By Jacque Lynn Schiller
It only took a few thousand years, but mead, sometimes known as ‘drink of the gods” has finally come ashore in our fair land under the name Brooklyn Buzz. Produced by Manhattan Meadery, the brothers behind the honey wine renaissance are passionate about sustainability and putting a cork in the whole sweet stuff reputation. Dry and balanced like a nice white wine, they’ve bottled something special with the help of a few thousand diligent upstate workers.
Nona chatted with mead master Nathaniel Martin on a recent Sunday at the New Amsterdam Market about fermentation, funky beer and of course, Brooklyn.
How did you know about and become interested in mead?
I’ve been brewing beer and making wine before I moved to New York (from Connecticut). I really got into making really funky beer with all sorts of fruits and vegetables. I started experimenting with fruit wines and different mixtures then tried making some mead and the mead probably turned out the best of anything I did. My brother, Thatcher, and I sort of had that aha! moment. No one else was making anything that was like a dry mead, more often it’s syrupy sweet and not really drinkable. The mead we make is a lot more balanced and enjoyable – more wine like but still different from wine. When we realized there was nothing else quite like it we decided to jump on the idea, did our research, put our company together and here we are.
Do you produce it here in the city?
We lease space from an existing winery about an hour or so north of the city. It sort of works perfect for both of us, as we’re a pretty small operation and can’t really afford a huge, state of the art production facility. When making wine, you’re tied to an agricultural harvest. We’re not since we’re making mead and honey never spoils. They begin making wine in the fall and bottle it in the spring. We make our mead in the spring and bottle it before the next fall, using equipment that would otherwise sit idle for half of the year.
How old is the company?
We had the idea in 2006 and actually started our first vintage in 2007, selling in 2008. This is our second vintage. Our first one was made with wildflower honey from upstate New York and this batch is made with raspberry honey from the same beekeeper. We work with a beekeeper from the Finger Lakes region who sells at the Union Square Greenmarket as well. It’s very high quality honey.
What about bees from NYC?
It’s legalized and now you can keep bees in New York City but we buy a couple of thousand pounds of honey at a time so we’d probably exhaust the entire supply! It’s better to put that on bread and eat it than sell it to me.
How much honey does each bottle or batch require?
Roughly a pound. It’s kind of surprising but for every 500-gallon batch we buy 2400 pounds of honey.
Is mead made like regular wine?
It’s made very similarly. Instead of pressing grapes, we mix honey with spring water until it’s the same sugar content as what fresh wine grapes would be.
And you would pair it the same?
It’s very similar to white wine – dry with an acid balance and alcohol balance. It’s not syrupy sweet. A lot of people expect that but the yeast consumes the sugar to make alcohol so here it creates something more wine like. It’s pretty unique. A lot of the restaurants we sell to pair it with cheese plates but I drink it just as you would a white wine. It has a lot of flavor, there’s a little bit more going on so that you could drink it (chilled) with say a spicy pasta meal.
Where do you guys sell in Brooklyn?
Dry Dock Wines, bars Spuyten Duyvil and Beer Table. We were at Uva but they might be sold out, same with Big Nose, Full Body. We’re pretty small, only in like 12 or 15 places across the entire city. Not on every corner.
Are you going to branch out into other products?
Yes – right now we’re doing test batches on something called cyser which is hard cider mixed with honey. The acidity and the fruit balance in the apples really brings out a lot in the honey. And we’re going to make that sparkling in champagne bottles.
What would you say is the philosophy behind Manhattan Meadery?
I guess just to do something different. There are a handful of meaderies across the country but mead as a general rule kind of has a bad reputation. Like a lot of people here (NAM) we were motivated to create something unique and local, something creative and that not a lot of other people were doing. If you talk to any entrepreneur, when they have that moment – you go with it.
How long have you been a vendor at New Amsterdam Market?
We were here last year too. We did all of them last year, but now that they’re every week, we try to every two or three. So many great people here doing unique things. There’s a lot of creativity. People can team up.
How do you go about finding where to place Brooklyn Buzz?
It’s all us, me and my brother. We make it, market it, distribute it. We basically look for stores that sell unique things. If you go to a wine store that’s selling the same mass market California stuff, then no. If you go into a store with a lot of small producers, out of the ordinary, likely they’ll have an open mindset. We like to partner up with those guys.
Favorite spots in Brooklyn?
Not to be biased, but Beer Table and Spuyten Duyvil are pretty awesome. I’m not just a mead guy. I love beer. I still brew beer. I love unique alcohols. There are a couple of beer bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn that are really taking it to the next level. On the West Coast, beer has been brewed for so long but in the New York area you don’t have the same expanse of microbrews. You have Brooklyn Brewery, Captain Lawrence, Dogfish Head are doing awesome things. But I think it’s changing. In Manhattan, Ginger Man has a mind-boggling array of beer, and there’s Spitzer’s Corner. These bars have gone from the standard 5 taps to 50. That’s my favorite kind of place – they have beer you’ve never heard of and want to try.
Learn more about the brothers Martin and Brooklyn Buzz at www.manhattanmeadery.com.