Eh what the hell…
WHAT I’VE LEARNED IN 14 MONTHS SINCE OPENING A MEADERY
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t homebrew your way through running a meadery. You should consider starting your meadery with more equipment than you think you’ll need. Patience is also a virtue, and delays are sometimes a blessing in disguise.
Since starting to sterile filter along side of standard sulfiting, I have not only reduced the risk of secondary fermentation in the bottle, but have also ensured my product is brilliantly clear without chance of sediment or any other “jellies” like I’ve heard of at WholeFoods in California, from forming at the bottom. If you want to charge $17-$25 for a bottle (no matter what size), you better have quality product in those bottles, or very few will purchase, or return to buy again.
As incredibly important as those points are in regards to filtration, the one most remarkable aspect of it all is, the increase in production capacity. Sterile filtering will make a three week old mead taste like three month old mead. I am not saying that filtering ANY mead will give you quality mead, but if you filter quality mead, you will get even higher quality out.
Back to the fun part… So instead of only filling those tanks of yours 3-4 times per year, you can now fill them up to 12x a year if you really wanted to push it. That means more mead with less investment. Did that catch your interest? Spend your money wisely when planning to start up a meadery of your own and consider buying one less tank to spend that money on a quality filtration unit. That filter with one less tank will allow you to fill your other tanks 3x more than just having “one more tank”. More production capacity with less start up cost and real estate taken up in your production area, and at the end of it all, you have beautiful and stable mead. I wish I had gone this route from the start.
Speaking of tanks… Take into consideration the kind of tank bottom you’re buying. The standard options for tank bottoms are flat, conical, or sloped. In my opinion, conical is the way to go, with sloped being a close second. Keep in mind that “conical bottom” is different than a conical beer fermentation vessel. The bottom of the tank is just slightly coned to allow for better (and best) drainage, as sloped tanks have their bottoms descending to the front of the tank, again, for better drainage. Flat bottom tanks create a few issues that make certain tasks quite the pain in the ass. My current 1000L mixing tank and two 300L tanks are flat bottomed, so I could preach. To properly drain a flat bottom tank you need to tilt the entire tank forward for everything to exit the drain port, which might not be too big of deal (but still a pain) when just trying to get out cleaning solution or rinse water after cleaning, but when you are trying to rack out clean mead off of sediment, tilting is going to kick up that yeast, and if you don’t tilt, you end up leaving mead in the tank… Sloped or conical bottom tanks allow most of the sediment to sit lower than where your racking arm will reach, allowing you to pull more product out of the tank. Conical bottoms in particular also allow you to create a really great whirlpool when pumping must out of the drain port and back in through a racking arm pointed upwards. This gets a really great mix of your must after adding your honey and ingredients that will allow you to get a much more precise starting gravity/brix reading. All without the need to spend big bucks on a motorized stirrer or manual labor.
I have been known to regularly take chances with mixing up a 280 gallon batch of a new recipe without experimental trial. Although a big financial risk, I feel more than confident enough in my palate to know that even if things should take a turn for the worse, there is always the option of tweaking and mixing later on. Upon opening my doors for business in September of 2014, I had planned on starting with six different varieties, but instead only started with five. Reason for which was because I just wasn’t happy with how one of the batches came out, and my motto is, “If I wouldn’t drink an entire bottle of it, on my own, in one sitting, then I don’t bottle it.” So what did I do? I put it aside and let is sit, and sit, and sit some more. Finally found some wiggle room in our production schedule to do something about it. A new “mixing” mead was made to blend into the original faulted batch and voila, a mead that has been flying off the shelf ever since. My point is, be patient, stay the course, and keep that mead on the side for when the time comes to make something great out of it. With that said, picking up some plastic drums or FlexTanks (which I love) is a great idea to have around for instances like this. I have also just recently had another first time recipe not come out exactly how I had imagined. I filled up a few glasses of it and began experimenting with different ingredients added to it. A week later, we now have a mead that is even better than I imagined. Never give up, be afraid, or keep yourself down. One of the biggest secrets to success is the ability to find a solution in the face of any problem put in front of you.
Looking back over the past year or two, I am so very happy that I never started distribution from the start. Yeah, I basically said I’m happy I made (a lot) less money than I could of. The reason for that is, I have “failed” and learned so much up until now that I KNOW I would have been very upset with myself if I had let even one mead go out my door to 100 or more stores that might have been a ticking time bomb for secondary fermentation, sediment build up, or simply just not the overall best mead I could have possibly made. Not only that, but I would have risked tarnishing the name of my meadery with substandard product, which would have been the worst thing of all in my eyes. Reputation means everything, and for a meadery like Melovino who hasn’t even started local state distribution to hear that our meads are being talked about everywhere from Maine, to Florida, Virginia, and California… That always amazes me…. Imagine if that talk was negative, sheeeesh, not cool!
I have always put out the best mead I could, which at any given time meant different things. What I am trying to say is, my best today could be blown away by my best tomorrow. As time has gone on, that “best” has continued to reach new levels of quality every step of the way. Let’s change the water, rethink the SNA regimen, fine tune our yeast rehydration protocol, sulfite, filter… I am my own biggest critic and a bit of a perfectionist, so the improvement is never going to end. I am at a point now where I am taking YAN, pH, SO2, and TA readings on every batch. You think you know your mead now? With all of this supplemental information at your fingertips to review and learn more about it, it’s like having a 4-hour long drunken conversation with a friend where you sometimes end up learning a lot more about than you wish you did. So, get drunk with your mead and really solidify that relationship into BFF status.
Getting back to the not distributing too early… Unless you plan on only making a 3-4 mead varieties where you pretty much know those are the recipes you would definitely be sending out for distribution, consider holding off. I still feel that having a really nice range of different mead styles and something new coming out often enough to keep those regulars always engaged in what’s new, is the way to go. When it comes to distribution though, you’re not going to get many retail accounts to give you more than 3-4 spots on their shelves for your whole collection. You are going to need to select your top sellers to push out into the market, and figuring out what those are will take time. You wouldn’t believe how many times we have been totally caught off guard with a new mead of ours just blowing our current best seller out of the water. I released 20 meads in my first year in business, and am already at 22, with another 8-10 new ones being released between now and end of January. If I had stuck with only focusing on the first five meads I released, I would never have realized how much more sales potential there was with some of the other recipes that just took our customers by storm. Now, we have a list of four meads that are sure to rock the world of anyone who picks up a bottle of Melovino mead off a liquor store shelf for the first time, and will all be of the best (current) quality.
Melovino will have a limited distribution run for the holidays in two weeks, and will begin full (self) distribution throughout all of NJ & NY in March. I posted up on Facebook around two months ago about this limited distribution run we are about to do, and asked our fans to let us know where they would like to see our products, and to let those establishments know that they want Melovino there. Within 48 hours, we pre-sold the 150 cases I set aside for this limited run without making a single sales pitch. Those liquor stores, bars, and restaurants contacted US after hearing the demand from our fans. That my friends, was f*cking awesome. Also just finalized an 84 case per month deal exporting to Taiwan which will start next month and that we are super excited about. We have needed to turn down new accounts since then, with a promise that they would be first on the list to receive deliveries when we do our full roll out in March.
Melovino brought home 19 very reputable awards in its first year in business and just jumped from 7,000 gals/year to 42,000 gals/year with the three new tanks we are getting delivered tomorrow (finally). Our automated bottling line has also been helping us kick ass with production now. Close to 1700 bottles per hour with two people running it, and neither breaking a sweat. If I am not mistaken, I think we might be only the 4th meadery in the U.S. to have one? Now I’ve been saving up for a crossflow which I’m planning to have by end of next year.
Also in the middle of a slight redesign of our bottle labels for fresh new look. As the past year went by, I feel like the meadery has really found its identity, and my plan is to have it shown off with a little of a makeover which is looking awesome. Super simple, speaks craft and presents itself with class. I’m glad the tuition I paid for my Visual Communication degree is finally being put into use.
Also very proud to have been recently appointed as the new Sergeant at Arms for the AMMA. Things are really about to kick into high gear.
Cheers, or as we like to say at the meadery, Buzz Buzz.
Owner of Melovino Meadery, Sergio Moutela, has become a notable award-winning mead maker who’s products have wowed even the most discerning and educated of palettes. His mead has been served at the James Beard House in NYC and has won multiple Gold medals in some of the biggest mead competitions in the world, amateur and professional.
Find him and his meads at http://www.melovinomead.com