Boulder's David Myers is a Papazian disciple, but he's hoping to start a different alcohol-fueled revolution -- one powered by mead, the age-old wine made of fermented honey, the drink of the gods, the Vikings, Beowulf and Shakespeare.
It's a drink Myers first tasted courtesy of Papazian, a longtime mead booster whom Myers met through Hop, Barley and the Alers, Boulder's premier home-brewing club. "Charlie had this prickly-pear mead," Myers recalls. "It was the most incredible thing I'd ever tasted."
Ten years and fifty-plus batches of mead later, Myers has turned his hobby into a business by opening the Redstone Meadery at 4700 Pearl Street, suite 2A, in Boulder, with partner Julia Herz. "Mead is an elixir," he says. "It coats your tongue and the sides of your mouth; the aroma fills the roof of your mouth. It's this incredible sensory experience."
Thanks to mead's wide range of flavors and higher alcohol content, home brewers have long regarded it as an extreme, gonzo brew. The aging required to make primo mead (time allows the flavors to mull and meld) has added to its mystique: The true test of a mead maker is how long he can resist the urge to drink the creation aging in the basement.
That aging requirement could be a hurdle to commercial mead making, but Myers thinks Redstone has found a way to overcome it. The meadery's flagship product, Nectar, is a quick mead made of Colorado clover, wildflower honey and a purée of either blackberry or boysenberry that needs to age only six weeks. "It's a young mead and has some characteristics of young mead," says Myers, a wiry man who stops talking about mead only long enough to taste it. "But younger mead is what the ancient Greeks drank at home."
The blackberry and boysenberry versions are both lightly carbonated, magenta and pink-grapefruit colored, respectively, and feature wonderful notes of fresh fruit and honey from nose to finish. They're also very refreshing -- several doses of sweetness away from the sometimes cloying dessert drinks most people equate with mead. "This is mead for any occasion," Myers says. Nectar's relatively low alcohol content (about 8 percent) helps make this possible. "With this product," he notes, "I'm trying to buy you a little more time before you're up doing the cancan on the table."
Nectar has already created a buzz among Boulder's more adventurous drinkers. To meet consumer demand, Myers is about to add three 800-gallon fermenters to the 1,200-gallon operation. He's secured distributors for the company's products along the Front Range and in the high country. Nectar is also served in several local brewpubs, including Redfish and Rockies in Boulder, and Tony's (formerly the Flying Dog) in Denver. "Brewpubs have been part of the revolution before," he points out. "They understand we're doing something revolutionary here, and they want to get behind us."
Brewpubs and Myers's meadery have other things in common as well. Redstone is the only meadery in the nation that sells draft meads. And while many of this country's thirty meaderies make their products using traditional vintner methods -- adding fruit and honey to water sterilized with sulfites -- Myers brews his. He drops pounds of honey into water heated to 160 degrees to pasteurize the concoction, then chills it and pumps it into an insulated fermenter. (Myers's methods have allowed him to become the only mead-making member of Boulder's Institute for Brewing Studies, another beer-focused offshoot of Papazian's empire.)
This week, Redstone will be adding to the company's portfolio with the release of its Mountain Honey Wine line. The product, which is 12 percent alcohol, is set for unveiling at A Boulder Revel, a celebration of Boulder-made wines, cheeses and chocolates that Redstone is hosting from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 16. (Featured producers include Augustina's Winery, BookCliff Vineyards and Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, makers of exceptional goat cheeses.) The first offering from the Mountain Honey line is a still (uncarbonated) traditional (made without fruit) mead that has a semi-sweet profile, a light-oil body and glorious hits of honey throughout. It's dreamy, like a dessert Riesling made with honey instead of grapes. The product, which has been aged for about twelve weeks, will be available for purchase in blue, swing-top liter bottles ($20.99 each) at the Revel; it will appear on area retail shelves in the weeks that follow. Nectar products will also start appearing in select area stores (including Boulder's Liquor Mart) in the same swing-top bottles ($13.99 each). Nectar is available at the meadery in 15.5-gallon and 7.9-gallon kegs.
In the months ahead, Redstone plans to issue the first of its Vintage Reserve, heartier meads that let Myers broaden his brewing. The Vintage Reserve model that's now aging is the embodiment of "jammy": a deep-purple, viscous brew packed with blackberry and sugar flavors, like a liquid spoonful of blackberry jam. "This is the love, right here," Myers says, then tips a taster to his lips. Mead fans are already signing up to be notified when the drink is released, which won't be anytime soon. "It comes out when I say it's ready," Myers says. "This is mead for mead-making's sake."
But Myers also hopes there will be money in honey -- and Paul Gatza, director of the Institute for Brewing Studies, thinks his friend could be on to something. "People have respect for the bee," he says. "I think he's in at the right time. He's in on the ground floor of something that could be big." Not as big as craft beer, though: Since mead appeals to a niche audience, Gatza says the industry may never have the presence that craft beer enjoys.
Myers and Herz are doing their parts to change that. "There's a huge education process in all of this," says Herz, who handles the company's sales and marketing. "Our biggest hurdle is getting people to taste it." So Redstone has started hosting tasting hours (see redstonemeadery.com for details). Herz has also launched a site -- honeywine.com -- that she hopes will help unite meaderies with mead consumers.
"We're about promoting mead," Myers says. "We've all got to rise up together, to get the buzz and feel the love." The industry needs another thirty to forty meaderies to reach critical mass, he thinks. But in the meantime, he plans to start an organization that would boost their collective clout and push it at a mead-and-cider festival scheduled to take place in Chicago this fall.
"There's a mead for everybody," Myers concludes. "If you enjoy good beers and good wine, you will enjoy good mead. It's liquid history, what all of our ancestors consumed. There's a reason why it was the nectar of the gods. If it was good enough for Zeus, it's good enough for me."