- By Arianna Auber American-Statesman Staff
When Meridian Hive Meadery originally began selling mead to Austinites in the fall of 2013, founders Eric Lowe, Evan Whitehead and Mike Simmons found themselves having to persuade potential customers that a meadery has nothing to do with smoked meat and that a beverage made from fermented honey isn’t overly sweet.
They’ve come a long way in the year and a half since. Although honey’s sweetness still creates perceptions about their product, the meadery has grown to meet the demand for the variety of honey wines the trio has been producing, from sessionable meads that compete with cider to higher alcohol by volume still meads that are more like wine.
Having won medals at beverage competitions for three of their meads and after watching Meridian Hive’s capacity swell to 160 barrels, the trio is ready to throw a grand opening party Saturday featuring live music, a special-release honey cider and a demonstration by a local beekeeper.
The celebration will serve as a good introduction for some Austinites to Meridian Hive’s meads. The eight main releases aren’t like a lot of the meads on the market today, which Whitehead said tend to be “Renaissance Fair-style: 14 percent, super thick and super sweet for summer in Texas.”
In fact, he and the other co-founders — who originally decided to make mead because it was an underrepresented fermented beverage that they saw had a lot of promise — produce rather distinctive representations of the honey wine.
Meridian Hive offers two types: a carbonated session mead often made with additional ingredients like hops, such as the dry-hopped Frontier or the ginger-peach Haven, or the higher alcohol by volume (ABV) still mead that is mostly only available in the tasting room or at farmers markets, such as the Huajilla or the Sage.
This second group of mead features, for the most part, monofloral honey — meaning that it comes from a single pollen source — and no other additions so as “to showcase the flavor profile of one individual honey,” Whitehead said, adding that depending on the pollen the bees cultivated, honey varietals can taste wildly different from one another.
The Meridian Hive founders are picky about the honey they use and have found the local honey they prefer the most is Huajilla from Uvalde. The clean, mellow varietal produces a mead that some people have mistaken for white wine, Lowe said.
But though they’re just as interested as other craft producers in sourcing regionally, it’s also very important to the trio to experiment with honey beyond the borders of Texas.
“We’ve got this explorer/adventurer outlook, so we source honey from coast to coast. We want to portray flavor profiles from all over the world,” Whitehead said, noting that the passion for exploration gave the meadery its name.
Their curiosity extends beyond honey as well. The grand opening party will debut a couple of special Meridian Hive beverages, including Aurora, a strikingly complex cider featuring mainly Texas apples, honey for sweetness and cinnamon-roasted pecans sourced from a pecan orchard in Elgin.
Whitehead, Lowe and Simmons might dabble with cider or wine, but their primary love is mead — and they’re not the only ones with an affection for the honey beverage. They’ve made fast converts out of newcomers who stop by the Meridian Hive booth at area farmers markets, Whitehead said. He makes it a challenge of his to prove wrong anyone who thinks the mead is going to be too sweet. They’ve also drawn people into the meadery in far East Austin — open 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays and 2 to 7 p.m. Saturdays — for weekend tours and tastings.
“We can’t make enough of some of our stuff,” he said. “Rhapsody, our blackberry mead, is sold out as soon as we keg it and get it out the door.”
They’re relatively alone in the market, too. Simmons said they’re likely one of only 10 other meaderies in the country focusing on carbonated session options and one of 150 total beverage producers in the country classified as meaderies. Some wineries also make mead.
“We’re part of a very small group of people, although our numbers are going up,” he said.
In the future, look out for meads made from raspberry and blueberry honey, as well as from less-recognized varietals like fireweed, a plant that grows extensively in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Simmons also wants to produce a margarita mead — something that’s sure to go fast in ’rita-loving Austin, especially because Meridian Hive’s small-batch system can only put out so much.
“There’s so much we want to make, but it just all depends on what we have room for,” he said with a rueful laugh.