New Business Hopes to Make a Buzz with Craft Mead

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meadThe latest addition to the Williamsburg area’s burgeoning craft alcoholic beverages scene is taking a page out of an old playbook — medieval, to be precise.

The Silver Hand Meadery is seeking approval from the City of Williamsburg to open at a location on Monticello Avenue near the Monticello Shopping Center.

The brainchild of Williamsburg resident Glenn Lavender, the Silver Hand Meadery would include both manufacturing and retail related to the production of mead, an alcoholic beverage derived from fermenting honey.

Lavender has requested a special use permit from the city to operate the meadery. A special use permit allows a business not specifically allowed to open in a zoning district to operate.

The request must go through the Williamsburg City Council for final approval.

Lavender moved to Williamsburg in 2012 after spending more than 10 years touring with a Nashville-based band.

The meadery was the natural outgrowth of two of Lavender’s interests: history and beekeeping.

“I’ve been reading historical fiction books for a few years, and a lot of them mention mead as a drink,” he said. “It got me really interested in it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”

Lavender said he decided to start making his own mead, crafting the first bottles seven years ago.

With his touring days behind him, Lavender said he thought opening a meadery in Williamsburg was a tantalizing opportunity.

“They’re springing up everywhere,” he said. “And it would be cool to have one in Williamsburg, since the first honeybees entered North America through Jamestown. It seems like a great place to start a meadery.”

Mead is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the alcoholic beverage industry in the U.S., with more than 200 meaderies active nationwide, including eight in Virginia. Black Heath Meadery opened in Scott’s Addition in Richmond in March.

While mead making remains a relative newcomer to the craft alcoholic beverage scene, Lavender said it has wide appeal, combining elements of craft brewing with the elegance of wine.

Consisting of 25 percent fermented honey, 75 percent water and yeast, to ferment the honey, mead has a simple recipe, but additions and substitutions to that traditional recipe can change the final product — one version calls for cider instead of water.

For Lavender, the most important variable is the honey.

“What changes it is the honey,” he said.

The flavor of honey can vary depending on the type of pollen and nectar bees are exposed to around the hive. Most honey in the U.S. comes from clover nectar, which yields a sweet, flowery and mild taste, but regional honey makers have experimented with honey derived from alfalfa, buckwheat and even avocado.

The different pollens affect the levels and combinations of sugars and other organic elements that affect the final product.

Music is important to Lavender — he currently runs a small music studio in Williamsburg and offers music lessons — and he believes the creativity that comes with being a professional musician will help him in the making of different kinds of mead.

With a November opening as Lavender’s goal, the Silver Hand Meadery will be the newest addition to the Williamsburg area’s growing craft alcoholic beverage industry, if approved. Williamburg AleWerks opened in York County in 2006. The Copper Fox Distillery and Virginia Beer Company are eyeing 2015 opening dates.

“All these things really play into each other,” Lavender said.

Lavender said he hopes to have the first batches of mead ready for sale by November.

The Williamsburg Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for its May 20 meeting.

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