Mead is showing the way for the honey industry to diversify its products that aren’t based around manuka. By Rebecca Greaves.

Tapping into the potential of native New Zealand honeys, lifelong mates Edward Eaton and Wilbur Morrison are creating a buzz with their Buzz Club mead.

The 24-year-olds went from experimenting with different flavour profiles, brewing in their garage on the weekends, to launching a range of premium sparkling mead naturally brewed from native New Zealand honey.

Mead is the world’s oldest alcohol, with origins dating back to 7000BC, and the friends have modernised it for today’s market, fermenting native honey to create a sparkling, carbonated low-alcohol canned product. Wilbur’s background as a beekeeper and his fascination with bees coupled with Edward’s knowledge in the design and marketing space give the duo a complementary skill set. The idea of brewing mead came from Wilbur’s experience selling honey and low returns for most varieties, with the exception of manuka. He wanted to diversify and find ways to use and showcase the other honey varieties.

“I was producing a range of native New Zealand honeys and for the manuka, like everyone else in the market at the time, was making an awesome margin whereas on other native honeys everyone in the market was losing money and that, to me, made no sense.”

He started exploring other value chains for his honey and stumbled across mead. He had a vision and shoulder tapped his mate Edward at a party one night.

They started brewing together in 2020, and the rest is history. Nine months of experimenting slowly developed into a commercial enterprise.

“We both have very different views and that’s why it works because we’re always challenging each other’s views. It took time to adjust but I don’t think we’d be here today without diverse views on how things should go,” Wilbur explains.

From the homebrewing phase they then worked with a local brewery to scale things up and put a commercial brew on. In December 2020 they put the product into about 15 stores around Christchurch, from high-end supermarkets to liquor stores.

“We learned heaps, saw who was buying it, where it was selling well, what was good about it, what wasn’t good about it.

Edward Eaton and Wilbur Morrison are lifelong mates who co-founded Buzz Club.

“We were eager to get things on the market, we were in a rush, we were young and just wanted a result tomorrow. What we learned over time is take a few months and that will pay off. At the same time, it helped, you’ve got to get out there and make those mistakes to realise how you’ve got to do things.”

Undeterred, they knew they had a good product, but they just needed to take the learnings and reposition a little.

In March 2021 they went back to the drawing board, rebranded and slightly redesigned the product, dreamed up some new flavours and hit the ground running with Version 2.0 in August 2021.

The focus is now on supermarkets, particularly after seeing the impact of Covid on hospitality venues, as a more reliable stream of sales. They are in New World and high-end supermarkets like Farro and Moore Wilsons, as well as selling online.

This summer the aim is to continue to grow their supermarket presence and they have opened a pop-up bar based in Riverside markets, as well as growing their hospitality accounts. Down the track they hope to explore export markets.

Their recipes and flavour combinations involved plenty of trial and error, with inspiration taken from international markets. They landed on a core range of three meads, Kamahi Blossom and Lemon, Rata Blossom and Feijoa, and Pohutukawa Blossom and Strawberry.

They focus on matching the honey with complementary fruit flavours. They recently added two seasonal releases, Hopped Buzz, which has a native Kamahi base, and Simply Mead, unfruited and unspiced, just native honey.

“Buzz Club was born out of trying to drive a future for a diverse range of native New Zealand honeys. We often say that we’re brewing the future for native New Zealand honeys and that was the inspiration with our core range of products having each native honey on the label and being at the forefront of the flavour profile.

“Trying to show our customers there are other honeys out there that deserve a seat at the table. Share the stories of the keepers producing them and the locations they’re coming from.”

To hear more about Buzz Club and Edward and Wilbur’s story of how homebrewing mead turned into a commercial enterprise, head over and listen to the latest episode of the From the Ground Up podcast.