In its eight years of existence, B. Nektar Meadery has grown steadily, upgrading from fermenting in carboys and 55-gallon food-grade drums to producing up to 150 barrels of liquid a week.
“We just keep getting bigger,” said William McCune, production manager at B. Nektar.
Now, the meadery’s annual festivals draw crowds of over 1200 people to its quiet neighborhood in Ferndale, Michigan.
“The amazing thing is that’s all just people for us,” McCune said. People who want B. Nektar’s unique brand of mead, cider, and beer.
Stop and think how mead, a traditionally heavy, syrupy drink sipped by the likes of Beowulf, could possibly draw crowds that huge in the warmest months of the year.
The answer is in B. Nektar’s one-of-a-kind approach—one informed in various ways by wine making, the craft brewing industry, and traditional mead making. Its effect has been to vastly widen mead’s audience, paving the way for meaderies everywhere.
“Ever since we’ve started, we’ve kind of been seen as the ‘big guy,’” McCune said. “After our success, that’s where you’re seeing all these meaderies popping up across the country.”
Drawing more people to mead called for a little beverage re-branding and finding the right audience.
“We wanted to make something that was drinkable and enjoyable and not too high of an ABV,” said Miranda Johnson, B. Nektar’s marketing director. “Taking Beowulf and Vikings away from it, but also throwing in session meads for easy drinkability.”
Though B. Nektar’s mead making process and tools share a lot in common with wine making, the connections with that industry stop there. The meadery is more interested in engaging the curious palates of craft beer drinkers.
“We want to continue pushing pretty hard to set the precedent for stepping outside of the box in mead, and really introducing it into the craft beer realm of people,” Johnson said.
The meadery is achieving this not only by making sessionable meads and ciders, but also by brewing a few beers. Those selections are only available at B. Nektar’s taproom in Ferndale. With varieties such as a Jasmine Green Tea Belgian IPA and a Sage Lime Witbier, they bear the same experimental style of B. Nektar’s meads.
But simply being experimental and still drinkable doesn’t get you extra points in the Michigan craft industry. B. Nektar surpasses that by making nuanced flavor combinations that are well suited to the beverages. Lime zest and juice complement agave nectar and orange blossom honey in Tuco-Style Freak Out. Michigan grapes sing with wildflower honey in Grapes Gone Wild.
Those successful recipes meant taking risks and being smart about them. B. Nektar’s company culture fosters the creativity showcased in their concoctions.
“Everything in our social media says ‘we let our imagination guide us,’” Johnson said. “It’s not a joke. Sometimes the imagination’s a little crazy, but thankfully we have enough people that are like ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, let’s talk about this.’”
“It’s a really fun environment and creativity is welcomed and there is no lack of it, that’s for sure,” Johnson said.
B.Nektar’s 2016 Summer Mead Fest is set for August 6. Learn more here.
Photography: Steven Michael Holmes