PHOTOS: Mead staged to make a quite literal historic comeback
BY SCARLETT SALEM — The meteoric rise of craft brews over the past few years has laid the groundwork for a return of mead, which may arguably be the world’s oldest alcoholic drink. And while it has gained traction nationwide and is set to storm the Washington, DC, region, most people have never even heard of it.
“People say ‘I saw it [the bottle] said Charm City…I bought it, I love it, I don’t know what it is,’” said Hyattsville resident and co-founder of the Baltimore-based Charm City Meadworks, Andrew Geffken. “It’s the world’s oldest alcohol and was relegated to the sidelines and we are trying to bring it back a bit,” he said. Although the drink’s popularity has waned since the advent of beer and wine which are less expensive to produce, it has been a constant presence at Renaissance Festivals and recent online data has shown a recent uptick in meaderies opening nationwide.
Made with honey, water and fermented yeast, mead falls into a distinct class of its own, not traditionally considered a beer, cider, or wine. A substantial amount of honey is needed to create mead because of its higher alcohol content, which can vary between mead destined for a keg or a can. “[It’s about] one part honey to four parts water and can get somewhere in the 2,500 to 3,500 gallons a month. … There are some losses along the way for filtration,” said Geffken.
Geffken, who moved to Hyattsville from Washington, DC, with his wife in August 2015, co-founded the Baltimore-based meadery in early 2014, with fellow co-owner and Baltimore resident James Boicourt. Boicourt and Geffken grew up together on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Not only can they make mead, but they both and have backgrounds in mechanical engineering and have experience maintaining bee apiaries: Geffken’s on the Shore and Boicourt’s in Baltimore.
Charm City currently sources most of its honey from Lancaster, Pa., but Geffken also plans to move some of the hives he maintains on the Eastern Shore to Hyattsville in the spring, assuming his neighbors are amenable. “Hopefully there will be some Hyattsville honey in 2016 Charm City Mead!” he said.
Why did they choose Baltimore for their location? Warehouses are far more abundant and less expensive. “There are not as many warehouses in Hyattsville,” said Geffken.
Outside of their home base, they have found some local support. Charm City products are sold at Franklin’s General Store and have found rotation at Riverdale Town Center Market, which hosted a Charm City tasting before Thanksgiving. “The people there are great and they took the time to learn about it and to tell people about mead,” Geffken said of both locations.
“Some people were skeptical when they heard ‘mead,’ but when they tasted it they were excited about the product and a lot of people bought the package,” said Town Center co-owner, Ted Spiropoulos, who had never tried mead before. “I was impressed with what he did with the product and the flavors and the styles that they have.”
Unfortunately, they were less successful when the Olive Garden near the Mall at Prince Georges offered a Charm City keg last summer. Geffken said it didn’t go well. He added that the product typically doesn’t fare well in traditional chains because restaurant goers are reluctant to try something new.
Geffken and his wife have found that their home in Hyattsville offers a compromise between the Baltimore location of Meadworks and his wife’s job on Capitol Hill. He and his wife have enjoyed the community vibe: “A few days within moving in, the neighbors came over to introduce themselves and it is a nice balance of city living and suburbs. It’s been fun. … We’ve been happy with it,” said Geffken.
Their taproom is also open for mead tastings, tours, and more 5 to 9 p.m. Friday evenings, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoons located at 3511 8th Avenue, Baltimore, Md.