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Mead Could Be the Next Big Craft Beverage

December 22, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC
A carafe of mead, a sweet yellow honey wine.
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Craft beverage enthusiasts are constantly on the hunt for new experiences and the next big trend. But recently, more of them are turning toward a beverage dating back to 7000 B.C.: mead.

“Craft mead is hardly a blip on the radar of the craft beverage movement, but I think that plays to our advantage,” says Aron Wehr of Wehrloom Honey, a craft producer in Robbinsville, N.C. “Because our products appeal to craft drinkers, we feel we can win market share from all these growing categories. With craft beverages seeing growth year after year, we’re not trying to beat any of them, but if we can just take customers from each of these vast groups, we can expect to see exponential growth.” Wehr recently launched a Wefunder crowdfunding campaign to capitalize on this predicted growth in order to build Asheville, N.C.’s first mead taproom.

These days, a new meadery is opening every three days on average, with the current number of meaderies surpassing 500, as approximately 200 more await federal license approval—a 2,233% increase since 2003, when America had only 30 meaderies.

Styles include three subcategories of traditional mead, fruit meads, and the all-encompassing “other mead” style, which refers to many of the modern meads popping up on the market that use nontraditional ingredients like peppers, lime juice, or spices. Vicky Rowe, executive director for the American Mead Makers Association, says the organization has seen increasing enthusiasm among both consumers and producers from the 21–40 age group. “If our current growth continues, we’ll see the industry double in size in five years, though we’ll still be much smaller than the other craft beverage industries,” Rowe says.

Billy Beltz, cofounder of Lost Cause Meadery in San Diego, underscores “the growing trend for locality and ‘sense of place’ that has been talked about a lot in food and beer and wine lately, and mead is the perfect example of that.” Lost Cause just released a fortified mead, similar to a port wine, which Beltz says is rare for the industry. The business is also dabbling in mead research, testing different nutrient protocols for mead.

Mead and pancakes.
Getty Images

Mead’s foundation in honey perpetuates the inaccurate perception that meads are too sweet and too thick, or only drinkable in the winter or around a fire. In fact, many meaderies are striving to redefine this versatile beverage, which can be light, effervescent, and low in alcohol.

Honey also has plenty of health benefits—another factor in mead’s increasing popularity—being rich in antioxidants that can help lower blood pressure. “With the health benefits from honey, mead is hot right now,” says Ayla Guild, owner of The Hive Taproom in East Troy, Wis. “The only limiting factor to the expansion of the mead market I see is the availability of quality honey, especially as the honeybees struggle nationally. As beekeepers ourselves, we see how the bees have many issues plaguing them, and while they are resilient creatures, we worry that the current methods of shipping bees all over the country for pollination services is unsustainable long-term.”

Dedicated festivals are popping up, and the drink is being added to the agenda at other craft beverage festivals more frequently, too. But the mother of all mead festivals is MeadCon, put on by the American Mead Makers Association and taking place in March 2020 in Broomfield, Colo. The next iteration will mark only the third year of this event, which AMMA’s Rowe describes as “a two-day event with speakers for individual mead enthusiasts and professional mead people talking about everything from how to make a better mead, mead history, techniques, equipment, mead and food pairing, and it changes all the time.” The association’s other main focus next year? “To get mead its own place in the industry, separate from wine at the federal level,” Rowe says. “This is an ongoing effort.”

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