By ALLAN WALTERS — The Gateway Arts District in Hyattsville is quickly becoming a destination for locally brewed libations — think Streetcar 82 Brewing Company, Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store and the upcoming Sangfroid Distillery. In September, the city will be able to add mead to the list of options, with the opening of Maryland Meadworks by longtime Hyattsville resident Ken Carter. Maryland Meadworks will be the first meadery in Prince George’s County.
Mead is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages on the planet, with origins dating back to 8,000 B.C. and historic evidence of its production found across the world. It is made from honey and water fermented by yeast with an alcohol content ranging from 5-20 percent by volume. In the past decade mead has experienced a resurgence that, according to Carter, can be compared to the craft beer industry of 20 years ago where a “tight community exists that helps each other out and shares recipes.” Carter estimates that there are over 300 meaderies currently operating in the U.S. and he expects more to open as Americans get introduced to the beverage.
Carter, owner and head brewer of Maryland Meadworks, started out as a beer connoisseur. He began brewing his own beer at home in the 1980s and continued for the next 30 years. Then, about 10 years ago, Carter began to apply his beer brewing experience to mead after his friend introduced him to the craft. To perfect his mead-making skills, Carter participated in two advanced mead makers’ workshops at UC Davis in Davis, California. Subsequently, he visited Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, New Hampshire, the second-largest meadery in the United States, to gain even more insights into the art of mead production.
Fast forward to 2016 and Carter turned to an old friend, Stuart Eisenberg, executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation, who agreed to rent him a space along Route 1 next to Shortcake Bakery. The location, now known for its iconic turrets and betta fish mural, was built as a private residence in 1915 and was being used as a storage facility before construction began to build out Maryland Meadworks over two years ago.
All of the mead sold by Maryland Meadworks will be produced on-site in custom tanks. The primary source of honey will be the Dutch Gold brand from Lancaster Farms in Pennsylvania, but Carter will also use locally produced honey from Hope Honey Farm in Hyattsville in each batch. The house yeast strain is from the Mondavi Wine Institute in California. Maryland Meadworks will be the only meadery in the country that uses this strain.
The versatility of mead and recent technological advances in its production are what finally caused Carter to take the leap and open his own meadery. When he first started making mead at home it would take at least a year to age but long fermentation times are no longer required.
“In the last 10 years, the body of knowledge on how to produce mead has improved dramatically,” Carter said. “I can now brew a drinkable mead in less than one month.”
Carter also said he appreciates mead’s versatility. “The spectrum of possibilities for what mead can taste like is huge,” remarked Carter. “It is like the wild west in terms of potential options; from sweet, fruity notes that resemble wine to dry, hoppy mead that tastes like a craft beer.”
Carter plans to offer two large-scale production meads (300 gallons each) and a rotating selection of six-gallon experimental batches at the meadery. One of the first meads that will be available is a selection called Tart Gwen. Named after a friend’s mother, Tart Gwen is given a distinct flavor by blending in cherry juice from Michigan and locally grown lemon thyme from New Brooklyn Farms in Mt. Rainier. While food choices at the meadery will be limited, Carter does plan to partner with Shortcake Bakery to offer pretzel sticks with a honey mustard dipping sauce.
Carter is not shy about how he plans to name his mead varieties. Two other options he plans to have available on opening include Nightmare on Hops Street, made with hops grown in Carter’s backyard, and a fruit oriented mead called Blue is the New Orange.
Ties to the local business and artisan community will be evident once the doors open in September. Carter is planning a coffee-flavored mead in conjunction with Vigilante Coffee Company. Mike Roy, head brewer at Franklins, helped design the layout of the meadery, and Peter McClintock of Tanglewood Works built custom furniture and sconces from old maple syrup buckets. Carter said he also plans to hang artwork from local artists that can be purchased and will host local musicians, poets and lecturers on a small stage in the meadery.
Maryland Meadworks, located at 4700 Rhode Island Ave., will hold a soft opening Sept. 7, and will have a few more soft open dates until the grand opening in October. Initial plans are to open Thursday through Saturday from 4-10 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Maryland Meadworks will offer mead for consumption on-site or in growlers and bottles to go.