By now you've probably heard of Arizona-made wine, beer, and even spirits. But did you know there's mead being made here in the Grand Canyon state, and that it can be found as far away as Thailand? You can try the golden liquid for yourself at the award-winning Superstition Meadery in Prescott, where owners Jeff and Jen Herbert have produced more than 80 types of mead over the last three and a half years.
Mead, often referred to as the world’s oldest fermented beverage, dates back even farther than wine or beer. As fermented grains are to beer and fermented grapes to wine, fermented honey is to mead. It's made with a simple mixture of water, yeast, and honey, and as luck would have it, Arizona honey is “the best in the world" — at least according to the Herberts. The couple's mead, however, seems to support the argument; last year, Superstition Meadery won a Mazer Cup Gold Medal in the Varietal Mead category with a mead made with Arizona own’s ironwood honey.
But the couple didn't get into mead-making for the awards. They say the business is all about “reintroducing the world’s oldest man-made beverage to mankind.”
With Superstition Meadery, the Herberts are dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients and finding unique flavors. Between the two of them, they've traveled to more than 30 countries including cities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, with the furthest destination being a market in Tangier, Morocco, where they went in search of saffron.
“A lot of stuff doesn't make the cut and with experimentation," Jeff says. "[But] knowledge is gained on what pairs well together."
The meadery's menu includes meads made with everything from hops to fruit, and aged in anything from bourbon barrels to New American oak barrels — there's even one mead aged in barrels sourced from Gilbert's award-winning Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company. Flights are often the most popular choice for first timers, which can be paired with an array of artisan meats and cheese from a food menu.
Till now, keeping the business relatively small has afforded the couple the luxury of using some of the most expensive ingredients from around the world in their recipes. For example, the Herberts have used Spanish saffron, Tahitian vanilla beans, and dark Muscavato sugar from the African island of Mauritius (its known for its fine, moist texture and high molasses content) in their mead. As you can imagine, the costs can rack up, but a bland approach with mass appeal isn't the business model for which the couple aims.
“We want to make the best of what we do,” Jeff says.
Demand, however, has spurred the couple to expand, and this fall the Superstition Meadery expects to open a second location. The 3,750-square-foot production facility is planned to open on 1.1 acres in the Prescott Airpark, and though there won't be a tasting room, the location will be able host to special events in the future.
With a footprint almost four times the current location, the new facility will give Superstition Meadery the ability to produce 100,000 gallons of mead per year — a big jump compared to the 6,200 gallons produced last year and the 300 gallons made in their first year in 2012. The new location will house a bottling line with two-fifths of the space set out to support an extensive barrel aging system. Since mead requires a minimum of three to four months to age, this move will allow the business to continue growing.
“I can’t imagine anything more fun," Jen says.
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Superstition Meadery products are available at various locations throughout the Valley including at all Whole Foods Markets, Sun Devil Liquor in Mesa, Cellars Fine Wine & Spirits in Phoenix, Sphinx Date Ranch in Scottsdale, and Tops Liquors in Tempe. For more information, visit the Superstition Meadery website.