“I don’t like to say we’re the new kids on the block because I just don’t think that everybody knows we’re on the block yet,” said Gordon Taulbee of the Louisville Mead Company.
But in only the second year of production Taulbee and business partner Terry Rothman have taken their basement-based meadery from farmer’s market curiosity to yet another example of Louisville-born artisanal craft.
Now available at area outlets including Kroger Wine & Spirits, Liquor Barn, The Wine Rack on Frankfort Avenue, Germantown’s Eiderdown and The Keg Liquor Store in New Albany, the pair currently bottle LMC mead in two variations: Traditional Honey Wine and Blueberry Honey Wine.
Despite its relative anonymity today, at least in the United States, the consumption of mead reaches back into prehistory. Neither beer nor wine, it is a alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey.
As explained on the Louisville Mead Company’s website, it was Norse tradition to provide newlyweds with a month’s supply in order to promote fertility. And thus, the origin of the term “honeymoon.”
“It’s the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world that nobody’s ever heard of,” joked Taulbee.
The growth of American mead might not rival the comparative craft beer explosion of recent years but it is nonetheless a product on the rise here. The American Mead Makers Association currently lists 165 meaderies nationwide.
“Homebrewers are probably the reason that people still drink mead in America because homebrewers were the ones that made it,” said Taulbee. “It was just something that we made it, we liked it, we just couldn’t get it.”
Taulbee and Rothman have been homebrewing together since 2007.
“[Gordon] got me back into homebrewing,” said Rothman. “I used to do it and play a little bit— he got a beer kit for his birthday and started doing it, kept bringing me homebrew beer and I was like, ‘man, these are good.’”
The two were predominantly brewing beer and initially landed on mead as a change of pace. But the long-forgotten concoction returned to the front burner as they started to think that their pastime-derived skills might just make for a viable business.
“We had always kind of daydreamed about having… a small microbrewery or a brewpub,” said Taulbee. “And when you look around Louisville there’s quite a few breweries and brewpubs, and we didn’t want to compete in that space. But we thought, with the mead, that we might have a unique angle on that, that would set us apart from the other people.”
Take a sip of LMC’s Traditional Honey Wine and you will likely be surprised at just how subtle the flavor is. Comprised of nothing more than honey, water and yeast, it is not overly sweet, and boasts a white wine-like body with a bouquet of floral tones.
“Basically, it’s just the pollens and the honey,” said Rothman, of the mead’s palate. He explained that many of the other meads produced in the U.S. can be quite sweet, but that he and Taulbee had purposely set out to create a product more in line with the traditional beverage.
Aside from LMC’s proprietary production process, which allows Taulbee and Rothman to speed up fermentation of what is otherwise a notoriously slow-moving brew, the two assert that the bulk of their mead’s quality comes from its locally sourced ingredients.
LMC’s Traditional Mead is produced from Hosey Honey apiary, located in Midway, Kentucky, while the Blueberry Mead utilizes Garey Farms honey from Paris, Kentucky.
“We’ve changed that recipe up a bit, started using the Garey Farms honey,” said Taulbee, of the Blueberry Mead. “And the quality went through the roof. They pair so well together, his honey and the blueberries.”
Louisville Mead Company started production in early 2012 with first one, and then two, 50-gallon fermenters. Taulbee and Rothman have since added two more and will be bringing the total to six within the coming weeks.
Single batches of mead ferment for one month before bottling (a feat accomplished in sixteen-hour marathon sessions wherein the pair conscript family and friends for extra help), after which individual bottles age for three more months before being ready to drink.
“Like a wine, it will continue to improve with age,” said Taulbee. Off to the corner of their production facility is a special rack where the two are hoarding some of their earliest product.
“It’s exciting and it’s scary. You go over to Kroger and you see something that you made on the shelf. That’s a pretty big deal,” said Rothman of the company’s success to date.
Currently distributed in Louisville by River City Distributors and in Indiana by Cavalier Distributors, LMC is gratified with the growth it has seen thus far, but eager to push further.
Especially towards that physical location that Taulbee and Rothman have been dreaming of since the beginning.
“We want it to be a mead hall essentially,” said Rothman. “Hopefully with all of our test batches and samples, so we’ll have a lot of flavors.”
One of those new flavors will be a sweeter version of the LMC Traditional Mead, confirmed for production in early 2014.
Still in the experimental phase are a Blackberry Mead, and a partnership with an undisclosed local coffee shop on a Coffee Mead. (You flavor your coffee with honey right?)
Perhaps the more daring of the two, Rothman is even hard at work on a Bacon Mead.
“It’s still experimental,” he said. “But I’m thinking honeybaked ham, bacon and pancakes— it’s not that far fetched.”
“I still have some convincing left to do on that one,” laughed Taulbee.
Louisville Mead Company offers free samples, mead history lessons and bottles for purchase, every Saturday at the Douglass Loop Farmers Market.