Bill Cavender is certain he has the next big thing for Richmond’s burgeoning craft spirits scene, and it won't be long until he shows us exactly what he meads. His new Scott's Addition mead outpost, Black Heath Meadery, is set to open this Wednesday, March 4, according to the company’s Facebook page.
Mead, considered the oldest fermented drink, is honey wine. The earliest evidence of mead has been found in China and dates back to 6500 B.C. though European history indicates 2000 B.C.; unsurprising, as the fermentable sugar for the libation is honey — easily available at the time — with no need for processing and knack for never going bad. It’s been called a magic beverage and, in Norse mythology, credited for transforming drinkers into poets or scholars. It's peppered throughout historical fiction and nonfiction, from Aristotle to Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It's so prolific, in fact, that it made its way into everyday language; the word honeymoon is derived from the tradition of drinking mead at weddings.
Cavender, an avid home brewer, is bottling his own magic liquid at Black Heath Meadery. When its doors open, it will be the only meadery in Richmond and one of only a handful in Virginia.
The brewer's journey all began with one experimental batch: Cavender had moved to Austin and couldn’t get his beer yeast to behave in Texas's varying temperatures, so he opted for wine yeast, used in mead, to handle those ups and downs in climate. After his batch received rave reviews, there was no stopping him.
The equipment needed to make mead is nearly the same needed for beer, so when his first batch was a hit, it turned into several more, and he and his wife, Jayne Heffner, decided to make the leap into the mead business. After moving back to Richmond, the two launched RVAMeadLab as a makeshift research and development project to gauge the area’s interest. They were overwhelmed by the response and knew then that Richmond was definitely ready for the sweet stuff.
Mead comes in multiple styles: dry, sweet, still and sparkling, and it can be manipulated with fruit, hops, herbs or spices.
“Many people think that mead is syrupy sweet, but that’s incorrect," says Cavender. "Mead is incredibly drinkable. It can have a comparative ABV to traditional wine, reparative effects on the immune system [those touted in bee pollen], and can be tolerated by the gluten-intolerant."
Cavender is bottling a traditional, more “familiar” mead to start. He has several multi-gallon tanks that he uses to ferment wildflower honey from local honey purveyors Bearer Farms and Golden Angel. Those tanks will produce about 200-plus gallons of drinkable honey wine. The light gold liquid will be called The Muse and be bottled in 750 milliliter bottles. He’ll also have some sixtels — 5-gallon kegs — that he will self-distribute.
But you wont be able to buy pints at Black Heath just yet; Virginia law prohibits serving by the glass. You will, however, be able to taste what you can buy in Cavender’s refurbished Scott’s Addition building, a reconverted sign shop, where the space is long and attractively painted in purple with accents of re-purposed wood. Future production will include a cyser — blended apple and honey wine with deep alcoholic kick; a melomel — a honey wine using fruit from Swift Creek Berry Farm; and a metheglin — a traditional mead with added spices like ginger from Casselmonte Farms.
“I hope to see some of my kegs on tap in places [around Richmond] and people enjoying draft mead like they would beer or wine," he shares. "Our product is going to be hyper-local as its prime ingredients are dependent on the weather. I think that will be incredibly attractive to Richmond.”
Black Heath Meadery opens at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4, at 1313 Altamont Ave.