, winery store, and two tasting bars. We stopped in for their Annual Holiday Bizarre which featured a craft fair from the League of NH Craftsmen, cooking demos, wine tastings and more.

We stopped to take a look around first. Do you remember our post “Wine game that you must play?” Well, La Belle owns the store in Merrimack, NH that we bought the game from! They have a smaller version of the store right here in Amherst.

This larger version of the store sells all the different varieties of wine that La Belle has to offer, with shelves that reach the ceiling.  Here you can pick up recipes cards, homemade jams, cookbooks, wine, wine gadgets, decanters, and pretty much ANYTHING you need to start a wine party.

 

However, we were both starving and didn’t look around the long because the Bistro’s menu was calling our names. The food was FABULOUS and paired very well with the wines. They even made a point to make vinaigrettes and sauces with the items that could be bought in the store. 

 

And finally, what you have all been waiting for: We moved on to the wine tasting bar after lunch.

The La Belle wine bar has a selection of over 24 wines to try. So prepare yourselves!

The tasting list is divided into categories based on sweetness: Dry & semi-dry, Semi-sweet, and Sweet & Dessert. The tastings are $8 per person for 5 tastings and $5 more for 5 additional tastings after that.

Now we warn you, if you are interested in full bodied deep wines or the traditional varietals like Cab Sav, Merlot, and Pinot Nior this place may not be the best for you. La Belle shows off what they do best: featuring locally grown fruit wines and grape blends. So if you are on the adventurous side and want to taste something a little different from the norm, then this is great for you.

We got to taste their Heirloom Apple, Granite State Apple, Virginia Mae Sweet Blueberry, Apple Cranberry, Dry Pear, Granite State Red, and Red Alchemy. However, our favorite by far was their holiday season special wine called Spiced Winter Pear. It was like a sweet spiced pear cider that’s perfectly paired with your desserts for the holidays. We snagged a bottle of that for our own celebration!

Also, If you can’t make it out to this location to try them, you’re in luck because their brand is sold in most liquor stores across NH.


We recommend this winery for your next classy and adventurous affair. If you want to learn more about the wines offered and about this location itself check out their website.

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See you next time!

Happy Sipping!

Award Winning Rosé: Mill River Winery

Looking for a sweet and calming way to start or end your day? Take a trip down to Mill River Winery, a quaint and rustic winery with well-priced wine tastings and – most importantly – an adorable black lab/pitbull mascot to greet you at the door.

Last week, the girls from Half Past Wine-O-Clock decided there’s nothing wrong with a wine tasting before work as they traveled to Mill River Winery in Rowley, MA. The winery is the perfect mixture of a nick-nack store and a wine tasting room, offering two experiences worthy of both short and longer visits.

The store was positively adorable, featuring several different sections including fall-themed drinks and wine-related trinkets, homemade pastas and jams and – of course – a great holiday display complete with wine-themed tacky sweaters and winter stocking stuffers.

However, our main interest was in the wine.

The wines were lined up on one wall, while the tasting bar featured a synthetic, uneven block of wood to add the rustic feel. For $7 each, we tasted two flights: the Mill River and Plum Island (the sweeter of the two).

You can see the color difference in the Mill River vs. Plum Island wines in both whites and reds:

Would you believe that pale white on the right is an unoaked Chardonnay, while the darker yellow is a Riesling? The reds feature their Petite Shiraz (left) and Plum Island Red (right). One is both visually lighter and physically sweeter than the other.

Our favorite had to be their very own award-winning rosé, from the Plum Island flight. It had enough body and flavor to stand on its own, yet was sweet enough that it still represented its rose genre well. After months of searching for a rosé, that was neither watered down or sickeningly sweet, this wine was the perfect match for us!

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We look forward to the great things soon to come from this winery as well, especially the new wines soon-to-be-released with their very own, home-grown grapes! Check out the image below of their vines:

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Kristen spotted these on our way in, and was very impressed.

Anyone local to the Northshore Massachusetts area is encouraged to check out Mill River Winery, if only to peek at the shop or try a taste of their Gold Medal Rosé!

 

Cheers!

 

 

How to Run a Wine Tasting Party

There are plenty of reasons you may want to have a wine tasting party. Maybe you’re having a bunch of friends over, but don’t necessarily want to go out for the night. Or perhaps you need an excuse to have a wine shopping spree, and want to share your findings with your friends. Or, if you’re like us, you have an overflow of wine collecting in the basement that needs to be tasted stat!

Whatever the reason, it’s a fun, tasty way to spend an evening. Here are the steps to a perfect wine tasting, laid out by our wine expert, Kristen, and practiced by the whole Half Past Wine-O-Clock team!11943357_900467160041337_521691704_n

Start with the bubbles

Yes that’s right. If someone brought the champagne, Prosecco, the fritz, or the spritzy, the party should always start with that. Not just because it’s fun, but because the bubbles tend to make the wine lighter on the palate. We, however, did not have any bubbly at this party so we had to change our “Step One.”

Start with a traditional white wine

If you jump right in to the sweeter or heavier-bodies wines right off the bat, a white wine won’t stand a chance on your pallet! Always start off with a white wine to begin the party so you can fully appreciate the lighter tastes and aromas the wine offers.

If you have multiple white wines remember body and flavors!  Here’s the typical order to taste in with major white grapes:

  1. Riesling  2. Sauvignon Blanc   3. Chardonnay

    Have a white that isn’t listed? Drink the heaviest bodied wine last. Chardonnay is the heaviest white wine (that isn’t a dessert wine) so always drink those last anyways.

    Don’t know about the body of wine you bought? Check out the vintage year and alcohol percentage. Drink younger vintages FIRST and higher alcohol percentages LAST. Why? The older the wine the stronger flavor it develops and strong flavors will stick to your mouth even after moving on to a new wine. Secondly, high alcohol content can “burn” the palate too early so you wont taste weaker wines after.

Move on to a rosé

It can be tempting to start off with a rosé, since they are typically lighter and sometimes sweeter than a white. However, rosés offer the perfect transition between your white wine and the reds to come. There’s no better way to switch from white to red, and adding a rosé in between can smooth the transition! 
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Move on to reds, but order them correctly!

All reds are not made the same, as all wine lovers know. They aren’t all equal, either, so ordering them the wrong way can throw off a tasting. Start with any red varietals (single grapes), like we did, to transition from the lighter rosé into a heavier-bodied red that relies prominently on one grape instead of a flavorful mixture of many. This way, your pallet can easily transition from less complex, fruitier reds into the more heavily bodied reds.

The same rules apply here as with the whites. Heavier body wines go last and so do higher alc % and older vintages.

However, red wines can be harder to figure out. Here’s a list in order of body (drink first to last):

  1. Pinot Noir 2. Merlot 3. Zinfandel 4. Cabernet Sauvignon 4. Shiraz/Syrah

    Watch out! There are always exceptions with red wines. Check the label to see where the wine is produced. Warmer climate produce grapes with stronger and more pronounced flavors. Cooler climates are crisp wines. When in doubt do colder places first.

Always end with dessert wines

We ended with a sweet coconut wine from our favorite winery, but not before cleansing our pallets! It’s tough to find a placement for a sweeter wine, especially right after a fuller red. We recommend fully cleansing the pallet and perhaps waiting between the reds and sweeter wine.

Why can’t we start with a sweet wine, you ask? It’s just that after a dessert wine, the other wines will taste too harsh and heavy, so it’s easier to finish with them.

Let everyone take their favorites home

There’s no better way to end a party than by divvying up the wines based on who loved which one most! This way, everyone leaves with a small gift – the remainder of the bottle – and has a takeaway from the party. If everyone agrees on one favorite, finish it up before the night’s over – who says the party has to end with the tasting?

Alfalfa Farm Winery – History comes to Life

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On the hunt for local wine gems, my parents and I (Kristen) stumbled across this small winery in Topsfield MA. Located quite literally next to route 1, Alfalfa Farm Winery is a beautiful 10 acres of historic farm property. Hoping to work with nature, the owners chose to grow four varieties of  French- American hybrid grapes that are known to thrive in New England type climates: Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc, Aurore, and Léon Millot. Their wines have won many awards from local and international competitions. You may have even seen their wines at events like the Topsfield Fair and “The Big E.”

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Wine Tasting:

Their wine tasting times change per season. In the Summer they are open Saturdays from 1 to 5pm  and in the fall tastings are Saturdays AND Sundays from 1 to 5pm. We happened upon their “Green Harvest Festival” last week which included wine tasting with souvenir wine glasses, live music entertainment, cork crafts that were available for purchase, and wine tours of the property. We paid 10 dollars (tastings are usually $6)  for 5 tasting tickets and a tour of the property. The wines available for tasting do change often based on demand and which wines were produced each season. My family’s favorite was the local made blueberry wine and the winery’s homemade Sangria. Although my personal favorite was the Silo White Wine for its slightly sweet almost crisp Riesling like flavor. All of their wines however had great body and incredibly diverse flavors. I highly suggest stopping in to try the selection!

p.s. Mom loved the sangria so much that she used most of her five wine tasting tickets on it and took the recipe home.

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Events and Opportunities:

Alfalfa Farm prides itself on community involvement and its long history. In accordance with these ideals, the winery has a whole calendar of fun events for the public like their Harvest Festival in October, Crafts & Cranberries in November, and their Customer Appreciation Day at the end of every season. Not only do they want their customers to feel comfortable but they encourage participation in their wine production through their volunteer list. Volunteers help with every step in the wine process from pruning the vines, to harvesting, to pressing the grapes, bottling, and labeling. It’s an amazing opportunity for wine lovers to better understand the wine process!  Alfalfa farm even offers internships to students who wish to learn more about the wine industry. So if you are interested, saddle up to get your hands dirty!  Reach out to the winery’s website for more details and to join the email list.

My Review

I was so impressed by this winery’s staff. It’s a family run business with incredibly dedicated and friendly employees. They didn’t seem to mind me asking a million questions or taking just as many pictures. They made us feel right at home and their wine tour was filled with information about the winery’s history, their wine process, and the scenery around their property is breathtaking in the summer. It has the most adorable old barns from the revolutionary war era that are mixed with modern wine making technology. I loved how much pride they took in hand labeling and corking every bottle. It was the real definition of “Handmade.” Please stop by and help support this amazing local wine stop!