In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers questions about new gadgets at the meadery, miniature barrels, stabilizing dry meads, acerglyn, saving a sour mead, and more!
In which Ricky the Meadmaker talks about things he's glad he didn't know before going pro. If you really want to go pro, you might want to skip this episode!
Ricky talks about going years without a proper paycheck, the stress the whole family has had to deal with, trolls on the internet, watching amazing people come and go from the company, not having a rule book, and more.
I warned you in the last episode, and I'm going to warn you one more time: If you really want to go pro you probably shouldn't watch this episode.
Welcome to Ask the Meadmaker, where I, Ricky the Meadmaker, answer your questions about meadmaking, mead drinking, mead brewing, and really any question you're willing to send to me.
So, in this episode, we're going to be talking about things I'm glad I didn't know before going pro. As one of the scions of business in this state one said, when she was asked "If you could go back, knowing everything you know now, what would you do differently?" She said, "Oh, I wouldn't start a business." She was dead serious.
If I knew going into this what I know now, I'm not sure I would have made the decision to be a professional brewer even with all the ups. There are lots of ups. It's amazing. I'm drinking out of a horn tankard. This is like a horn highball glass custom made for me that I can make mead cocktails in. I am living the life.
But, If I knew everything that I was going to go through, I don't think I'd wish that on 25 year old Ricky. So let's get started.
Going WIthout Pay
The first one is obvious if you've ever talked to someone who started a small business, especially with their spouse, (unless it was like a venture capital sponsored biotech firm) is the years and years and years we have gone without a proper paycheck. Kelly and I between us took home an income, roughly half of the livable wage in Vermont and we've made it work, had a wonderful time of it all, but it's been very stressful. And there have been really, really, really bad nights.
Stress On THe Family
And this leads me into the thing that I was going to end with, but I should just get it out of the way: I don't know that I would have made the choice to start a business with my wife If I had known the effects that it would have on my family on a day-to-day basis. The level of stress, the late night crying (me, not her. I'm the crier.) It's horrible. It's horrible. The entire world seems out to get you and you can remind yourself that you don't make n95 masks. You're not a surgeon saving lives, not on the front lines. You're not out there working for radical social justice change. We do our best. Our Drink Your Values Project is like the littlest we can do the change of this world.
When you're wondering how you're going to feed your family. You ask yourself over and over and over again, did I make the right light choices?
Dealing WIth Trolls
The next one is a big one. Now that we're selling online, and this has always been an issue, but It's one thing when it happens in person, because trolls can be defeated with wit. But online, I had no sense of what trolls were going to be like. We had someone say that he "canccelled" his order, when he found out that we were a proudly woman-owned business. And the fact that he wrote "canccelled" should help and it definitely does, but I had no idea that being a woman was a political statement. I should have known better. But if I had known that, working for a company that my wife owns would induce such rancor and hate in people... And that's the tip of the iceberg.
When people find out that we're a queer-friendly company... It's just the amount of hate that you can generate that can exist on the internet. I know I should have known that, but I really didn't.
Dangers of Success
In the first episode of this series, where I talked about the things that I wanted to know that I wished I had known was how wonderful other people in the industry would be, how supportive the other mead makers would be. The flip side of that is how a few companies and I'm gonna name names here: Budweiser, Anheuser Busch InBev, as they're now called. Or Sam Adams, is a constant terror.
Angry Orchard is just Sam Adams. They just made a cider one day and overtook the largest cider makers on earth! On a regular basis we have to sit down as a team and say, "What if a multinational corporation decides to make a mead?" And the answer is usually "We'll all go look for new jobs. And if I had known that that would be a day in, day out fear for me, and that my own success, if we were really successful as a meadmaker, it would be more likely that someone would make one to compete with us. If I had known that, I don't know that I would have started a business.
Losing Great People
The next one is short and brief. And I hope you are watching this; you know who you are: The number of incredible co-workers and employees we have had, that have moved on to other things, that did sales, or brewing, or just ran the taps on a weekend. They come into your life, and they go, and we're so close to a lot of you. But if I had known how many people I really cared about would come into my life, and then go off to bigger and better things... it's tough.
I knew that I was signing up for a lot of long hours. My record is 89 hours in a week, I have gone above 80 over eight times. But I did not know the number of really incredibly stupid things I would do because of the exhaustion I had induced in myself. From forgetting to turn a pump off and having the head on it melt on a $3,000 pump, to running water into a tank and forgetting to turn it off and finding 208 gallons (give or take) of mead on the floor... I cannot now enumerate all the idiotic things I have done, because I was so exhausted, but if I had known that they were in front of me, I would have been ashamed to know that guy.
Playing Without a Rulebook
Last thing I'm glad I didn't know is second only to the toll that it would have on my family and I didn't mention earlier like my inability to just pick up and go see Nora's grandparents. That's still tough. Coronavirus is part of it, but really being small business owners, regardless of what you choose to do, causes that and this one: How I was never going to be permanently correct about anything.
When we launched, we had invested in a bottling line and labeler, and we were going to sell four packs of bottles, because a few breweries were successfully moving higher-end product in that packaging type. We nearly went bankrupt, and on the edge of bankruptcy, we had the guts just once to make the transition to cans and octupled our sales. We had to sell off our bottling line, sell off our labeler and go with our contract canning company (They were wonderful. Ironheart is amazing. If you're trying to get started, please, please, please work with Ironheart. Love those guys.) But it hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it hurt to be that wrong about bottles. And it wasn't that it was wrong when we started. It was that the world changed.
And the world changed again. We have discontinued five products. And every time you discontinue a product, especially if you're a core product-based company, it can cost you 10s of thousands of dollars in cans that are sitting around and other things.
So, knowing that no matter how smart I am, how much I think about something, how many amazing people I have around me. Nobody can hand me a rule book and every week (and don't even get me started on the impact of Coronavirus on having a team that has a minimum number People and a maximum number of people working in a space at a time, right?) every week. I have to sit down with my team or just think on my own,and figure out what has changed since Monday. It's exhausting. It's exciting. It's, it's wonderful, really. But when you're up with your toddler at three, when you're looking at the books, and all the numbers are red, and you can only think about the fact that you have, in a sense, been wrong about every decision you made, and every right decision you made, you're going to be wrong about soon. It can get really tough.
So, that's the end of my list! I'm glad I did it. I don't know that I do it over. But I am so glad I did it and it's you, and all your nice comments, and your messages you write to Nora when you order your mead online. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
If you're thinking of going pro, I will do everything in my power to help you, but I will, as always, start by saying, "Don't do it. It sucks."
Thank you for all your questions, and I will get to them as soon as possible. Cheers.
In which Ricky the Meadmaker talks about what else he wishes he'd known before going pro, including large-scale brewing equipment, HVAC systems, when to hire a professional, how to package large quantities, understanding the three-tier distribution model, and more!
In which Ricky the Meadmaker talks about what he wishes he knew before going pro, including: How to source large quantities of ingredients, who to reach out to when questions arise, state and federal regulations, how nice everyone in the industry is, and more!
So You Want My Job: Janitor
In which Ricky the Meadmaker goes back to basics and answers questions about brewing mead with fruit and spices, including when to add fruits and spices, whether to use fruit concentrate, whole fruits, or fruit flavors, whether to sanitize spices before adding them in secondary, and more!
To the Larder! Experimenting with Fruits and Spices
How We Brew Everything We Brew
It's the episode you've all been waiting for, assuming that all of you have been waiting for the episode where I talk about nutmeg.
Welcome to Ask the Meadmaker, where I, Ricky the Meadmaker, answer your questions about mead making, mead drinking, mead brewing, and really any question you're willing to send to me. This is part four of possibly four possibly more, depending on the questions I get by the end, of basics about mead making And as promised, it's an episode all about fruits and spices in mead.
And the first one is easy: When do I add fruits? And the reason it's easy is, ooh it's complicated. Uhhh... Let's see. Usually if it's a sugar heavy fruit like cherries. Uh, you add them at the beginning, so that you can ferment those sugars out. And the fermentation process usually won't take up all the flavors. Citrus is usually added at the end. But not always. Strawberries are one of the only common fruits that's almost added always in the secondary fermentation - because although there are sugars in it, it's such a subtle flavor - so the reason it's easy is because, ooh, you're just gonna have to experiment.
Our next question is juice concentrate or natural fruit flavors. And the answer is, concentrate is convenient, and usually you can get things in concentrate that you may not be able to get in pure juice form. Juice is great if you can get it. Natural fruit flavors are, for the most part - there are no hard and fast rules, but for the most part -to be avoided.
Our next question is just as easy as the first one. When do I put in the spices? And the answer is, oh, obviously. Let's see, uh, cinnamon is weird because you can put it in at the beginning or the end, if you put in at the beginning, you'll get some yeast scrubbing, which means it will change the flavors that you extract due to the yeast interacting with some of those compounds. Also, it's a bark technically, which means you can get the effect of oak aging while extracting cinnamon flavors. Uh, cloves are very intense, nutmeg is very intense. (I know you've been waiting for it.) So we recommend putting those in at the end, tasting it every day. And then going, "Uh, that's enough," and racking it right off of those spices and packaging it. Uh, let's see, what other common spices - oh, herbs. Herbs usually go into the secondary. What did I say about that first thing? Oh yeah, you probably have to experiment. I know I keep making it sound like experimenting is a bad thing. It is not. Experimenting is the best because then you have a whole bunch of mead.
We're gonna breeze right over the question of how much spice to add. And you need to see my thing about experimenting. Also, you can add a lot and rack it off really soon afterwards.
So one of the big questions in homebrewing in general is do you sanitize your spices? So you've gone through all this work of making sure you have a clean must when you start your fermentation, and now you have a great mead. Do you have to sanitize those spices? And the answer is, that's a tough one. But the best way to sanitize a spice, if you're going to do it is drop them into vodka, then you get the addition of high ethanol extraction on some of those compounds, and you pour the whole thing into your mead, then it's a little boozier has a lot of spice flavor, and you don't have to worry about the ingredients not being sterile.
And our last question this week is: Are there special dangers about adding spices? This is a curious question because there are things that are safe until there's an ethanol extraction of them. But for the most part, anything you might want to add to your mead would be safe, as far as I know, but I am not a medical doctor. And if you're questioning it, either do a lot of research or don't use it. It's the best advice I can give you. There are so many safe ingredients you can use.
So that was our last question this week. Keep sending them and I'll get to them as soon as possible. Cheers.
In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers questions about what kind of mead to brew for your first batch, what to do if your mead doesn't taste very good, when to add yeast nutrient (and what exactly is it?), and more!
Basics Part 1
Basics Part 2
Your First Batch of Mead
Meadmaking Essential Equipment
Making Mead at Home in Three Short Weeks
Hi everyone, I'm finally answering questions at work again! And... guess what! It looks the same!
Welcome to Ask the Meadmkaker, where I, Ricky the Meadmaker, answer your questions about mead making, mead drinking, mead brewing, and, really, any question you're willing to send to me! And this is part three of probably four, maybe five, where I just answer basic questions!
And one that I get all the time is, "My mead isn't very good. What should I do?" And the answer is easy: wait. While this won't always solve your problem, but hopefully you'll be brewing in the meanwhile, learning from any mistakes you made. And by the time you go back and taste it, and you're like, "Uhhh this really wasn't that good," you'll have plenty of other good stuff to enjoy.
Next question, "My mead is sour. What do I do?" Whoowooohoo... that's not one you want to wait on. Uh... it won't hurt ya'. Uhhhh, mead vinegar could be really cool in some Italian dishes. Also, a side note, wild fermented and sour meads are super popular these days, and we make a whole bunch of them, so you could just pretend that that's what you were going for!
After a previous "basics," people have been asking, what exactly is yeast nutrient? And the answer is, it's a blend of minerals and amino acids, some salts, and for the most part, it's proprietary if you get one of the fancy blends, so beyond that, I don't know. However, certain nutrients like DAP, diammonium phosphate, tell you exactly what they are.
On the subject of nutrient. One of my favorite things to talk about at dinner parties (when I want people to go home) is, "When do I add the nutrient?" And the answer is, this is a shockingly contentious subject. We do it all at the beginning. And I had someone stand up and walk out of a lecture when I said that we did that so, you know... A lot of people will do staggered nutrient additions to try to maintain the health of their yeast throughout the fermentation process. This to me implies that your fermentation - active fermentation - might be going longer than ours here at the meadery but, um, yeah, just take that as another one of them that I almost answered but didn't quite because I don't want to get in any fights.
Our last question this week is one that I can't answer for you, even though I get it all the time: "Should I start with a plain mead with only honey in it? Should I do something fancier to start?" The answer is: Alright, what, what do you want when you're done brewing? That doesn't seem like a very hard question. Do you want a plain mead when you're done brewing it? Or do you want something different? Because if you want something different, brew that! It's not going to change halfway through the process. That said, if you start with plain mead, you can always add stuff to it afterwards. But that would also be a decision that you have to make for yourself! I cannot answer for you!
So that was our last question this week. Come back in two weeks for what is probably part four of maybe part four of maybe four parts or maybe eight parts... we'll see. Keep sending your questions in the meanwhile, and I'll get to them as soon as possible. Cheers!
Ricky Klein and all the staff of Vermont Craft Mead stand in solidarity with the BIPOC community. Your lives matter to us. Thank you for being you. Stay strong. Stay safe. We are here.
Here are a few resources from B Labs that we've found super helpful:
Tackling Racism As Accountable Business Leaders
4 Steps That I and Other White People Can Take to Fight Racism
A very special episode to support the work of Mystic Seaport and their amazing Viking Days Exhibit! In this episode, Ricky the Meadmaker dispels some of the common myths about Vikings and mead!
Fun Fact: Skulls of Enemies
What's So Sweet About a Honeymoon?
Fun Fact: Mead of Poetry
Lady with a Mead Cup
So usually I'd be doing this on Father's Day at beautiful Mystic Seaport but there's this pandemic going on. So we're gonna try it by video.
Welcome to Ask the Meadmaker, where I, Ricky the Meadmaker, answer your questions about mead making mead drinking, mead brewing and any question you're willing to send to me. This week we're collaborating with Mystic Seaport in Connecticut for Viking Days, which got canceled and then moved and then moved and then canceled. We're working on it, folks.
So we're going to do only Viking mead questions this week, and we're going to start off with one of the biggest myths out there. Number one: No, Vikings did not drink their mead out of the skulls of their enemies they drank out of intricately made horns, silver, and in some cases imported wine goblets made of glass.
While we're dispelling myths, honeymoon is not related to drinking mead for a month you will go on even fact based websites that claim that it's some Viking tradition of giving them Mead. We have a link in the doobly doo below dispelling the myth.
Here's an interesting one for you. Although mead is extremely popular in Viking legends, the mead of poetry (the ability to recite verse) actually comes from a mead that is stolen by Odin and put in his mouth when he's a bird and then barfed up into some buckets. But skipping that, mead was so special because honey is almost unavailable in Scandinavia directly. So where the Vikings lived, and especially in Iceland, honeybees don't flourish or even survive, so they actually had to trade for it.
Another myth to dispel: No the Vikings did not drink mead every day unless they were inordinately rich because of the thing that I just said about the access to honey.
Here's a fun fact about dying as a Viking if you were lucky enough to be selected by the Valkyries and taken to Valhalla: You get to eat pork and drink mead every night because there is a goat there named Heiðrún who gives mead instead of milk.
Here's one that we don't know the answer to: Was their mead sweet? A lot of craft meads like what we brew here at Groennfell Meadery and Havoc Mead are extremely dry. A lot of honey wines, which are also very popular, are usually very sweet. So what were the Vikings drinking? The answer is we don't know. Conjectures range, but we do know this: If the honey remains in solution, that means those sugars have not been turned into alcohol, and it's unlikely that the Vikings would have left any potential alcohol behind if they could help it.
Along those lines, what did Viking mead taste like? We know that they often used spices. Sometimes they mixed it with grain. And other than that, all guesses.
Our last fun fact is a twofer! So the central place in most Viking-era communities was called the Mead Hall - Meduseld. And this means "the place that has mead" showing how central it was to their community, but what many people don't know is it was the women in those communities who did almost all the brewing and distribution of that mead. For more on this and other interesting facts will have a link to the book Lady With the Mead Cup below. Fascinating research work. And also of course, a link to the Viking Days website.
If you have any questions, you can send them to me and I'll get to them as soon as possible. Cheers.
In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers more basic questions about meadmaking, including when to add fruit and spices, the best way to carbonate, whether to sanitize your must, and more!
In which Ricky the Meadmaker answers some of the most frequently-asked questions about meadmaking, mead brewing, mead drinking, and some of the other questions you're willing to ask him!
Groennfell Meadery is Vermont’s premier craft meadery. Inspired by Old Norse legends, brewed with extraordinary ingredients, Groennfell’s meads are unlike anything you’ve had before. Crisp, clean, and astoundingly drinkable, the only way to explain any one of Groennfell’s meads is to try one yourself.