“Mead is the ancient liquor of gods and men,
–Robert Gayre, 1948
It’s official. The Four Quarters InterFaith Sanctuary has been granted a Pennsylvania Limited Winery License, and is now one of the very few churches in this country licensed to brew. I’m taking my hobby of Mead brewing and making it my vocation, my special niche within The Community of Service at Four Quarters.
Many of you know what Mead is, but may not know about its history. Mead is agreed to be the oldest alcoholic drink, given that honey was in use as a foodstuff before the domestication of grain or grapes, and given the classic human predilection to brew from any sugar source available. The oldest written documentation for Mead is from the island of Crete, during the Greek Classic Age. The Greeks loved their Mead, and elevated it in status to be the “Ambrosia” of their Gods of Olympus. Being drunk, in Greek, meant being “honey-intoxicated.” In Northern Europe Mead had a beloved home among pre-Christian Slavic, Celtic and Scandinavian peoples, where Mead was again extolled as the preferred “Drink of the Gods,” and honored libation of the warrior hero. Thus Mead is deeply woven into the mythic culture of these “Pagan” peoples and has been passed down in legend to our own times.
But honey is a more expensive sugar than cane sugar or the sugars in grape juice, and in later years the dominance of Mead fell as the transportation of cane sugar and wine became economical. During these times the privileged classes of society from the Urals to Ireland claimed Mead as their drink of choice. Mead remains an endlessly versatile beverage because of its ability to “carry” a complex mix of flavors: the honeys, yeasts, fruits, extracts and herbs traditionally used in its production. An aged mead can stand proudly amidst any collection of beer or wine.
My first challenge as a professional Mead maker has been simply having enough product; we have never been able to keep up with demand. The Members and guests of Four Quarters have been enthusiastic supporters, having found homes for every bottle I have made over the years, and raising thousands of dollars in donations to Four Quarters. It’s a good problem to have, really, better than having product and being unable to give it away! So I’ve been making new batches, getting in new carboys and sticking them in every spare corner, so that a copious amount of Mead will become available in January and February, 2007.
Your encouragement and support have been very important in the development of the meadery business, and your input has been invaluable.
Lots of thought has gone into up-scaling the entire production operation. The construction crew has been erecting a new meadery room that is attached to the older, smaller one. It gives me four times as much space to make and store mead, a place to package bottles for shipping and a sunny place to give visitors “The Tour.” I can’t wait to move into it. Orren is planning to build special storage racks to hold three times as many carboys as I can store now, and we are converting our batch size from 5 gallons to 30 gallons, with a peristaltic pump to move the mead around so that once a carboy is filled, it won’t have to be picked up again. Our glass carboys weigh upwards of 50 pounds, and physically moving them through the various stages of brewing has always been a little frightening!
Next comes the marketing phase. We have always given our Mead away or accepted donations, and our marketing has been of the simplest kind. Word of mouth. With the new Meadery building we hope to be able to attract people local to our area. But we are really putting our hopes in you, the folks who visit Four Quarters, read the Wheel of the Year Calendar and our web site. We are developing a new web site and on-line shopping cart just for our Mead, and it’s due to be on-line and operational by spring of 2007 at FourQuartersMead.Org. I can take orders over the phone right now, and we’ll work out how to ship it to you when you call.
Fabulous new color labels are under development by artist Kimberlee Traub, whose artwork has graced our Calendar and web site, and they will be printed by the same professional folks who print the Wheel of the Year Calendar you are now holding. We are considering how to advertise on-line, starting with NeoPagan and Earth Religious circles; people who already know what mead is and appreciate its history and delightful flavor. And then perhaps expanding to liberal and progressive web sites where we can make new friends who can appreciate cottage crafted goods.
The spirituality of Mead in history and of the people who drink it today has influenced my approach to brewing and the development of my varietals; making meads for inner contemplation as well as outward celebration. I have six meads that are tailored to traditional holidays and moon phases, and I have one pepper mead in the development stage. Let’s travel ’round the seasons:
My Harvest Fruit Cyser is a confluence of the sweetness of locally pressed cider and the rich flavor of wildflower honey, celebrating Samhain as a time of harvest, and the season of apples. It is well served chilled, or warmly mulled.
Warm Hearth is our Yule offering, a fine dinnertime mead to accompany your holiday feast. Unlike many meads, Warm Hearth is dry; a lightly spiced mead made from wildflower honey. We recommend that you serve it at room temperature.
Maiden’s Blush is my toast to the promise of Beltaine and the return of Spring. An award winning semi-dry mead made of complex pomegranates and delicate orange blossom honey, Maiden’s Blush is flowery and elegant.
Summer Sunset, chilled over ice, is a perfect companion for the languid evenings of Mid-summer and companionable gatherings on the porch. Our best sweet mead, made with luscious raspberries and rich wildflower honey.
Do you feel the Magic of the Full Moon’s light? Bed of Roses is our libation of ritual and celebration. This romantic and sweet pyment is made of fragrant roses, white grapes and delicate orange blossom honey. Perfect for Circle.
Dusky Vine is my New Moon offering, a dry, full-flavored pyment made of purple grapes and rich wildflower honey. This is the Mead of new beginnings, the pursuit of dreams, and introspective nights. Best served at room temperature.
In closing I want to again thank all the people who have been so supportive of this project over the past four years. The Members and guests who visit Four Quarters and take my Mead home with them, the Board of Directors who believed in this project and funded it, and my family of Church Wards and live in staff, who have lifted the carboys, helped with the bottling and built the new Meadery while voicing enthusiastic support.
The Four Quarters Meadery is an important part of our vision for the future of Four Quarters. A cottage crafted business that will over time use more of our locally produced agricultural products in a sustainable and Earth friendly way. A means for the Church Wards to support themselves and support Four Quarters as an institution. And as a model for a nonprofit owned business that takes little and gives back much.
Patricia Althouse, Wine Maker