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By Fig Lancaster Contributor Erik Carrasquillo
Mead was an admittedly strange topic for me to cover since my knowledge of it, until a recent visit to Meduseld Meadery with my wife and brother-in-law, was very limited. In fact, my introduction to mead came as a mere byproduct of reading Beowulf per the 11th grade English literature curriculum 19 years ago. At the time, all I gleaned from the epic poem was that mead is a honey-based alcoholic beverage and a ubiquitous part of medieval imagery resonating with fans of J. R. R. Tolkien, Game of Thrones, Skyrim, and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
“I read about mead when I was young in fantasy fiction,” said William Wrede, a longtime homebrewer and one of the founders of Meduseld Meadery. “Tolkien’s The Hobbit ignited a thirst for fantasy fiction, and mead is a commonly featured drink.”
Wrede’s wealth of knowledge and his enthusiasm for craft mead brought him closer to other dedicated, like-minded connoisseurs in the area.
The shared expertise made the concept of a meadery more tangible to Wrede: “I was researching modern mead making techniques, and found myself talking to professionals. There were whispers of the potential for mead to be the next big boom in craft beverages. It hit me like a bolt of lightning, and I redoubled my efforts to make the best mead I could.”
Meduseld Meadery occupies the Allstate building on the corner of Harrisburg Avenue and North Mulberry Street. A repurposed tobacco warehouse, the structure’s hardwood floors, beams, and exposed brick lend themselves nicely to the old-time experience it aims to provide its patrons.
Upon entering the red bricked building, you’ll turn right and go up some stairs. The main entrance to the meadery is straight ahead. It’s a long hallway with tables and chairs lined up on either side. The walls are decorated with banners, shields, swords, and appropriately themed artwork. The bar itself is situated in the righthand corner toward the end of the hallway. There’s even a stack of board games, which made me think this would be a perfect place to play Dungeons & Dragons. It’s truly cozy and inviting.
Wrede considered several potential locations for Meduseld Meadery, including one in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “Hershey would’ve required us to be more modern,” he said. “Lancaster is very eclectic and fits our needs a lot better.”
The setting is meant to mimic a mead hall. After all, the name “Meduseld” quite literally stands for “mead hall” in Old English—not unlike King Theoden’s hall in The Lord of the Rings. Culturally, mead halls were meant to be places of camaraderie. They were havens to celebrate weddings and to honor the dead. Oaths were sworn and tales of conquest were told.
Meduseld Meadery also offers tours and mead making classes. Guests are given access to the basement, which is where all their mead is produced. During these tours, Wrede talks about the beverage’s historical significance as well as its production process.
When asked how mead production compares to other crafts, particularly the process of brewing beer, Wrede revealed that beer is much more forgiving, but that it requires more equipment and is a lengthier process. “Mead making is easier and requires less equipment, but it’s not very forgiving. Making good tasting mead is much harder, and can require months of aging.”
Wrede also went on to dispel a common misunderstanding of mead, something that I found myself believing prior to the tour. “The biggest misconception is that it will be thick and syrupy, or too sweet. Another common opinion is that traditional mead is just made from honey, without any other flavorings. Traditional meads vary by region, and contain a diverse array of spices and fruits.”
Guests are also given the opportunity to sample some of the meadery’s diverse concoctions. In fact, it was during this particular tour that Maureen Yoder, one of the other guests, brought along samples of her homemade mead. The first was a Hawthorn Melomel with hibiscus, oranges, hawthorn berries, and wildflower honey. The second was a Cranberry Melomel with oranges, cranberries, and clover honey. Yoder documents her mead creations on her Instagram account (@maureen_yoder).
All of the samples were wonderful, but if I had to pick a favorite, it’d be the Old Tom’s Cyser seeing as how I enjoy apple-flavored things.
Wrede is a very approachable and humble host. While he acknowledges the difficulties in producing mead, he’s so encouraging that anyone with no prior experience feels a sense of empowerment. My wife, for example, has since shown a serious interest in the craft.
Additional information on Meduseld Meadery can be found on its website.