The three guys behind the newly launched Meridian Hive Meadery had been homebrewing for a long time when they noticed something was missing from bar taps and store shelves. Although there are plenty of local beer and wine options to choose from, even a few ciders, one alcoholic drink wasn’t getting made here – mead. The honey-based beverage is only crafted in about 150 meaderies in the United States, five of which are in Texas.
Evan Whitehead, Mike Simmons and Eric Lowe decided to try introducing Austinites to what they call "the lost beverage" and began slowly producing their mead in October of last year, once they got the keys to the northeast Austin warehouse they’ve transformed into a meadery.
Their efforts paid off on Nov. 15, when Meridian Hive’s launch party at Hi Hat Public House officially unveiled the meadery’s two on-draft meads: Discovery, a traditional mead made only with orange blossom honey, water and yeast (traditional meads don’t have additional ingredients, such as fruit, added in); and Frontier, a dry-hopped mead comprised of orange blossom honey and Meridian hops, which add in tropical flavors and a slightly resinous finish.
The mead at the launch party kept flowing – Hi Hat ran out of clean glassware at one point – and people seemed open to trying the drink that the guys have sometimes had difficulty explaining.
"Tell someone you have a meadery and they think you smoke meat," Whitehead said.
But the trio is eager to educate by producing as much mead as possible with their 500 gallon tanks – even if it not all of it is ready for drinking yet. I sat down with them recently for a second taste of both Discovery and Frontier (which aren’t quite as sweet, or as thick, as you might think a honeyed beverage would be, thanks to the careful fermentation process Meridian Hive uses) and learned about the guys’ future plans.
Although right now all that’s available of Meridian Hive is the two on-draft meads, Whitehead, Simmons and Lowe have plenty of other recipes cooked up for mead in bottles, as well as one more on draft, a blackberry mead called Rhapsody. Some of the bottled mead is a mix of grapes and honey, called "pyment"; they’re also working on a "cyser," a combination of apple juice and honey. Others include one with Ethiopian coffee, another with cinnamon and hibiscus and one with orange and habanero.
No matter what they add to the mead, they make sure to have just the right kind of honey for the right type of mead. Lowe said they also prefer Texas honey, but the drought has made "obtaining the quantities (of honey) we need for a mead such as Discovery a challenge… Expect to see us using more Texas honey in the future."
The type of honey found in Discovery, as well as Frontier, is orange blossom. It’s not particularly sweet to begin with, and they use champagne yeast, which eats up all the sugars in the honey so that many of the subtle flavors in the mead come from the pollen the bees used. (Champagne yeast also makes the meads drier instead of sweet.) My favorite mead of theirs so far is Frontier; with the addition of the hops, it’s a little more complex than its counterpart. Both clock in at about 7 percent ABV.
Taste Meridian Hive’s two meads for yourself. So far, one or both of them are available at Hi Hat, the Draught House, the Dig Pub in Cedar Park and the White Horse. They’ll be on tap at the Growler Room today at 6 p.m. and at 4 p.m. at Black Star Co-op on Monday.
Bottles of the other meads – which are much higher in ABV and sweeter – come out next year. Whitehead said they’re also hoping the tasting room opens sometime in 2014. "It’s been a rollercoaster and it’s not stopping now," he said.
(Note: Meridian’s launch party at Hi Hat was in conjunction with Bitch Beer’s monthly happy hour. In addition to blogging as Liquid Austin, I write for Bitch Beer.)