With all of the breweries that have opened recently and will be opening in the near future in Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick is about to get a taste of something different. John Way, a long-time homebrewer, and his wife, Deb, are planning to open Sunset Heights Meadery sometime within the next few months at their home in McLeod Hill. Mead is a fermented beverage, like beer; what sets it apart is that the majority of its fermentable sugars come from honey, as opposed to grain. Like beer, brewing mead provides an open book for the brewer, as it can be still or carbonated; dry, semi-sweet, or sweet; and can have spices, fruit, and even hops added.
John and his family were all representing Sunset Heights Meadery at last month’s Fredericton Craft Beer Festival, pouring several varieties of their meads. Mead is a product not easily found in our area, so it was great to see that the lines were long and consistent as attendants were anxious to try something new. We recently talked with John about what he and his wife will be bringing to the market in the near future…
ACBB: Tell me a little about your homebrewing history. What got you into brewing mead?
John Way: Twenty-five years of home brewing, everything from extract kits to eventually all-grain; in addition, we have been making wine for over 10 years. My Dad was a long time home wine maker as well. In the early-late 90’s I ran a business next door to a Brew/Vint on-premise on Vancouver Island. The owners became great friends and I learned a ton from them. Early forays into Mead were futile efforts to produce bad mead. We recently learned a lot from the owner and Head Mead Maker at Moonlight Meadery (in Londonderry, New Hampshire)… that changed everything, and all of a sudden all the past beer and wine experience gelled together with the new info we received from Moonlight to make some really good (we think) meads.
Are you a member of any local homebrewing clubs?
I’m a Charter Member of the New Brunswick Craft Brewers Association (NBCBA) and am currently Club Secretary, but I’ll be stepping down soon as the Meadery and my real job are taking up the total time I have in a day.
What made you decide to take the step into brewing professionally?
We had actually planned to open a nanobrewery locally, but after spending a couple of days at Moonlight we realized it’s where our future was.
What steps have you taken so far getting everything up and running?
We’ve started redeveloping our loft in our garage, as we’re fully licensed by the Feds and Province to produce. The license is actually a winery license, and we’re in the midst of going through the requirements to meet the standard as a “Farm Winery” in the province, which gives us better access to the market.
What type of system will you be brewing on?
We cold ferment, so with no heat applied to the honey there isn’t really any “brewing” per se. Heat only drives off the volatiles that we want in our meads. We currently have 160 gallons of capacity, but have a plan in place to increase that by an additional 500 gallons by this fall.
Do you know when your meads will be available to the public?
We’re hoping for June/July for the “Pollen Angels” kegged product to be available at bars, with the bottled still “Sunset Heights” meads in the fall.
What are your plans for distribution? Any plans for growlers, bottling, etc.?
Plans are still evolving, but currently it’s bars only, though we will be looking at a couple of growler options.
Do you have any bars/restaurants in the area lined up to serve your meads?
The King Street Ale House and The Lunar Rogue have both expressed a keen interest, and we’ve committed to only service them until we get a handle on the demand. Of course, they are also the only two places I’ve approached so far, so it’s tough to say what kind of further acceptance we’ll receive in the marketplace.
Can you tell me about the mead(s) you plan on offering initially? Are you planning on offering a specific style, or styles, of mead? Any seasonals, one-offs, or will you stick mainly with a “flagship lineup”?
Our “Pollen Angels” line will likely open with the “Queen’s Nectar”, a base sparkling mead that is 8.25% ABV, along with additional flavours including Cranberry-Maple, Blueberry-Apple, Iced Tea, Green Tea and some custom dry-hopped versions. Our “Sunset Heights Meadery” still meads will be bottled in Ice Wine bottles, and will include a Local Cyser [a blend of honey and apple juice fermented together], and a dry-hopped Cyser that just won a Silver Medal for ‘Other-Sweet’ at The Mazer Cup, the world’s largest meadmaking competition. We will also be re-running our recipe for our “Sunset Blues”, a Blueberry Cyser that took home the Gold Medal in the ‘Sweet Melomel’ Category at the Mazer Cup. We’re the first New Brunswick Meadery to ever win an award at the Mazer Cup, and we’re very excited, and just a little bit proud.
Have you had any assistance from other breweries in Atlantic Canada?
Sean Dunbar has allowed us unlimited access to his head brewer, Andrew Estabrooks, which has been invaluable. The folks at Picaroons have also been incredibly supportive in helping us with suppliers, and they’ve been a great sounding board for our product development. Sean’s vision of the craft beverage market is such a breath of fresh air, being so supportive to other smaller producers. Many in the industry see everyone as a competitor, but he understands that a rising tide will float all boats.
The owner of Moonlight Meadery, Michael Fairbrother, has been our mead mentor through our learning curve of going from home to full scale; he and his fermentation specialist Chris have been incredible in supporting our efforts. Michael and his wife Bernice were very proud of us when we brought home those medals at the Mazer Cup (he took home 2 Golds and a Silver to add to his already impressive array of past medals). Michael is even working on a very special project with us planned for this fall… it will be a bit like having Elvis do a duet with you on your debut album.
To your knowledge, is this the first meadery in Atlantic Canada?
No, there is another dedicated meadery, Midgard, in Cape Breton, and though I haven’t had the opportunity to try them, I’m told they are great. There are other small meaderies about, but they tend to self-distribute in very small quantities. There are also a few wineries around making some mead as a sideline.
Where do you hope to see Sunset Heights Meadery in the next 2-3 years?
A few more medals, making some more killer versions of our Dessert Still Meads, and with “Pollen Angels” running concurrently as a parallel venture instead of having it integrated into Sunset Heights. Only time will tell if the volume consumed by the public will make that a possibility. For now, we can run both the product lines off of the same equipment.
We’re really looking forward to when Sunset Heights Meadery has their official launch in the next couple of months! We’ll let you know exactly when to expect their products in bars and restaurants in the area, as soon as the dates are confirmed.