A Match Mead In Heaven
Baltimore's Charm City Meadworks is on a mission to bring mead into the light.
“It's crazy the growth that we've gone through, and it wouldn't be unless people are really drinking it,” said co-owner James Boicourt.
Mead is a versatile beverage, Boicourt said. On the taste spectrum, it sits somewhere between cider, beer and wine. It is an ancient drink, sometimes referred to as the “nectar of the gods.” Honey is its main ingredient, and it turns alcoholic after mixing it with water and fermenting it with yeast.
Boicourt took a beekeeping class in college, where he was treated to a mead-making demonstration. After his hives produced more honey than expected, he decided to try his hand at making mead. He later met Andrew Geffken (now co-owner of Charm City Meadworks) while working at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, and the two brew enthusiasts started a hobby making mead that quickly turned into a business. Baltimore's only meadery officially launched in 2014.
A lot of the meads on the market during the past 10 years have been of the heavier, sweeter variety, Boicourt said. Charm City Meadworks' product is dryer and lighter.
“We're trying to take it somewhere we see in other parts of the world as it has been historically, like an everyday kind of beverage,” he said.
And people have embraced it, too.
“Before we started, you could have asked a lot of people and they would have had no idea what mead was — most anybody — and we've gone from that to being a household name, where people understand what the product is and they're excited about it,” Boicourt said.
The meadery has a growing list of seasonal and regular products, and product development remains an important aspect of the business, Boicourt said. It is a bit of an experiment, although they have ideas and visions for what tastes they would like to incorporate into their beverages, but at this point it is some “educated guesses,” he said. But for Boicourt, experimenting and innovating is what leads to creating a product that people really love.
Charm City Meadworks moved production in January to a larger facility in Baltimore.
“Which, to be honest, we're already outgrowing,” he said.
They're also working on getting a taproom open in Baltimore. Boicourt wants to see an expanded marketplace for his business.
Currently, people can find Charm City Meadworks' beverages in restaurants and bottle shops in Maryland, Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“We've only barely hit the Eastern Shore (of Maryland), and we haven't made it down to the (Ocean City) beach,” he said.
Charm City Meadworks still is a young company.
“Given the amount of money we started with and the amount we were producing when we first started, I think it's a shocking amount of change,” Boicourt said.
“Most breweries and wineries, you need to kind of reach a critical mass before it becomes something that's really sustainable as a business,” Boicourt said. “Over the next year as we open our taproom, I'd like to become more involved and engaged in our community.”
What it's really about is Charm City Meadworks' staff, Boicourt said.
“They're what makes it go forward. These days, I can help, but it's a team effort, and without the people that are part of that team we couldn't do any of it,” he said. “You can buy extra warehouse space, you can buy more equipment, hire more employees, but having people who are versatile and strong members of the team — it takes a team of people to do a larger distribution effort and to grow a business. And that team of people has to have really strong members who can take ownership and who really understand all the little bits and pieces of their job, because that's what allows a company to really grow.”
Because it's a young company with consistent growth, Boicourt said it's important that he and his staff “have a firm grip” on what people want — from quality control, to relationships with customers, to the soon-to-be taproom, and in production — “every little detail, counts a lot.”
So where's the proof for Boicourt of Charm City Meadworks' success?
Boicourt told a story of a friend who sent him a photo one day of one of the meadery's cans crushed and lying in a gutter.
“And they said, 'You made it,' and they were kind of right. When it becomes something as ubiquitous in people's lives as that, and it shows you've become something. I like to hope that, with our customers, that it rolled out of a recycling bin, but that means people are drinking the stuff every day, and we see that with our shelf turnover,” Boicourt said.
“It'll be interesting to see what happens as we go into new territories and newer markets, but I think people are really catching on,” he said, adding that for something that started in a kitchen, to where the company is now, it's pretty exciting to watch it all happen.