Former home brewer is just mad about mead

October 19, 2005|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTER

More than a decade ago, David Myers bought two tickets for a night of beer tasting at home-brew guru Charlie Papazian's house.

Toward the end of the tasting, Papazian offered Myers and the other guests a quaff of mead. A home-brewer himself, Myers said that drink helped persuade him to start making mead, an ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.

"Since I'd already been making beer, it was like `Oh, I've got to make me some of this,'" Myers said.

Myers, a native Baltimorean and grandson of London Fog pioneer Israel Myers, introduced his line of meads to Maryland this year.

The idea for his Boulder, Colo.-based Redstone Meadery sprouted from his home-brewing hobby. A 39-year-old former ski-bum and T-shirt printer, Myers saw a business opportunity in mead-making.

"I had so many of those glass jugs of mead going in my basement that one day I was like, `Forget the Olympics -- I'm going pro,'" said Myers.

Redstone Meadery debuted about five years ago, Myers said. The company now distributes its kegs and glass mead bottles with swing-top cork plugs in 15 states, he said.

In addition to trying to expand the market for his mead, most of Myers' work involves breaking the stereotype that follows the beverage. People often categorize all meads as big, sweet dessert wines.

"People think of mead as a small glass after dinner," Myers said. "I'm making mead you can sit on the deck and quaff all day."

The meads in Myers' nectar product line are more beer-like: 8 percent alcohol and carbonated, with a dry, light taste. His mountain honey wines are more wine- and cider-like: 12 percent alcohol and noncarbonated.

Redstone Meadery consumes 1 ton of honey each month and produces about 20,000 liters of mead per year, Myers said.

The mead-making process takes anywhere from six weeks for nectars to six months for mountain honey wines, Myers said. Myers, whose official title is "Chairman of the Mead," oversees a staff of about nine.

They start by pasturizing and fermenting the honey and water mixture, called must. Redstone gets most of its honey from Colorado producers.

After fermentation, the tank temperature is dropped to the mid-30s, which causes the yeast to fall to the bottom.

Then, they transfer the fermented mixture into a cold storage container and add fruit purees. After aging, the nectar is filtered, force-carbonated and eventually packaged for sale. The mountain honey wines are not filtered or carbonated.

As he expands into new states, Myers plans to double the company's size in the next decade. He estimates that his company will have to produce about 50,000 liters per year to cover the country.

A 1-liter bottle of his nectar line ranges from $15 to $18, depending on the store. Bottles of his mountain honey wine are a little more expensive, at $21 to $23.

With these prices, Myers' mead is among the most expensive in the United States -- a fact he takes pride in.

"It's a premium product," he said. "I can't buy a six-pack of Anchor Steam for the price of Budweiser, and I can't buy a Rothschild bottle of wine for the same price that I buy a Gallo. There's nothing wrong with Budweiser or Gallo, but if you want the absolute premium, there's a premium price attached to it."

Myers said his biggest battle will be persuading beer and wine drinkers to go against the grain and grape. He knows that if people don't ask for his products at local microbreweries and liquor stores, it will hardly sell.

Wells Discount Liquors, which carries three of Myers' meads, has sold only a few bottles, said beer and malt beverage manager Joe Falcone.

Most of the mead is sold this time of year, Falcone said.

"The fall season is prime time for that style to start picking up," he said.

At Wells, Redstone's products compete with meads from England, Ireland, Poland and local companies such as Berrywine Plantations.

That's where "the love" comes in. Myers is convinced that if people try his mead, they will love it and tell their friends, who will also love it, and so on.

All kinds of music constantly plays at Redstone, because it amplifies "the love" during fermentation, Myers said. Love, he said, is crucial to making good mead. He picked up a bottle and pointed to the label for proof.

"If you look on the ingredient list, you will see that the love is inside," Myers said. "Don't ask us how we get the love inside, but the love is in every bottle. I take great pride in that. That's an important thing to me -- that it is about the love.

"I love doing this, and I love mead. That's a great combination."

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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