Hive Highlight: Wild Blossom Meadery - Bringing Mead to the Mainstream in the Midwest

Greg Fischer, owner of Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery in Chicago, IL, recently took time out of his busy schedule for a phone interview with Mead Buzz.  We greatly enjoyed gaining some insight into Greg's world, and the impressive wealth of knowledge and experience which has built it.  We hope you enjoy learning more about his journey as much as we have!

Mead Buzz:  Where and when was your first taste of mead?

Greg Fischer:  Probably 1972 or '73.  Roger Morse, a professor at Cornell University, started raising bees at my uncle's apple orchard so I became really interested in bees and wanted to learn everything about it.  I took a course with my dad at Cornell and Roger Morse had made some mead.  Of course, at that time I couldn't really drink it but I did taste it.  It was pretty good, but I didn't think 'Oh, I've got to make this my life's path.'  My grandfather made wine in his basement and, around 1975, my dad and I were making a lot of wine together.  We thought that since we raised bees that maybe we should try making some of this mead stuff.  We made some and it was just god awful.  We probably let it ferment out all the way dry and it just did not have a good flavor.  We thought maybe for a nomad it would be just fine, but it was not for us. 

But I got into wine making quite a bit and began studying it - so then it was bees and wine.  I traveled around the country doing commercial beekeeping in between colleges and was studying agriculture.  I was studying bees, but noticed that the wine industry looked a lot nicer than the bee industry; a much more inviting career choice. I worked in the wine industry for many years, more on the marketing side, and was going all around the country studying wine.  I was transferred from New York to Chicago to run the Chicago market for Seagram Classics Wine Company.  Later, the company reorganized and I was kind of cut out of a job.  I could have had a job, but would have needed to move somewhere else and didn't really want to move from Chicago.  After I left them I began doing some home brewing.  My wife had her own business, so we were doing that for a while.  We have a home brew club called Chicago Beer Society, and it was probably in the early 1990's that I tasted a cranberry mead this guy had made and it just knocked my socks off.  Finally, I tasted some really good, not too high alcohol, mead.  It was just a really good melomel, it was fantastic!  So I said, 'Well I'm still into bees and I'm still into wine, and there's no market there', so this was a great market opportunity for a great product.  Around 1995 is when I first thought mead is what I should pursue, and I spent years studying it.  We got our first meadery license under Wild Blossom around 2000.  It took some time to make a couple batches, find out what works and what doesn't work. Under Seagram Classics I wasn't making wine, I was a sales manager for them.  So my thought is it isn't hard to make good wine, but it's hard to sell good wine.  There's a lot of wine out there and selling takes skill. If you can get the sales down then you can just make it and sell it.  If you can make it, but don't know how to sell it, well...that's the hardest part.

MB:  How long ago did you begin keeping enough bees to produce honey for your meadery?  Obviously, it takes a lot.

                      A few of Wild Blossom's bee hives

                      A few of Wild Blossom's bee hives

Greg:  Not really.  I've been keeping bees since 1969 and we made, and sold, honey so it wasn't hard to go commercial.  When I started the company I decided to first raise some bees, so I built up to about 30 hives to keep it going.  It was a good starting point, but we were still doing things on a pretty small scale.

MB:  Tell us about the origins of the Wild Blossom name.

Greg:  We were thinking of all kinds of different names; just bits we liked.  We mostly pollinate wildflowers, we're not out doing pollinations, so that's where that came from.  I like the word "wild" so I figured we'd tone it down with "blossom". I think my wife probably came up with it.

MB:  You have a wonderful S'mores Bochet.  We've found bochets are rather uncommon.  Do you think that's because they are more involved, more of a pain to make, due to the process?

Greg:  Yeah, this is the first time we made it, but we were pleased to find it came out pretty good.  It was fermented in a bourbon cask.  We do a full year of age in a bourbon cask before we release it, so it's not something we can just knock out real quick.  As far as the bochet process, if you caramelize the honey just right it does add a nice flavor to it.

MB:  What's the first mead you usually recommend to new customers, with no mead experience?

Greg:  I usually push them toward the traditional meads.  We have a traditional dry called Blanc De Fluer and we have a traditional sweet called Prairie Passion.  We try to start them there before throwing them on fruits.  You might tell them to try the blueberry, because you really like it, but then find out they hate blueberries.  So the traditionals are a good jump-off point, and then people can go either way.

                                 Inspiration in a glass

                                 Inspiration in a glass

MB:  What's your personal favorite?

Greg:  Whatever is in my glass *laughs*

MB:  That's fantastic!  How do you go about finding inspiration for new recipes?

Greg:  I really don't need any inspiration, I need inspiration to NOT create new meads.

MB:  So you need someone to rein you in?

Greg:  Yeah, there are so many new ideas! I could come up with thousands of recipes.  The fun part about being a home mead, or wine, maker is coming up with the fun ideas.  With the commercial market you have to worry about how you're going to sell it, how you're going to do it.  On the home level you're more of an artist and can say, 'Hey, let's try this, or try that.'  We still do a lot of experimentation but we more have to figure out what we're NOT going to make, not what we ARE going to make.  The thing I love about mead is that there are so many different varieties.  We're pushing nearly 20 different types.  So, back to the question, mead is what inspires me.

MB:  Do you have any new meads on the horizon that we can look forward to?

Greg:  We're doing a lot of barrel-aged pyments and are still toying on where to go with it.  I've come up with some really nice, bold, dry, red pyments, fermented with honey, and you can really compare them right next to a nice shiraz, cabernet, or malbec.  I can sweeten them up, too, and make them more of a sweet pyment, so I'm trying to decide where they should go.  My inspiration for that is I have a lot of red wine drinkers who come in, try mead, and say, 'Well, no I don't want that, I just want a really big, red wine, I don't want to drink this fruity, white zinfandel type wine.  I'm past that.'  So I developed this nice, bold red and am going to barrel-age it for a year in French oak.  They really are nice and compare well with a good cabernet, with softer tannins and a bit more floral characters.  It's good. If I gave it to somebody, and they didn't know, they would say it was different, but wouldn't say 'Oh, it's one of those honey wines' because it's so much like a cab or shiraz.  So that's the thing I'm pushing for, so I can grab all those red wine drinkers and get them drinking mead.

MB:  That's something you've mentioned before, a desire to bring mead more into the main stream.  Different meaderies have taken a different approach to attempting that, such as including braggots in their line-up to pull in the craft beer drinkers.  So is that your plan, to convert the traditional wine drinkers?

Greg:  Yeah, so they can't just say they've had mead once and don't like it.  Braggots are another idea we want to expand on and the new operation will have a brewing license, but the laws are so screwed up.  We've made some really nice braggots.  I have a couple in a keg right now that are so good.  They're right up there with the Belgian tripels and all that other stuff, so that's another area of the market that's going to take off. 

MB:  It's amazing how just adding that one malt ingredient creates an issue to where you need a whole other license, and have to go through a whole other process, to create a beverage.

Greg:  It almost proves that there is something good there, because if it wasn't then they wouldn't have a law on it.

MB:  *laughs* This is true.  Something we've noticed with regard to mead's presence in the main stream, maybe even just over the last 6 months or so, is that it suddenly has its own signage in stores.  We would normally walk in and head for the dessert wine aisle, but more recently are finding that mead has its own category.  Are you seeing the same thing?

Greg:  Yes, I've been working with Binny's, which is our main store here in Chicago.  I have a really good relationship with one of the main buyers there and he's all about doing mead.  He's the one that said he'd put a whole category in for us, with signage in every Binny's store.  They have 10,000-20,000 square foot stores, which now all have mead sections.

MB:  We recently went to a Binny's and picked up some of your stuff.  As always, we headed for the dessert wine section and couldn't find it.  We finally asked a worker there, who told us to check the 'Mead' aisle.  We looked up and the hanging sign actually read "Mead".  We were pretty excited.  It's getting there. 

Greg:  Yes it is, big time.  Our sales reflect it.  Still, there's that educational curve where people don't know what mead is.  But we just did a festival with a bunch of wineries and breweries, and right next to us was another local winery which makes great wine, has about 5 different locations, and has been around here for a long time.  The line for our table was 100 yards back.  Their table barely had a line.  People would try their stuff and move on.  I think that mead is just really inspiring people.  Now they've heard about it and want to taste it.  Because it was so hot, we were doing mead slushies and my little machine couldn't keep up.  I have a two bag machine, and as fast as I could fill it up and let it freeze they would suck it right down and I'd try to fill it back up again.

MB:  Mead slushies are great in the summer time!  So what would you say your biggest challenges have been and/or will continue to be in trying to bring mead more into the main stream?

Greg:  Trying to get into restaurants.  If you finally get into one and they give you a mead section, it will do really well.  But sometimes they just write it off, don't promote it at all, and kind of bury it.  Right now there are so many different new craft beverages out there with all the new beers, pale ales, just all of the new stuff.  Everything from craft tequila to just the whole beverage market.  I've been in the market for a long time and, 15-20 years ago, I had the same attitude - 'Damn, the market's all full.  There's no room!'  It takes me for a ride.  I didn't know there would be so many more varieties.  It would be great if the mead section could open up as much as beer and there would be these major mead sections.  I think there could be, looking at what the response was at our festivals, with new people tasting it and hearing them say 'This is my new favorite beverage'.  I think we're a small craft beverage operation, just like most everyone, so we don't have the leg of a constellation of brands, doing a massive advertising push.  Maybe that's what it would take? It's what happened to ciders.  10-20 years ago it was...."Cider?"...  A few places would have a couple of them, but it was one of those buried items.  People liked it, but it never went anywhere.  When the really big guys got into it, that's what really pushed cider through the roof.  We'll have to see.  I think the biggest challenge is the noise in the market with everything else, all the other products.

MB:  And as you said, that's where branding and marketing become so important.  How do you stand out amongst the sea of competition?

Greg:  What gets me is there's such a push for sustainability and natural, healthy products.  I think mead is that product.  You can't get any more sustainable than mead.  It's carbon negative, not carbon positive, and is a natural, healthy product.  We're trying to put that message out there.  Sometimes I feel like it connects, other times I feel like I'm yelling and nobody's hearing me.  *laughs*

MB:  Where do you think your passion for nature and the environment comes from?

Greg:  I've always had a love for nature.  I grew up in the country and there's nothing better than being out on top of mountains.  It's just so beautiful!  Seeing how the environment is getting so trashed, I think about what I can do as a person to elevate the environment rather than bringing it down.  I think what we're doing right here is a way to do that.  Showing people the beauty of nature, versus taking away from it.

MB:  Is that the experience you're trying to create with the new space - bringing people more to place of peace, quiet, and communing with nature a bit more?

Greg:  Yes, versus crazy, loud bars.  As much as I like the mead hall feel, with dancing, drinking, and all of that, I'm more about relaxing and enjoying the sun.  With the new place, we're popping the whole roof up, everything is glass, so we're bringing that whole outside environment to the inside.  We're nestled right in the forest preserve, so you open up the doors and all you see is forests and trees.  You're watching eagles soar, at night you can hear the owls, and in the morning you have deer in the yard.  There's a bike trail where you can bike up to 30-40 miles on paths along the river.  You'll be able to do a lot of things, rather just walking in and hearing loud music.  I mean, I don't mind loud music, but would rather keep it more mellow.

MB:  That sounds great!  You're preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign to help with the new facility.  Talk about that.

Greg:  I may push the button there tonight.  I'm going on a trip the Canary Islands in a week or two and will have a lot of time on planes and traveling all over, so I think it's a great time to launch right before all of that.  I won't have all the business stuff taking me away so I can really concentrate on it.

MB:  You originally had a September opening date for the new space - is that still the plan?

Greg:  September is still looking pretty realistic.  We're still waiting for permits and such, but the construction is moving along really well.  We're laying out a lot of our tile right now, which is looking really phenomenal.  I'm trying to do a lot of honeycomb themes in our production area, with these great industrial warehouse tiles, which are all in the shape of honeycombs, and are a golden honey color.  They're going to make our production space look great. 

MB:  Is the grand opening of the new space contingent upon the success of the Kickstarter?

Greg:  No, we'll do it one way or another. If the Kickstarter is successful then we can do some really cool stuff.  I can hire the right people to do the landscaping and put the wildflower gardens in, versus me trying to do it with my pick and shovel.  *laughs*

MB:  Is there anything else you would like people to know about your Kickstarter campaign?  What's the main takeaway you hope to leave people with?

Greg:  I think the Midwest is going to be the mecca for mead.  The West coast has its grape wine, and California and Washington state are always going to be known for grape wines.  The East coast seems more beer-oriented, and the Midwest is more on the verge of the mead explosion.  I always looked at mead-making as being half wine-making, half beer-making, so I would say wine is made in a vineyard, beer is made in a brewery, and mead is made in both the apiary and the brewery or meadery.  It just happens that the Midwest is in the middle of both wine and beer.  We're the prairie state, and I guess the Midwest is the prairie part of the country, which has a lot of really phenomenal, multi-floral, sources of honey.  Mead is going to be a main force in beverages. As a company, we want to be on the forefront to lead the way and turn people on to really good mead. 

MB:  We think what you're doing is really great. We've visited quite a few meaderies and haven't come across a set up quite like what yours will be.  It's really unique and is going to stand out.

Greg:  Yeah, you should definitely try to come out for our grand opening and see what we're doing out here.  I've been working on this for 30 years now.  It's been a fun journey and is just getting better and better.

Wild Blossom's Kickstarter campaign has launched and we hope you will consider supporting it.  Every little bit will help to make this beautiful space even better! 

Wild Blossom meadery will ship to your door!  Visit and fill your basket with some of their fine meads.  You can't go wrong!

Many thanks to Greg for taking the time to chat with us.  We cannot wait to visit the new space!



Hive Highlight: Arktos Meadery - Bears, Bees and Braggots

This is the first of what we hope will be many "Hive Highlights", where we sit down with the owners and mazers of meaderies across the globe to gain some insight on who they are, what drives their passion and how they go about creating their own personal brand of mead magic! 

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Maciej Halaczkiewicz, owner and award-winning mazer of Arktos Meadery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We arrived around 4 PM on a Saturday afternoon, right when the doors opened, and guests were already beginning to fill the bar stools.  Thankfully, Maciej had a friend helping out who could take care of customers while we sat at one of the large wooden mead hall tables to chat with him.

Mead Buzz:  Where and when was your first encounter with mead?

Maciej:  Hmm…that's a good question.  A church I used to attend served a golden beverage that I believe was honey wine.  I never asked anybody or verified, but I think it was mead.  The first introduction that I can verify came when my brother returned from a visit to Poland years ago and brought back a six year old bottle of mead, which he then aged another four years in the US.  He heated up a bottle of that mead for me on a really cold winter day. That was my first memorable experience drinking mead. 

MB:  How long ago did you begin making mead?

Maciej:  September 11, 2011 is when I made my first batch of mead.  I called it my 9/11 batch.  

MB:  Wow; very interesting.

Maciej:  No reason in particular, it just happened to be made on that day.

MB:  And I assume it was something you just made in your house?

Maciej:  Yeah.  I had made alcohol before that on other occasions, just boiling fruit and using sugar and such.  That was the first time I had actually decided to invest in equipment, not milk cartons, and make mead.

MB:  What made you want to do this for a living?  You obviously went to school for very different reasons, you were in the Navy, so what led you to this career path?

Maciej:   I had fooled around with the idea in 2012 because I had some people who only drank things like Bud Light tell me my Queen Bee was amazing and that they wished they could get it in stores.  So that kind of seeded the idea in my head.  I didn't know when I was actually going to start, but decided in October of 2012 to begin the process of opening a meadery. That's when my brother passed away.  He had gone to school for a business degree and really liked drinking mead.  I contacted him the very day before he passed and said, 'Hey man, let's do it.  I'll make the mead and you can run the business side.' I hate the business side.  Ugh.  So when he passed away, I guess I became determined to do it as quickly as possible.  In 2013 I decided to test myself because I thought, 'I really need to find out if I should stop making mead; if it's worth my time opening this.' It was probably my third batch of Queen Bee; it was a year old and I had entered it into the Mazer Cup in the home brew competition and, while I didn't win a medal, it got really high scores.  Some of the judges said that it was a "world class mead", like a really amazing sack mead. The competition was in March and the following December was when I really started to get involved with the process, researching what kind of licensing I would need, what kind of equipment, all of that stuff.

MB:  When was Arktos officially founded?

Maciej:  Arktos LLC was created on May 10th, 2013.  Over that summer I tried to get the business opened in my friend's basement because I was living there and he had a little cellar. The feds approved it, but too much money would have been needed to put into his home to actually get the business started, so I never fully finished all of the paperwork for the state.  I ended up holding off just a touch so I could find some property, which is the location we're in currently, for production.  The feds had approved it, so I just transferred everything over here. It took me a year and a half because of all of my screw ups, but I didn't have a lawyer - everything was researched and done by me.  I'm sure if I'd had a lawyer taking care of this stuff it would have been done in 6-9 months because that's how long the process should take. I began experimenting with a bunch of recipes and came up with Fairy Godmother, Black Stripe, and Three Bears.  Mid-September of 2014 is when the final state licensing was approved.

MB:  Tell me about the name "Arktos"

Maciej:  I had been fooling around with names and things that I really liked. For some reason, I don't know why, I'm obsessed with bears.  Specifically, Kodiak grizzly bears; they're ginormous and I want a real life teddy bear that's a Kodiak grizzly.  So I started looking up words and names that mean "bear".  Arktos is the origin for the Greek vernacular of "bear".  There were different names, like "arktos", "arkadios", "arktaphonis", but I just wanted something simple. I know I'm Polish, but the Polish word for "bear" is too complicated for people to be saying over and over again.  "Oh hey, let's go to Niedźwiedź Meadery."  Yeah, I didn't think it worked.  So Arktos sounded good, and really rolled off the tongue.  I've done a lot of research on the origins of mead, and to my best knowledge, the oldest written history of mead making is Greek. They called it the "nectar of the gods" and since the word I wanted to use was "bear" and bears love honey, you know Winnie the Pooh and all of that, I thought it was really great fit.

MB:  What has been the primary inspiration for your mead names and themes?  There's a lot of nature, a lot of animals, each one has a story.

Maciej:  Yeah.  I super care about stories.  I could have called this place "Maciej's Meadery" if I wanted to, or just called my bottles what they are - "strawberry mead" or this and that.  I am lazily obsessed with folks tales and fairy tales from around the world.  I always start off with 'what are the main ingredients in my meads?'  Say, Black Stripe.  It's been evolving, so it doesn't necessarily work like this anymore, but I'll think 'well, there's strawberries in Black Stripe so what kind of animals eat strawberries?'  So I'll go and research that.  Chipmunks sounded like a cool thing.  There were a few other animals in contention; they all lost.  I found a folk tale called How the Chipmunk Got His Black Stripes.  I think there's a bear in the story that scratches the chipmunk's back which is how he got his black stripes, trying to get away from the bear.  I asked my friend who designs the labels if he could draw me a chipmunk.  I knew he was an artist, but didn't know he was this amazing.  He drew the chipmunk and started designing the label. Obviously Queen Bee was the first one to go - I started with bears.  I wanted my flag ship mead to somehow relate to bears.  That's how it works.  I pick an animal that relates to the fruit, I then come up with a folk tale that in some way or fashion is related to that fruit or animal, and connect it to the mead. I've used everything from Aesop's Fables to One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, folk tales from Guatemala, Native American folk tales, Grimm's fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, I mean all over the place.  As long as it has some kind of fairy tale element.

MB:  That is very cool. This is a more serious question.  What are your thoughts regarding the current issues with honeybee colony collapse, especially as it pertains to mead-making?

Maciej:  I am not a scientist, however I do believe that pesticides are the biggest reason for bee colony collapse.  I think they're weakening bees, causing the parasites to gain easier access to killing them and they're dying or becoming crazy from the neonicotinoids.  If I understand correctly, we're getting closer to having all those things banned.  The EPA is finally acknowledging the fact that they're killing bees with the pesticides, so I think it's done.  It's the same thing with climate change, right?  Even if climate change isn't real, air quality and such could still be better by implementing whatever technology you need to improve the environment, so why not improve it?  The same with pesticides.  You don't need pesticides to grow all of these different crops.  As a matter of fact, we have so many extra crops being made that we waste a lot of food, so why not just try to do it naturally? Why throw all of these disgusting chemicals on food that we consume and also kill all the animals?

MB:  Yeah, there shouldn't have to be a villain involved for us to want to improve things.

Maciej:  Right.  Then again, without villains, there can't be any heroes.  *laughs*

MB:  What are some of the challenges mead makers face which don't typically apply to those who produce beer, grape wine, or spirits?

Maciej:  Consistency in labeling seems to be really difficult.  I understand the system now to where I pretty much get my labels done in one shot.  I don't mind that I can't put "this has this much sugar from honey and this much sugar from fruit" and all of that.  I don't need to get super detailed about it, it's not my priority, but there are some mead makers out there who think it's extremely important to put how much residual sugar is in their product so they can describe it better.  In Europe a mead can have a super high abv percentage - 16%, 18%. Anything above 14% alcohol in the United States is no longer considered mead; you have to put "honey wine", which is the definition of mead, so I think "What's wrong with you guys?" I've had some labels approved that they let me call "mead" and some that they won't. I'll have two similar meads and one person will say I can call it "mead" and the other person has a different idea of the rules so they say "No", so you have to change stuff.  So I've pretty much taken the guidelines of the strictest person I've had to deal with, and then conformed the rest of my labels so they can be consistent.  

MB:  So you'd say that's the biggest point of frustration which other makers of alcohol don't have to deal with?

Maciej:  Yes.  Another issue is with braggots.  A braggot is a mead made with malt, but if you're making anything with malt you need a microbrew license. They're so closed-minded right now. It's wine makers, micro brewers, and distillers.  I think if it relates to fermenting honey, where honey is the major sugar in the process, then it should be a meadery license.  I'm willing to pay double for a meadery license that also covers my braggots.  I just hate that I have to do the license twice.  What's the point?  It's going to be the same stuff, the same exact information I've already had to give to them, I'll need the same types of clean spaces, ventilation.  It doesn't make sense that I should have to get two separate licenses.  

MB:  You're essentially a pioneer with regard to offering nitrogenated meads on tap.  What kind of difference would one notice between a mead on nitro vs. Co2?

Maciej:  I was actually surprised to hear that I was the first.  Actually, another mead maker was upset that I came up with it first.  He visited during my grand opening and was upset because he wanted to be the first one to do it.

MB:  And you're not going to name names?

Maciej:  Right.  *laughs*  First off, I thought 'Man, how do I put mead on tap?' Some things can be carbonated and it tastes good, like Enchanted Horse or Red Bear.  Dryer stuff, some really fruity stuff, all tastes great carbonated; but a traditional, sweet style of mead such as Queen Bee would be really weird carbonated.  So I wondered how to put it on tap so I don't have to keep pouring it out of bottles and nitrogen came to mind, which is the way stout is poured.  I didn't know for certain what the effect was going to be.  I assumed I might get that same creamy Guinness look to it, which happens, but it looks really weird because it goes from white to clear gold.  So I bought some nitrogen, started playing around with it, tapped some Queen Bee just for myself, and it changed it in such an awesome way.  The flavor is still there but now it's creamy and the texture feels really nice.  I don't sound like a politician right now, do I?  I'm answering all of your questions?

MB:  *laughs*  You're good.  Your tasting room offers a "mixology" option - what's your favorite combination thus far?

Maciej:  That's a good question.  I've got to say it's Prince o' Pumpkins.  I just think it has the best taste, mixing Fairy Godmother and the coffee of Cricket Song.  I mean coffee - who would have thought it would work so well with mead? But then mixing a pumpkin pie flavored mead with a coffee mead?  It works really well!  It's probably the cinnamon and spices, because a lot of people do that with their coffee.  Pumpkin lattes and stuff like that.

MB:  Yeah, I really like Prince o' Pumpkins a lot.  Which Arktos mead would you first recommend to someone who has never tried your products?

Maciej:  Queen Bee.  It will always Queen Bee for me.  To some degree I'm a traditionalist. Before anyone tries my products I want them to know what my view of a tradition mead is.  To me, a traditional mead is a sack mead that's really basic.

MB:  So if someone walks in, has never tried mead before, that's usually your go-to.

Maciej:  Yeah. If I do a flight or something it will always be 'try this one first.'

MB:  What's one thing you feel sets Arktos mead apart from the competition.

Maciej:  Well, I'll be a bit of a politician here.  First I wanted to compete because I like competing, but every meadery is so different that it's hard for me to compare what I do to anything anybody else does.  No one makes the exact same product.  I guess I'd say I do more of a European style of mead making, which is more intuitive.  I'm not a chemist and don't ever pretend to be.  Although, I do plan to have a lab in my new facility just so I can do better measurements for things. I don't know, it's a tough question.

MB:  One thing that stands out for us, with all of the different meads that we've tried, is that you seem to try to do everything more naturally, without the sulfites and such; you maybe try to do things more organically?

Maciej:  It's true.  When I can get a hold of large quantities of fruit that are organic, I'll do it.  I'm totally against hangovers and I think the less chemicals you add to the product, the less chance of a hangover you have.  I'm not going to say 'my mead doesn't give hangovers' because I'm sure a few people have had headaches, especially if you don't drink enough water.  But somebody came in the other day and said "I drank six glasses of your mead at home and I thought I would wake up completely hung over, but woke up with an extra step in my foot." *laughs*  I was like, "What?!"  She said, "I didn't have a hangover or even a headache.  I was up and ready to go." 

MB:  That's a good marketing point right there!

Maciej:  Right!  "Arktos Mead, for that extra step in your foot!"  But you've got to be careful.  I mean, I had the same experience.  I drank two bottles of Queen Bee at a wedding once and I woke up the next day feeling fantastic and didn't even hydrate that much.  But I always recommend drinking lots of water because I've had headaches due to complete dehydration the next morning.  So yeah, the natural stuff.  That's a good one.  

MB:  Aside from your own, what are some of your favorite meads?

Maciej:  Moonlight Meadery makes really good meads.  I'm not good with names, but have had three or four of them and they're good.  You may have to look them up and we could narrow it down.

MB:  Moonlight Meadery has about fifty meads at this point.  

Maciej:  Oh right.  Wow.  Well Michael Fairbrother isn't just a good mead maker, he's a really good guy too.  He showed up to my first Wine, Beer and Food Festival in 2014 and was telling people to come down and try my Fairy Godmother.  People would say, "The mead guy upstairs is telling me to come down and try your stuff".  I'm not going to tell you what I don't like.  I'd be listing those for days.  A few years ago I toured a micro meadery in Poland called Pasieka Jaros.  I actually think they're Poland's only micro meadery. It's owned by Maciej Jaros and his two sons, Marcin and Bartłomiej, who are all really awesome people.  They showed me how they make mead and weren't hiding anything.  A lot of mead makers are like, "my secrets, my secrets" but no, not them.  So after going and having that experience from them - if anyone comes an asks me for advice or whatever, I'll let them know. I won't tell them my recipes but will explain the process or what I'm using.

MB:  We've overheard you being very open with that information and have, honestly, wondered at it sometimes.  You'll explain to someone how you got rid of the "home brew" taste in your mead and we've thought 'Why would you tell them that?'  But you're confident in your product.

Maciej:  Well, I'll tell you why.  Even if I tell somebody something, they'll never be able to produce what I produce.  I screw up so much in the process, which is probably why my mead tastes good, that you can't reproduce my process.  I can't!  But it keeps getting better every time, so every mistake I make I just double up on it next time and it works.  Which is me.  But I like that aspect of it because it makes it more interesting and I don't get all technical - 'Oh, I've gotta add four drops of this, five drops of that', it's all just feeling.

MB:  Do you have any exciting new products on the horizon which we can soon look forward to?

Maciej:  Great Bear is our black raspberry mead and the label was just approved, so that should be bottled sometime in February and I'll start selling it in stores.  I also plan on bottling our pyment, Red Fox.  It's set in stone and I'm going to try to make a little bit of that every year.  I just have to figure out how bottling carbonated meads is going to work for me and how I'm going to design the bottles, because I can't cork it.  I'll have to cap it.  I just made another 45 gallon batch, so it should be back in the spring.

MB:  Where do you see Arktos in five years?  Any big plans in the works?

Maciej:  I'm currently looking for a new building, so we'll have to see how that progresses.

MB:  We will definitely want to follow up on that later, so please keep us posted!

MB:  Okay, here are some fun rapid fire questions.  Just say the first thing that comes to mind.

Which bear is best?

Maciej:  Kodiak grizzly bear

MB:  Favorite band or musician

Maciej:  Damien Rice

MB:  How many hours of sleep did you get last night?

Maciej:  Ugh.  Five and a half…maybe? Maybe three.

MB:  Favorite story

Maciej:  Oh man.  Hold on, give me a second.  That's so hard.  The Native American story of the Great Bear.  

MB:  What's the best thing about living in Grand Rapids?

Maciej:  Socializing in the tasting room.  I don't go out much and socialize, so meeting all the people in the tasting room is awesome.

MB:  Yogi or Baloo?

Maciej:  Baloo

MB:  Favorite TV show of all time

Maciej:  It changes so often now.  Uh...Cowboy Beebop

MB:  Vikings or Steampunks?

Maciej:  Steampunks

MB:  House Stark, Lannister, or Targaryen?

Maciej:  Stark

MB:  Most hilarious mispronunciation of your name

Maciej:  There's so many!  "Marci" isn't super hilarious.  "Ma-keej"?  I got that. I hate anytime someone called me "Macy"; that's not even trying.  But I think that "Ma-keej" was probably the most hilarious.  (Note:  It's actually pronounced MAH-Chay)

MB:  Alright, so the most important question.  Can I have some Fairy Godmother?

Maciej:  *laughs*  Yeah.

We want to thank Maciej for taking the time to sit down with us and wish him the best of luck with expansion!  We will keep you posted on future progress.  In the mean time, be sure to check out the Arktos Meadery tasting room, located at: 

1251 Century Ave SW, STE 200, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

Or visit the Arktos website and have bottles shipped to your door!






We've Launched! Welcome to Mead Buzz

Happy New Year and welcome to Mead Buzz!  Mead Buzz was designed to act as a directory of all known commercial meaderies from around the world, provide fully-annotated listings of all meads produced by each, and offer news and current events revolving around the mead industry.  While we realize there are a few other websites out there which offer some of these features, we have found that many are incomplete, inaccurate, or out of date.  Our love for mead has created a passion for wanting to discover and explore any and all commercial meaderies around the world.  We found the lack of complete information available online to be inhibiting and thus, are dedicated to ensuring our information is up to date and accurate as possible. features include: 


o       Meadery Directories

·     View commercial meaderies by state

·    Under construction – View commercial meaderies by country


o         Dedicated Information Pages for Each Meadery

·     Whether or not meadery offers a tasting room

·     Address

·     Directions linked to Google maps

·     Business logo

·     Direct link to meadery website to learn more about them

·     Complete listing of meads in production, with full descriptions, including ABV% as well as bottle label images when possible


o          “What’s the Buzz?”

·     Blog posts reporting on current events and happenings

·     Mazer Cup

·     Mead festivals

·     Grand openings

·     New products and offerings

·     Industry news

·     Guest writers

·     Much more!


Explore and enjoy.  Happy mead-ing!

Dave and Mandy Grimsby