Melchemy Craft Mead originates from a hobby and passion born of beekeeping, herbalism, permaculture, and community. Mazer (maker of mead) Jeffree worked in the beekeeping industry and was a hobbyist beekeeper in Portland, Cascadia for several years. During this time he was also learning about medicinal and healing uses of herbs, deepening his understanding of permaculture principles, and building community with his housemates and neighbors. All of this created a context within which he expanded a general interest in brewing and fermentation to a full-on basement operation of mead and herb experiments. Inspired by the medicinal herb infused meads of centuries and millennia ago Europe and Africa, Jeffree sought to transfer some of those approaches to the use of local and native herbs and berries of the Cascadia Bioregion. Living at the urban homestead of Tabor Tilth, he was able to participate in the cultivation and harvest of many experimental ingredients. For better or worse, Jeffree’s growing community became the taste testers and recipients of many of those early experiments. After enough positive feedback, Jeffree enrolled in a small business development course through Mercy Corps Northwest which helped provide a foundation that he drew from to start the business in late 2015.
Business partner Tim came aboard in early 2016, and the two founders decided to begin looking for land with friends, in a bid to escape the gentrifying and developing city of Portland. By mid 2016 they had found what they were looking for in a remote and beautiful valley of the Wind River, in the central Cascade Mountains of the Columbia River Gorge ecoregion. This set the stage for the beginning of a land-based enterprise which was embedded within and integral to a local community. The pair quickly set to work renovating a garage on the land and using their meager funds to acquire enough equipment to get started.
During this time they were also applying to the federal, state, and local agencies for the licenses and permits required to start and run a meadery. This process proved a lengthy and difficult one, threatening on many occasions to dash their hopes of getting the business started. Beginning an alcohol business requires not only the initial licenses, but permits from various agencies to do almost any aspect of the production and sale of the alcohol. To even consider making a particular flavor of mead, a formula must be submitted for approval which can take several weeks, if it gets approved at all. So far Melchemy has had several recipes for meads that include local herbs rejected by the TTB, the federal agency responsible for formula approval. If and when a formula is approved, a label design must then be created and submitted for approval. Because of Melchemy’s novel approach to highlighting place-specific elements of their mead’s ingredients and sense of place awareness in their labels, they have had to tweak and resubmit label designs for up to several months to get approval. All of this is to say that patience and perseverance pay off, but also that Melchemy will be continuing to work towards getting past the licensing, permitting, and reporting hurtles seeking approval for recipes and designs that truly represent the meadery’s roots and intentions.
After an over two year long process of getting to market, Melchemy has set its sights on phase two. In addition to a working commitment to source ingredients in a more local and conscious way, refining fermentation practices, and fostering collaborations with the craftspeople of their region, the meadery is working toward transformation from a business partnership into a worker-owned cooperative. Melchemy is poised to donate a percentage of its profits to place-based education, ecological restoration, and honeybee awareness and health, while also seeking certification as a B-Corp, Salmon Safe, Certified Employee Owned, Triple Bottom-line, and Organic company.