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A Tale of Two Meaderies: Brothers Drake and The San Francisco Mead Company

Reunited and they taste so good: Meads from the Scioto to San Francisco Bay
Mead may be the oldest-known fermented drink known to man, but it is currently perhaps one of the least-consumed. However, this beverage has seen recent exponential growth here in the United States: according to the American Mead Makers Association, while only 150 meaderies were in business in the United States in 2013, the number of cases of mead sold per meadery doubled from 404 to 823 and average gross sales jumped by 130 percent during this year.

I myself had heard of but never tasted mead until I started regularly traveling to Ohio. On one visit, I happened to stop by The Andersons General Store in Northwest Columbus, where I came across a mead sampling hosted by locally-based meadery Brothers Drake. My then girlfriend had tasted their offerings on a previous shopping visit to The Andersons and encouraged me to give it a whirl if they were in house.

Mead, especially the varietals offered this day, was nothing like I had had before, and these tastings kept me on alert for future offerings. Interestingly enough, my Northern California roots came up during my conversation with my host, who informed me that a sister mead enterprise into that vast but very much untapped San Francisco Bay Area market was in the works. I made a mental note to myself to keep track of any future developments.

Forward to Christmas season 2014, where my spouse fulfilled what had become one of our increasing list of "must-do's" as a couple: make the trip out to The San Francisco Mead Company to taste and add their meads to our stash of Brothers Drakes' offerings.

Brothers Drake has made their Weinland Park location a prime local gathering place
Brothers Drake: Firstly, we must say something about Brothers Drake itself. Founded in 2004, business founders Eric and Woody Drake have always infused their meadery business with a local community focus, and the community has responded in kind. Their current sleek warehouse space in an area bordering both the Short North and Weinland Park (they had previously occupied a much smaller space in the Polaris/Crosswoods starting in the late 2000s) houses their production facilities, as well as their bar and performance space. The latter has become a central community gathering point for many through Brothers Drake's live music and community-oriented events, featuring of local artists' work within their facility, and the presence of the burgeoning local food truck scene in the form of Tokyo Go Go and Vegan Baba. Even their mead releases in and of themselves have become reasons for locals to gather together and celebrate.

Brothers Drakes' meads, whether in their pure form or mixed in with cocktails, reach flavor profiles far beyond what ancient brewers of this beverage could have even dreamed about. Last year's National Mead Day festivities showed this in full effect, where we and other visitors that day had the chance to sample meads such as PB&J (roasted peanuts and lingonberry jam) and Brioso (a mead with coffee from local roaster Cafe Brioso, cacao, vanilla and caraway.) But even their "standard" mead varieties such as their Summer Solstice, Wild Ohio, and signature PawPaw offer their drinkers intriguing taste profiles that reach well beyond what one might think a mead might taste like.

Brothers Drake meads go above and beyond the traditional taste profiles
Brothers Drake's story is ten years in the making and running stronger than ever. Needless to say, we have been pleased by our visits there as well as their creative mead varietals; even better, it looks like the Ohio community will be the recipient of this company's fine products and community presence for many more years to come.

Brothers Drake Meadery
26 E. 5th Ave (Short North/Weinland Park - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 388-8765
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San Francisco Mead Company's unassuming location in the Bayview District
The San Francisco Mead Company: In terms of locations, The San Francisco Mead Company is following in the footsteps of its sibling in Columbus. Originally founded in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco in 2012, owners Oron Benary (who was involved with Brothers Drake early in its development and still retains part-owner status) and his wife Sarah Jones moved their facility to a much larger space in the southern reaches of San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood summer of 2014.

However, this space does not, nor is meant to duplicate its sibling in Columbus in terms of acting as a community gathering place, as we found out during our visit. A simple setup of a large, round white table plus a gathering area of couches off to the side greeted us as we walked in the door. At this table, a very enthusiastic group of newfound mead fans was holding a conversation with Cory, our host for this day. An informal tap system of San Francisco Mead's offerings was setup along the wall, plus something that warmed our Columbus-area hearts greatly: a couple bottles of Brothers Drake's fine meads stood on the table.

Cory proved to be a wonderful host filling in for Oron and Sarah, who were away for the holidays. In fact, everyone there seemed to be quite interested that we were from Columbus and we were more than happy to relate our experiences with Brothers Drake (we may have even convinced the guests, who were from the northern reaches of California's Central Valley, to pay a visit to drop by Brothers Drake one of these days.)

San Francisco Mead is currently geared for production, but that doesn't stop
visitors from enjoying their delicious products
Other than the sister relationship, our excitement for trying San Francisco Mead Company's offerings related to the honey found in the Bay Area and the flavor profiles of the mead produced from them. In a fortunate turn for the company, their current landlord is a beekeeper himself and assisted the owners in further learning the terroir of the area and the design of their current facility.

It turned out all three of their offerings were incredibly tasty, from their solid Orange Blossom to the uniquely complex California Gold and their pie-in-a-glass decadence that is the Apple Pie (we took home bottles of the latter two with us back to Ohio, and we admit we're both quite excited to have the opportunity to do an Apple Pie Mead comparison side-by-side tasting.)

While output is currently on the low end (per this blogpost by local PBS station KQED, their output is roughly 1,000 cases per year; in contrast, Brothers Drake's production is closer to 5,000 cases), Cory mentioned that San Francisco Mead does have plans to increase their output; indeed, they had just received newly obtained equipment and, with their existing space, could possibly out-produce their Ohio-based sibling in the future. We were informed there are already plans in the works for a proper tasting room closer to more foot traffic near downtown San Francisco (currently, the meadery is only open for tastings on Saturday unless a special appointment has been made.)

We felt special when Cory gave us a sampling of some of the other mead products within their building at the time, including a sneak peek of their Blackberry mead. Due for release in mid-2015, this still young mead has fruit notes even now that promise something spectacular once it is bottled. In addition, we got to taste two of Brothers Drake's mead products that they had on hand. The Brioso mead, which we found to be a bit harsh on the coffee taste when we first sampled it on National Mead Day in 2014, had obtained a more balanced flavor profile that we enjoyed immensely. On the other hand, their Pawpaw had gained a more-pronounced crispness to its overall sour/tart profile and proved to be another palate-pleaser.

Based on our experience here, The San Francisco Mead Company appears well on its way to being successful in its own right. Both San Francisco Bay Area and Columbus residents have a lot to be proud of in terms of the people behind these businesses. Even better, anyone, regardless of residency, can gain immense enjoyment from either of these companies' finely crafted products.

The San Francisco Mead Company
1180 Shafter Avenue (Bayview/Hunters Point - Google Maps)
San Francisco, CA 94124
(415) 819-4941
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