Silver Hand Meadery

Interview by Jeff Hewitt
Issue 52 • June 2017 • Williamsburg

Beer? Wine? Liquor? They’re nothing but short-lived fads compared to the old world spirits that this musician-turned-entrepreneur is serving up.

Based in Williamsburg, Silver Hand Meadery produces one of the most ancient fermented beverages in human history: mead. They offer a wide range of flavors and work tirelessly, constantly experimenting with new recipes to bring to market. Owner-operator Glenn Lavender conducts regular tours and tasting events throughout the year, offering customers samples of both the spirits he crafts as well as the many different varietal honeys used in that process.

Glenn Lavender

How long have you been in business?
We've been open for a little over a year and a half now. It's all still fairly new. What we do is, we take honey and ferment it into one of the most ancient beverages out there—called “honey wine” or mead.

Mead? That’s what Thor drinks, right?
It is tied to Viking culture. It’s mention in the second line of Beowulf, but it’s also the national drink of Ethiopia. I came across it reading historical fiction where an author was talking about these Celtic warriors returning from battle to drink mead. One of those books was called The Silver Hand written by Stephen R. Lawhead. There’s a whole series of them. The descriptions of the mead just made me thirsty!

How do you go from reading about mead in a book somewhere to deciding to run a business making and selling it?
Well. that’s a good question. I had heard about honey bees and how they were in decline. I got really interested in that, which then intersected with the thinking on mead. So, I started making it at home and giving it to friends. The reaction was positive. I decided that starting a business was something I wanted to try—we’re in historic Williamsburg, you know? People come here from all over looking to take in history, looking for new experiences. We’re offering something along that line with a rich tradition and culture behind it.

Where are you fromI hear an accent? And how did you end up here?
Canada! I was a touring musician for about twelve years. Played bass in a Christian rock band called Down Here. I met a guy from Williamsburg in a festival we played together. We got to be good friends and he lined up a job here for me. I was like, “Oh? I’m a musician and I can get a steady paycheck, too? Let’s try that for awhile.” I worked in a church in town as a music director kind of gig, playing services, planning the music. But I really wanted to start my own business, and mead had never been far from the back of my mind!

What should one expect when they go to a meadery?
Well, first, it all starts with the honey. We do tastings just for that. We’ve got ten different types, most of which we actually use in the meads. Honey to mead is like grapes to wine. Just as different types of grapes will give you different kinds of wine, so it goes with honey.

What’s different about mead when compared to wine or beer?
The definition of your different spirits comes from the sugar you use to get the fermentation. With wine, you’re fermenting grapes. With beer, you’re using the sugars found in grain. With mead? It’s all honey. Making the mead is a fairly simple process—while honey won’t ferment on it’s own, you have to dilute it. We do that with water, juices, and teas. That brings in specific flavors. The traditional formula uses water and honey.

Since you have a background as a musician yourself, are there plans to host music events here?
Occasionally. We held one over Memorial Day weekend. We’re stuck with some fairly interesting rules and regulations that make event hosting a bit tricky for us. Unlike breweries and farm wineries, we can’t actually sell by the glass except by special license. We can’t even sell you a tasting of the mead. We can only give out samples from day to day. We get to fully serve about eight times a year through special event licenses. The rest of the time, it’s just free samples. I’d love to have bands in here more often, it only makes sense for us on one of those days where we’re able to sell by the glass.

If you can’t sell glasses of mead, how does your business model work?
We sell our different types of mead in bottles. Mead will last you for a good while as long as it’s stored in a cool, dry space, just like wine. We recommend that it be drunk within the first three to five years. We also sell quite a bit of the honey as well, so we offer tastings just on that. It wasn’t an avenue that we expected starting out, but we quickly realized that, hey, we have all this honey here. We should put some in jars and sell it, too! It’s been really popular!

Has business been good?
Oh yeah! One year in, we’ve had to double our space. Our focus has been our tasting room here. We’ve just started expanding into distribution to stores and restaurants and that sort of thing. So that’s been a nice big push for us, I’d say.

What does the future look like for you?
I expect we’ll continue to grow. We produce all our mead on the premises now, but we have to source all of our honey. We reach out to all sorts of different farms and boutique beekeepers to fill our need for that. We get it in big, sixty-pound buckets. It would be wonderful to one day be able to actually keep beehives and harvest our own. It would be great to be able to develop our own special strains.
We’re starting to get into some really good spaces, retail-wise. We’re shipping to 36 states at this point. Mead isn’t super easy to get. That’s starting to change now, but it’s not something you see in your 7-Eleven or even maybe your local grocery store. We’re a fairly small operation right now. We do everything in small batches. The plan is to continue educating the public and spreading the good word about mead—as that awareness grows, we’ll grow, too!

Silver Hand Meadery is located at 224 Monticello Avenue in Williamsburg. To learn more about their free mead and honey tastings, visit silverhandmeadery.com.

Photography by Jeff Hewitt

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