The process of craft is the intimate connection to all aspects of a thing’s creation. Being a craftsperson means not producing a product, but rather taking responsibility for maintaining a tradition, art, or skill that reflects a personal touch and a connection to one’s community and the land upon which the inspiration and materials originate. Outsourcing transforms creative endeavors into productions, ultimately pushing the process exclusively towards efficiency and profit concerns, often at the expense of the quality and sustainability of a resulting product. Protecting the integrity and longevity of source material is integral to a stewardship process inherent in a craft.
Melchemy meads result from an intimate connection to every part of the creative process, from the gathering and growing of ingredients, to the nurturing of the fermentation process, to bottling, corking, labeling, right down to making sure that our meads end up on the shelves of local retailers who care about their customers and communities.
Every batch for us is different, but we always begin our craft with a connection to the land. It is vitally important that we understand the subtle nature of our ingredients. This core value has us growing herbs, berries, and fruits on the lands surrounding the meadery, keeping our own bees, and venturing into forests and fields to gather ingredients. We also seek to understand how a harvest effects the ecosystems from which we take. When buying or bartering with others, we seek to know those producers and their growing and harvesting practices. We source our water from the deep, pristine aquifer of our mountain valley, always careful to ensure that we aren’t taking too much.
Cultivating our traditions, each cask begins with a yeast starter that is introduced to water dipped directly from Panther Creek. All members of our meadery learn this fermentation process and help in its various stages. When fermentation is complete, into the barrels go our meads for approximately nine months of aging. While not an exact science, we align our fermentations with the seasons and cycles of nature, a reflection of the stars and skies in the cauldron of our divine brew. We hand bottle and cork each batch in our meadery, and personally deliver to the shops we value and support. All this to make it easy for the local lover of our craft to find an elixir suited to their pallet, and deserving of an intentional drinking experience.
We practice permaculture on the land surrounding the meadery. This means that we integrate a systems approach to how things are grown and how they are connected to the nutrient and waste streams. This fosters a holistic, closed loop approach to agriculture and land stewardship. We get to know the places from which we harvest, to understand when and how much to take, and how we might give back and protect the natural areas which sustain us.
We have bee hives and do our best to be good bee hosts. The reality is that caring for many hives is a lot of work and difficult to do in a sustainable and humane way. We are always seeking to expand our capacity for more hives and provide a greater percentage of our own honey. In the interim, our community grows toward beekeepers who share our approach to hosting bees. Unfortunately, the world of migratory beekeeping forces large scale beekeepers to sacrifice some humane and sustainable beekeeping practices for those which allow for more efficiency and profit. Vast numbers of hives make for cheaper honey, but also leads to greater use of medications, artificial feeding, and the spread of disease and parasites. Small, local beekeepers usually can do it better, but the quantity of honey produced pales in comparison. We will always be working on tilting the scales of the beekeeping world towards better practices for a more widespread and diverse beekeeping community.
We don’t travel far: For the ingredients that we do not grow or harvest ourselves, we strive to find producers of within 100 miles or so of our meadery. There are occasional batches that we make which necessitate ingredients from farther away. In these cases we strive to work with people that we know, whose practices we can confirm as sustainable and equitable. We strive to lessen our carbon footprint by minimizing the distance ingredients travel to us, and how far our meads are delivered.
All about the water: We are very fortunate to have a water well connected to the meadery that supplies us with some of the tastiest and cleanest water we have ever found. About four fifths of our mead is water, so the quality of this ingredient makes a big difference. Understanding our place in the watershed also informs us of how our water arrives to us, what may or may not be in it, how much we can sustainably use, and how we need to process our wastes to protect the water quality of our hydrologic system.
Our yeast has a sweet tooth: We currently ferment primarily with a champagne style yeast. It’s the best way to arrive at a consistently good mead. We are experimenting with and refining our use of other yeasts, and hope to soon offer meads produced by wild yeast fermentation. This entails a greater awareness of the local wild yeasts—what kind of flavors they produce and the best times of years to capture them for yeast cultures. We also have a particular approach to how we provide nutrients to the yeast, some of which come from the other added ingredients that also produce the flavors. Managing and tending to yeast throughout fermentation is very much like yeast farming—they have particular needs and we do our best to see those needs met to keep our yeast happy and producing wonderful flavors.
The aged wisdom of taste: After fermentation is complete and the yeast has settled out of the liquid, we transfer the mead to barrels for aging. We procure several types of barrels from different local sources depending on the flavors we desire. Some are bourbon and rum barrels from local distilleries, some are wine barrels from local wineries. Sometimes we use new barrels. Each has a particular toast level as well, meaning the inside of the barrel has had flame applied to it to create a char in the wood, producing different flavors. All of these factors are considered and employed when we barrel age our various meads.
When aging is complete and we are happy with the flavor of a mead, we bottle and cork it and hand number each label so customers can see the details of size, season, and ingredients of the batch. We then personally deliver our meads in our hybrid electric vehicle to local retailers—hopefully at a location near you!