By Joelle Thomson
Wai Mānuka review: Rating 18.5/20
Honey has been a super food for thousands of years, prized for its health properties, its complex flavours and for being produced naturally, but now a group a Kiwis are taking honey one step further, with the creation of Wai Mānuka, the country’s first non-alcoholic honey beverage.
The idea was the brainchild of Joe Harawira, Wayne Atkins and Lance Paora, lifelong friends who wanted to create a non-alcoholic beverage to use in place of wine at events where people wanted a healthy, flavoursome drink, with a distinct New Zealand look and feel, without any side effects and preferably to consume out of a glass. “It’s not a substitute for alcohol but it’s not a sparkling water or fizzy soft drink either. The use of mānuka honey with no added flavours or colours makes Wai Mānuka a new product category for the discerning adult,” says Harawira.
So what is Wai Mānuka? The new drink was launched in a 300ml bottle and had rapid rise to market by being selected as an official supplier to the 36th America’s Cup through Te Pou (New Zealand House). Following this they secured another major agreement with Government House to supply investiture ceremonies; another feather in its cap and one that the founders are proud of.
Wai Mānuka is made solely from mānuka honey, lemon juice, carbonated water and ascorbic acid. This means the sugar content is relatively low for the volume consumed. The next step is to package it in a 750ml bottle, which is on track for launch in March 2022. “It will not be in a wine bottle shape because we don’t see Wai Mānuka as a substitute for wine lovers so the 750ml bottle shape will be the same format as the 300ml and very different to other large sized soft drinks because it has significantly less sugar, but also a drier taste and it lends itself to sipping from a good glass.”
Harawira and his business partners are strongly promoting Wai Mānuka as a beverage to enjoy from the glass rather than from the bottle. Which makes it more like a wine, in terms of the drier taste than other soft drinks, the 750ml glass bottle and the goal to see it consumed from the glass. Only, this drink will have none of the pretensions of zero alcohol beverages that look like alcohol and sometimes are made to emulate its flavours. And therein lies the beauty of a drink made from one of the oldest, purest ingredients on Earth and, ironically, possibly the oldest ingredient used to make alcohol. Honey is best known in the beverage world as its role in being the basis for mead, which is fermented honey. Mead is possibly the world's oldest alcoholic drink with early evidence of being consumed in India about 4000 years ago. Wai Mānuka tastes like a stark contrast to mead because it is more refreshing, lighter in body and flavour, with complexity but without the heavy taste and viscosity of fermented honey.
As for the best food to match with Wai Mānuka, I suggest salty flavours to act as a contrast to the gently distinctive taste of mānuka’s savoury woody notes. Fresh almonds gently panfried in salt and paprika would be an ideal dish to serve with Wai Mānuka and, if drinking it with mains, a fresh piece of gurnard with a twist of lemon would fit the bill beautifully. And my other personal favourite is to drink it on hot days over ice.