Tour: Redstone Meadery
This is my first real post on Cidersage. Wow. No pressure. Breathe…
Recently, I made the brutally long, 12.4-mile drive from my home in All-America City-winning Longmont, Colorado, to Boulder to visit Redstone Meadery. That’s right: the first post on this cider blog is about mead–a.k.a., honey wine–and its variants. Don’t worry, though—there’s a cider tangent involved. Moreover, we’ll get to cider proper soon, as harvest time for cider apples is fast approaching and I am in contact with a couple Colorado orchards this year who say they can supply me with some of the bittersweet and bittersharp apples that I plan to use in a blend from which I’ll make cider from scratch. Guess who’s going to hear more soon about that process? That’s right: you.
More on my home cider-making attempts later: On to the Meadery!
I arrived at Redstone—which is tucked away into a strip mall on a frontage road to Foothills Parkway in North Boulder—just in time for their 1pm tour, and was introduced to Redstone employees Jess and John, who promptly dished out free tastes of some of their products, many of which are conveniently on tap. Of these, the Black Raspberry Nectar (apparently one of their best-sellers), the Pinot Noir Pyment (Pyment being a beverage consisting of grapes and honey fermented together), and Nectar Of The Hops were standouts.
The Raspberry Nectar had was moderately sweet with a decent Raspberry flavor that was not chemical or dominant like you so often get in fruit-amended beverages. The Pinot Noir Pyment was very complex and dry—I’m a fan of dryness in beverages, so you’ll see my bias for it come through from time to ti…ok, all the time—with a fair amount of tannin. The result is more earthiness than you normally get from a mead, plus the unique floral aroma and headiness that only honey can impart. The Nectar Of The Hops was a very unique, dry-hopped mead which added the huge, citrus and pine bouquet of dry-hopping (which imparts a ton of aroma but almost no bitterness to the flavor) with the already fragrant and floral backbone of the mead. Very heady, very clean, and very crisp.
After some sampling, it was time to learn more about the Meadery and the process of mead-making. The quick and dirty history is that the founder, David Myers, was such a mead geek that at one point he had 30 fermenters in use in his homebrew operation (I thought I was pushing it 4!) and decided to go pro. Redstone opened in 2000, and his meads were some of the first commercially-available meads at that time (despite its thousands-of-years-old history, mead had fallen out of favor and in the U.S. was really only paid attention to by homebrewers until slowly making a comeback over the last decade or so).
Then, Jess ran us through the basic process. I’m paraphrasing and editorializing here; these are not her words:
Honey has natural antibiotic qualities, meaning that—with caution and proper sanitation—it’s generally possible to ferment it without first boiling or sulfiting it without suffering adverse effects (bacterial growth). Redstone appears to split the difference between no treatment and boiling, dissolving the honey into water that is heated to 180 degrees F and then cooled to 70 before being transferred to fermenters (most of which appeared to be 26 barrel fermenters, though they recently got larger ones as well—I get the sense that they are running at just about capacity these days to keep up with demand).
In case you’re curious, Redstone sources about 75% of their honey locally (from Madhava Sweeteners, though I imagine Madhava’s sources are from all over the state), about 25% orange blossom honey out of Arizona, and a trace amount of honey sourced from local beekeepers (when they can get it).
After primary fermentation, there are various aging or secondary fermentation pathways the mead can take depending on whether fruit (or hops) is involved and whether the mead will be carbonated (as Nectar Of The Hops is). I didn’t get many detilas this area—darn, guess I’ll have to go back—so you nuts-and-bolts types may need to settle for a follow-up or, preferably, your own visit to learn more.
When the mead is ready, it will either be bottled still (sans carbonation) with their small bottling setup—no million-dollar, automated bottling line here—or through a counter-pressure filler for their carbonated, bottled Nectar Of The Hops, after which it’s packaged and shipped. I’ve seen their products on tap in a few places, so there’s probably a very small trade in kegs, but bottles is where the bulk of their business is at.
Redstone has also recently started to use a mobile canning line service out of Longmont which cans carbonated versions of their other products—notably Black Raspberry Nectar—which may significantly increase their reach and certainly increases the portability of their product (say, into a National Park, which allows cans but not glass).
At the end of the tour, it was back to the tasting room for more samples. While I was impressed with Nectar Of The Hops and the Pinot Noir Pyment, it was the Cyser that really made my day. It’s also the promised cider tangent and one of my favorite cross-over drinks—apples and honey fermented together. I’ve made Cyser in the past, but usually just in terms of adding a pound or two or honey to my apple juice to boost the alcohol and add honey aroma. This one—an award-winning part of their Redstone Reserve lineup—blew me away. Aged for several years (I believe the one I tried was from 2004), this is a syrupy-sweet, complex, high-alcohol beverage that resembles brandy without distillation. Both apple and honey are powerful flavor elements here–this must contain huge amounts of both. If I ever get up the gumption to buy a bottle, I’ll do a proper review of it for you sometime. Maybe I’ll even try to make a clone and walk you though that process…though the end results will take years to know.
One of the coolest aspects of the Meadery is that it falls under the legal structure of a winery. This is quite nice for consumers, because, unlike beer—whose distribution laws and business structures are a high barrier-to-entry mess which, among other things, prohibits the shipment of beer except by a distributer—you can order mead online and have it delivered to most states. Try doing that with a 6-pack of beer, and you’ll likely get laughed at.
Here’s Redstone’s store page:
If you do order from them, mention the cidersage blog in the ‘How did you hear about Redstone Meadery?’ section—if they notice, maybe I’ll be able to score an interview with the founder and then share the results with you.
Also, my apologies to John for not capturing him in the photos…my sad little iPhone camera never captured him in anything less than a blur. Next time…
Last but not least, if you’re a home brewer, the bottles Redstone mead comes in are gold—they are durable, swing-top, gasket-sealed bottled which you can use to bottle your own creations. The bottles that get returned to Redstone apparently go to Hop To It, a homebrew store in Boulder, so you might be able to score a few there.