The success of craft beer has inspired new local ventures into cider and even sake in the past year, but it's a third beer alternative that is suddenly exploding in San Diego: mead.
Oceanside's award-winning Golden Coast Mead has been laying the groundwork for a San Diego–style mead since 2010. However, at this time last year, it remained the only meadery in the county. By the summer, there will be eight of them.
In July, Meadocrity Mead started distributing kegs and bottles of mead produced in "custom crushes," the winemaker's term for contract brewing (mead-makers operate on a winemaking license). Its first release, a carbonated, 12% ABV mead dubbed Foundation, may be found in select restaurants and shops, including Trader Joe's. Mediocrity is joining the cooperative of urban wineries at 298 Enterprise Street in Escondido.
Whereas the grains and hops fueling craft beer rely on out-of-state agriculture, the key ingredient in mead is produced locally. Each of the meaderies use locally cultivated honey, usually from Ramona or Temecula Valley. The four partners behind Meadiocrity go so far as to raise their own bee hives. As cofounder Mark Oberle says, "The honey always speaks for itself."
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July also saw the opening of Bronto Brew, which operates a meadery and tasting room in Miramar. The family-owned enterprise spearheaded by Daniel Gwilt calls mead "the evolutionary beverage" and works off a dinosaur theme. Hence, early offerings include the sweet, sparkling Pure Bronto and drier, fruited Strawbosaurus Rex, each hovering around 12% ABV. In the works are dry-hopped and coffee meads.
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In December, Twisted Horn Mead & Cider opened in Vista. Meadmaker Vince Obarski focuses on carbonated hydromels, or "session meads" — each around 7% ABV. Twisted Horn offers a growing range of meads and melomels (aka fruited meads), exploring the flavors of honeys derived from the nectar of plants, including wildflower, star thistle, and orange blossoms.
Next up, Ramona's Mysterious Mead Company will finally begin bottling in February, two and a half years after receiving its ABC license. Founder Jim Allison has been kept out of town working a construction project but has brewed a 15% strawberry-blackberry-raspberry blend for his first release. No tasting room planned, but Allison has his eyes on a pair of 10% meads for the spring: Meyer lemon, and strawberry-lime.
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In San Marcos, David Carr has started the application process for Raging Cider & Mead Co.. While Carr says cider will be the primary focus, he'll apply 28 years of homebrewing experience to fruited meads when he opens in May.
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Since cider also requires a winemaking license, mead and cider under the same roof will be a common sight. In the case of Lost Cause Meadery, it will share the brewing space and tasting room of incoming Serpentine Cider in Miramar.
Lost Cause founder Billy Beltz has won a number of mead homebrewing awards and notes that San Diego mead-makers have already started building off the foundation laid by Golden Coast's Frank Golbeck. "Kind of like the craft-beer scene," Beltz says, "everybody's working together instead of against each other."
"It's a great time to be a mead-maker in San Diego," adds Chris Roach, who's launched a crowd-funding campaign to support his Hidden Hive Meadery. He aims to bottle custom crushes this summer and hopes to open his own brewery in 2018.