This is actually one of the Midwest’s best meaderies. Brothers Drake crafts mead, or honey wine, said to be the world’s oldest alcoholic drink.
We recently toured Brothers Drake, situated in Columbus’ artsy, energetic Short North district. Meadmaker Justin DeVilbiss explained how the business moved in four years ago. “At first, people thought we were just butchers,” he said. “They didn’t know what this mead stuff was. They thought we were a meatery.”
Wearing a scruffy beard and a man-bun, DeVilbiss looks like the homebrewer he once was. With an earnest geekiness, he broke down the science for us of making this specialty wine. At its most basic level, mead takes fermenting honey, water, and yeast. But temperatures, pH balances, and carbonic acid are assessed along the way, he explained. Then he cracked open 55-gallon barrels of wildflower honey for dipping.
I was all for sampling the honey, but skeptical about the final product. I’d tried mead before and found the taste much like beer, yet with a syrupy sweetness and funky-sour aftertaste.
But at Brothers Drake, I got a surprise. Its most popular Wild Ohio and Hopped Ohio versions tasted more like dry, unoaked chardonnay. Other batches ranged from a spicy Blueberry Chai to a sweeter Apple Pie to a tart Sour Paw Paw named for the native Ohio fruit.
As craft brews and artisan spirits resurge, mead is the latest beverage to get its own fresh taste. The number of U.S. meadmakers has gone from roughly 75 to 250 in the past few years, according to the American Meadmakers Association. California has the most producers, followed by Michigan. Naturally, three of the country’s most hipster cities— Austin, Portland, and Boulder—host meadmakers, too.
There’s sharp debate, it turns out, over the process, and whether to make it more in the model of wine or beer. Part of the secret at Brothers Drake, DeVilbiss said, is aging the meads like wine. Of course, I shouldn’t tunnel into the various methods too deeply yet—clearly, more sampling is needed. But preliminarily, if aging is part of what it takes for people like me to learn to enjoy mead, I’ll say cheers to that!