WHY I LOVE RVA TODAY: RVA MEAD LAB OPENS ITS DOORS! [THE CAVENDER FILES]

meadlab7Words & Photos provided by Bill Cavender

While mead may represent the world’s oldest fermented beverage, with a rich history in many parts of the world, many remain unfamiliar with this magnificent beverage. A brewed beverage using honey as the fermentable sugar, sometimes with additions of fruits, herbs, and/or spices – mead making goes back 7,000-10,000 years.

On Saturday, March 2, the RVA Mead Lab held an opening party for supporters. The mission of the Mead Lab is to educate and collaborate. It provides a space for people interested in mead making (and the related activity of beekeeping) to visit and learn more – by observing, participating, formulating recipes, collaborating, tasting, and innovating.

Just over 30 supporters turned out throughout the day to participate in a variety of activities. Those that started early and braved the cold morning participated in a mead making workshop during which 13 gallons of mead were started.

The RVA Mead Lab is equipped with all the necessary equipment and ingredients for brewing a batch of mead. Members of the Lab can brew a recipe of their formulation using any of the ingredients available at the lab. These include local honey, fruits, and herbs.

Over the next six months, the Lab will serve as a collaborative, sharing space to develop mead recipes that are considered best in their class (in all types of mead including traditional, melomel – mead with fruit, metheglin – mead with herbs and/or spices, braggot – a mead brewed with malt and hops, cyser – a mead brewed with apple juice, pyment – mead brewed with grape juice) and forumulated to appeal to a broad range of tastes.

After the workshop was complete, guests were invited to sample a wide variety of meads and enjoy food and music. It was a time to meet fellow mead enthusiasts and enjoy some of the delicious flavors of mead.

Some of the mead was utilized in the food – the ginger mead marinated flank steak was a hit with many attendees. Other food offerings included salsas from Gunther’s Gourmet, smoked steelhead, artichoke dip, hummus, and roasted red potatoes.

Among the multiple meads sampled, a few were crowd favorites. A Ginger metheglin provided a healthy dose of ginger with a sweet honey backbone. A melomel made with figs and black raspberries, aged for over a year, also received high marks from tasters. There were sweet and dry meads, which appealed to a variety of palates.

Music was provided by Jess and Wayne, who provided a great backdrop for the day’s events.

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The man behind the RVA Mead Lab is Bill Cavender, a graduate of the University of Richmond and seven year Midlothian resident. He shares that he has “long been intrigued by the magical and mystical world of the honeybee.”

Early in his life, he was introduced to the world of beekeeping by a next door neighbor. Then, in his early twenties, after discovering real beer while studying in England, he found it necessary to begin home brewing.

After several years as a home brewer in Virginia he moved south to Austin, Texas for graduate school. The warmer climate and lack of an appropriate space for fermenting beer (too warm in his house) required a new direction, and led me down the road to mead. Mead can ferment successfully at higher temperatures, which let him continue his brewing adventures.

Like so much of the food that we eat, mead depends completely on bees to make its primary ingredient – honey. Mead is a product that can be made from 100% local ingredients, which supports local farmers. And most critically, it supports local beekeepers that are a critical part of keeping our honeybee population from disappearing. One additional bonus – mead is also gluten free!

Many of the new supporters of the RVA Mead Lab are brewers, mainly of beer and wine. So mead is a new area to explore. Many would describe themselves as “foodies” and supporters of the “locavore” and/or “slow food” movements.

While they gathered to learn more about an ancient and mystical beverage, the mead also served as a conduit to other conversations. A variety of backgrounds were represented and conversations ranged from local charities to college hoops to challenges facing the greater RVA community.

For more information about the RVA Mead Lab, visit their Facebook page at www.rvameadlab.org. If interested in membership, it is still possible to join the movement to bring back the magic of mead.

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