Yancy Bodenstein knows more than a modicum about mead. The Gaithersburg-based home brewer has been making the alcoholic beverage for about 13 years and has won a few awards for his products.
“I would argue that mead is the oldest fermented beverage humans have known about because all you need is honey and water to create it. You don’t need agriculture to make mead, whereas you do for wine and beer,” Bodenstein said. He noted that there are references to mead in ancient literature and oral folklore of Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia.
Mead is coming into its own—again, said the co-owner of Clear Skies Mead, scheduled to open on Kentlands’ Main Street in the fall. Bodenstein pointed out that the beverage is “experiencing a surge in popularity due to ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘American Gods,’ ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Lord of the Rings’ and even Budweiser’s recent ad campaigns.”
Clear Skies Mead will be Maryland’s fourth “meadery” and Montgomery County’s first, he said.
A biochemist and molecular biologist by training—he holds academic degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology and epidemiology—Bodenstein currently works both at the National Institutes of Health and as branch chief for clinical trials operations at the National Institute of Mental Health. “Making mead is my way to keep experimenting,” he said. “Given that I am a scientist, I figured I could make something better than what I tried at the (Maryland Renaissance) Festival. I thought it was really too sweet.”
According to Bodenstein, despite its growing reputation, there is a common misconception about mead. “Most people think that mead is sweet, and this is an image I am hoping to dispel. I make my meads to be on the dry end, like a chardonnay,” he said. “And what’s really cool is that when you have a dry mead, you smell the aromas of honey; you don’t taste the honey sweetness, only the honey flavors.”
As a result, he added, “It can be very interesting to watch people taste mead for the first time and realize it is not as sweet as one would think.”
The scientist enjoys experimenting with various components. “You can use different types of honey and add fruit, spices, hot peppers, herbs, hops, carbonation or still, to create a wide variety of styles and flavors.” In addition, he has fun “pairing mead with different foods.”
When Bodenstein and his business partner Manisha Eigner heard that Pritchard Music was moving from Main Street to Kentlands Boulevard, he said, “we thought we should pounce on this opportunity, given the foot traffic and the farmers market right outside the door.” They plan to obtain the necessary licenses to sell their mead at the Kentlands Main Street Market.
“The concept,” Bodenstein explained, “is a steampunk mead hall where we will be serving mead on tap, some from the keg, some only by the bottle, and some light food like cheese boards, sandwiches, etc. And we’d strongly encourage folks to bring in food from the excellent restaurants in the Kentlands.”
For the uninitiated, a mead hall, per Bodenstein, is “a place to gather, eat, drink and be merry with family and friends,” and the steampunk “theme brings old and new world ideas and blends them, which is the intent of what we want to do: bring mead to the modern age.” Reflecting that theme is a steampunk honey bee logo.
Bodenstein will make the mead in the basement of their space. “We will have the capacity for 200 gallons fermentation in 6-by-40-gallon conical fermenters, then another 200 gallons of aging in 6-by-40-gallon tanks, and then we will have that amount in kegs (and/or) bottles ready to serve,” he said. “We plan to ferment a new set of batches every two to three months depending on demand. If demand exceeds our volume—hopefully!—we will look at larger spaces to grow into.”
Co-owner Eigner, a researcher who also holds multiple academic degrees in the sciences, will “handle the regulations, sales and marketing aspects of the business,” she said.
Among her plans is “partnering with local restaurants to create specific meads for various meals, and we hope we can get our meads on tap around Montgomery County.”
“Our storefront in the Kentlands will be a comfortable place for everyone to relax and socialize, and our business will be involved with local causes,” Eigner said. “Down the road, we hope to be more involved with the production of our own honey, so we can truly have a local Maryland product.”
Eigner summed up Clear Skies Mead’s goal: “What we will strive to do is to bring mead out of the Renaissance festivals and onto your table, to your tailgating, barbecues, (both) summer and winter events,” she said. “Mead can be like a dry wine all the way to a sweet dessert wine. We plan to explore the range and hope you will join us on our adventure.”
Check out Clear Skies Mead on Facebook.