Ask a mead maker how he or she got started, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear a story about Charlie Papazian’s prickly pear mead. For Brad Dahlhofer at B. Nektar Meadery in Ferndale, Michigan, reading about Papazian’s prickly pear mead was all the motivation he needed to get involved. “If anybody could write that poetically about a beverage, then I ought to try it,” the homebrewer-turned-mead maker says about Papazian’s Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Mead recipe in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.
Dahlhofer compares the transition from homebrewing to mead making to learning to cook. “You can learn to make pasta, but eventually you make a soup and a roast and eventually you start barbecuing.”
B. Nektar, ranked in the top 100 breweries in the world by ratebeer.com for the third year running, is a culinary-focused meadery, explains Dahlhofer who launched the company with his wife in 2008. “We make a lot of meads based on foods we’ve had in the past,” he explains, describing his Cherry Chipotle mead that was inspired by a marinade someone had done with chicken. “Our mead making is the equivalent of fusion cooking,” Dahlhofer says, “in which we shamelessly steal from things that are already good.”
B. Nektar’s meads aren’t just made with food in mind; they’re also made with drinkability in mind, which ultimately makes them great food meads. B. Nektar’s core line of meads is about 5.5 percent ABV and lightly carbonated. Included in this line are Zombie Killer, made with Michigan tart cherry juice, apple cider, and star thistle honey; and Kill All The Golfers, made with honey and “dry-hopped”—in essence steeped—with black tea. “I make meads that I want to drink a lot of. We’re much more craft beer-ish in that sense,” says Dahlhofer. “We make session meads. They give people the option to try mead at a much lower price point and the opportunity to try more varieties in one sitting.”
Most session-beer brewers tend to offer imperial selections as well, Dahlhofer points out, and in that same vein B. Nektar offers high-alcohol meads such as Zombies Take Manhattan, a rye whiskey cask-aged Zombie Killer, or the 15 percent ABV Buckwheat Cyser, made with apple cider and buckwheat honey. Another limited run mead at B. Nektar, brought back by popular demand, is Devil’s Juice, a pineapple mead with jalapeño, serrano, and ghost peppers that also weighs in at 15 percent ABV.
B. Nektar produces more than 100,000 gallons of mead each year (the equivalent to 3,226 barrels in a craft brewery) and uses about 3,000 pounds of honey each week. “To produce that much mead, I have to work with a lot of beekeepers, and we work only with beekeepers,” Dahlhofer says. “We don’t buy from big packing houses. We don’t buy from wholesalers. We have been working with great keepers, many of whom have grown from small mom-and-pop companies to big players in the honey industry.”
With at least fifteen registered meaderies in the state, Michigan’s mead and honey producers are thriving. “We have good access to fruit, good access to honey, and great beer community here in Michigan,” says Dahlhofer. “Basically we grow a lot of food. Good food culture is what it takes.”