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Sunday, 06 July 2014 22:00

Grand Rapids meadery aims to capitalize on growing market, changing tastes

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Grand Rapids-based Arktos Meadery plans to launch within a couple of months and offer craft meads to specialty stores and bars across the region. The company aims to produce 1,600 gallons of mead annually. Grand Rapids-based Arktos Meadery plans to launch within a couple of months and offer craft meads to specialty stores and bars across the region. The company aims to produce 1,600 gallons of mead annually. COURTESY PHOTO

As the West Michigan craft beverage industry begins to shift beyond beer, one West Michigan company has set its sights on producing the so-called “nectar of the gods.”

Grand Rapids-based Arktos Meadery LLC has secured the majority of its pertinent federal and city licenses and is waiting on the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to inspect its facility, which it expects to open in about two months, President Maciej Halaczkiewicz told MiBiz.

“Everybody is making beer, but I wanted to do something new,” Halaczkiewicz said. “Mead is growing. It’s not there yet, but I think that it is going to be the next microbrew. I thought that now would be a good time to open a meadery.”

Arktos aims to distribute around 1,600 gallons of mead annually to regional speciality liquor and wine stores and bars from its 1,100-square-foot facility, Halaczkiewicz said. The company, located at 1251 Century Avenue SW in Grand Rapids, plans to remain a small operation at first with Halaczkiewicz at the helm and several volunteers assisting with marketing and production.

Arktos also plans to open a mead hall in downtown Grand Rapids within the next five years, Halaczkiewicz said.

Industry trends suggest that mead production should increase in the coming years as consumers develop a familiarity and a taste for the products, said Bradford Hammerschmidt, partner and regional sales manager of Kalamazoo-based Imperial Beverage Co.

“Whereas craft beer has been growing for the last decade and cider is hitting its pace after three to four years, mead is the next category that is really slated to explode,” Hammerschmidt said.

Last year, average annual gross sales per U.S. meadery rose 130 percent to $112,000 compared to 2012, while production increased 103 percent, according to the latest American Mead Makers Association’s (AMMA) annual report.

Producing mead is relatively simple and similar to winemaking, Halaczkiewicz said. Exact recipes differ for each variety of mead, but at its basic level, the drink is made from a mixture of water, yeast and honey with added spices and fruits.

The mixture ferments for three months or longer, depending on the type of mead and the desired alcohol content. Most meads range between 8 percent and 20 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

Much like craft beer, mead was once considered a niche beverage — reserved primarily for renaissance festivals and a small cadre of dedicated microbrewers, said Brad Dahlhofer, cofounder and CEO of B. Nektar LLC, Michigan’s largest meadery in Ferndale.

The shift in demand from festivals to more mainstream markets has yielded accelerated growth for meaderies like B. Nektar. The company expanded production from 1,000 to 52,000 gallons of mead over the last six years, Dahlhofer said.

“The supply (of mead) has been so late with catching up with craft beer (that) you are seeing this growth,” Dahlhofer said. “If you look at the growth of cider, it’s very impressive at double or triple that of craft beer. I think mead is going the same way.”

When B. Nektar opened in 2008, it was one of two meaderies in the state. Fast forward to today and 18 meaderies currently operate in Michigan — tying with California for the most meaderies in the country, according to AMMA’s report.

Recognizing a growing trend in the craft beverage industry, Halaczkiewicz began experimenting with making alcoholic beverages after leaving the Navy in 2011.

“I actually took a milk carton, boiled apple juice, sugar, bread yeast and made a little concoction out of it,” Halaczkiewicz said. “Once I saw that it worked, I realized I wanted to make (alcohol).”

A penchant for medieval movies and his Polish heritage led him to mead, Halaczkiewicz said. Unsatisfied with both the prices and flavor profiles of the meads he was finding on the shelf in the U.S., Halaczkiewicz set out to create a hybrid between the sweeter, higher-alcohol European meads and the lighter American brands.

Arktos’ products recently impressed judges at the international 2014 Mazer Cup Mead Competition in Boulder, Colo., where it took home a silver medal in the commercial category for its apple cyser.

While mead has few basic components, the key to quality mead begins with the bees, sources said. Not all honey is created equally as taste and composition often differ between regions and even colonies. Many meaderies rely on specific apiaries to deliver honey distinct to their meads.

Michigan currently ranks in the top 10 honey producing states, according to a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

But there’s a growing concern among meaderies about their ability to source the quantity of honey needed to meet increased demands on production. A run on honey could strain regional apiaries, forcing meaderies to find other sources of honey in a volume that can maintain their specific style, Hammerschmidt said.

Arktos currently sources local ingredients from regional orchards and apiaries as much as possible and avoids using products from concentrates or that contain pesticides, Halaczkiewicz said.

Looking forward at the growing mead market, Halaczkiewicz hopes to eventually control his own honey supply to cushion Arktos’ production from possible shortages.

“I want to turn it into an entire operation where I grow my own fruits, produce my own honey and make the best quality product I can possibly make,” he said.

Read 6381 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 10:40

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