Garth Cambray stares attentively into the tiny window of a two-storey stainless steel processor. The device is his own creation – a machine that produces mead, or honey wine, on a large scale. He is looking for any imperfections in the process.Inside his invention, an ancient recipe is brewing. A mixture of honey and water slowly seeps through local herbs and spices. The process infuses flavour and creates alcohol. At the bottom of the processor, as many as 300 bottles of golden liquid flow through each day.
Dr. Cambray is the co-founder of Makana Meadery in Grahamstown, South Africa. His large-scale mead fermentor is a patented technology. His company’s brew has put Grahamstown on the global mead map. It has also created employment for hundreds of people in the Eastern Cape province.
Dr. Cambray developed an interest in bees as a doctoral student at Rhodes University. It was during this time that he was introduced to the local variety of mead, called iQhilika, which has been brewed by the Xhosa people for centuries.
His mission became to invent a machine that could recreate the ancient iQhilika brewing process – only faster. The experiment was a success, and soon after Dr. Cambray graduated, Makana Meadery was born.
By bringing the iQhilika brew into the 21st century, Dr. Cambray opened it up to the outside world. Makana Meadery now sends three large shipments a year to the United States. And its herbal mead, derived from the traditional Xhosa recipe, has twice won top honours at the International Mead Festival.
With the meadery’s success has come a large demand for honey. And this is perhaps the greatest benefit to the Eastern Cape’s economy.
Makana Meadery has trained more than 200 people in beekeeping. It offers two courses – one to help entrepreneurs get started in small-scale production, and another to help them expand their operations.
Dr. Cambray has also developed techniques to reduce the cost of beekeeping. A honey extractor is usually the most expensive piece of equipment a beekeeper must buy. But Dr. Cambray has created a low-cost version from a bicycle wheel. The meadery even began producing low-cost beehives and frames out of local pine.
Makana Meadery continues to grow, developing products such as chili mead, which uses local hot peppers, and honey jams created with local fruits. And with more export markets opening up, the honey business in Eastern Cape should remain a beehive of activity.